Proposing change in university entrance examinations: A tale of two metaphors

Article appearing in Shiken 24.2 (December 2020) pp. 23-38;

David Allen
Ochanomizu University


This article describes a recent education reform initiative concerning English education in Japan, specifically the proposed introduction of four-skills tests as part of the university entrance admissions process. The first aim is to summarize, in English, some of the key issues and events concerning the reform. To this end, background information and a timeline of key events since 2016 is provided. The second aim is to contrast proposals made by two academic organizations, the Japan Language Testing Association (JLTA) and the Science Council of Japan: Language and Literature Committee (SCJ). It is shown that, while agreeing on a number of specific issues related to the reform, these two organizations take starkly different positions in terms of their general orientation, which, it is argued, reflects the background of the organizational members and their views on foreign language education in Japan. These contrasting positions are discussed with reference to the metaphor, to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Finally, it is argued that a number of criticisms levelled at the proposed use of private four-skills tests illustrate a reluctance to engage with issues related to the currently used university entrance exams; in other words, these criticisms are made while ignoring the elephant in the room.

Keywords: university entrance exams, four-skills tests, MEXT, communicative language education reform

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