Half a million take Unified College Entrance Exams in Japan

Over 500,000 aspirants took the Unified College Entrance Exam in Japan this year (Image for representation)

Despite extreme weather conditions and heavy snowfall in Japan, the unified college entrance examinations were conducted throughout the nation. The 2 days of tests decide which students will be attending college from the start of the academic year in April. Starting on Saturday, more than 570,000 applicants (12,198 more than last year) took the exams at 690 sites nationwide. The tests mark the start of competition for young people seeking to enter universities.

The standardized and very competitive Centre exam is used to grade students applying to public and private universities in Japan. The test results will be used by 843 public universities, private universities and junior colleges to grade applicants.

Students taking standard entrance examinations for private universities choose which topics they wish to be tested on. It’s common for the students to either focus on math and science or on Japanese and social studies, depending on which major they are aiming for. There are also English tests.

Meanwhile, those students who want to enroll at national and public universities have to take the National Center Test for University Admissions in addition to a university-specific exam. The comprehensive Center Test, a key stage in the life of a young Japanese, covers all subjects, including both science and the liberal arts.

Typically, the test starts and ends at roughly the same time throughout the entire nation. On Saturday, the tests began at 9 a.m. with students sitting for exams in geography, history, civics, Japanese and foreign languages, Fuji TV reported. On Sunday, mathematics and science were held.

The bad weather conditions forced some supervisors to change schedules. Families were urged to look out for weather and traffic reports to ensure that their children reached the test centres in plenty of time.

Heavy snowfall was forecasted along the Japan Sea Coast, Tohoku and Hokkaido for the weekend. The National Centre for University Entrance Examinations says that as of 11 AM, officials at 7 venues took special measures, mainly due to snowfalls. The steps included delaying the start of exams for students who arrived late because of transport disruptions.

The test is considered very important in Japan as its outcome decides which university one is able to study in and graduate from. Students attend “cram schools” for extra study (much like the study centers in India) in an effort to be able to get into the best colleges as this would affect their future job prospects. With classes beginning in the afternoon after school lets out and continuing late into the evening, these schools provide additional instruction to give learners an edge in the exams they face.

Students who are successful in the first stage of testing are invited to take a second exam administered by their chosen university; those who pass are accepted as students. However, those who do not get a satisfactory result in the Centre Test, may not be asked to take a second exam (Private university candidates do not need to take the Centre Test).

It is also common for students who fail to win a place at their chosen universities to spend another year studying so they can try again. They are called rōnin, the name once given to samurai without masters. The first-year rōnin are called ichirō, a name that becomes nirō if they are in their second year with no university acceptance in hand. There are even some students who go into their third and fourth year of repeated efforts, especially when taking difficult exams like those for medical faculties at famous universities.

Although entrance examinations are not as tough as they once were, competition is still extremely fierce for young people hoping to win an education at one of the nation’s top universities.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology plans to scrap the current system in favor of a series of “achievement tests” to be taken through the high school. The new tests would be taken two or three times each year, with the student’s highest grade being accepted for final consideration.

The ministry says the new system is to be introduced in fiscal 2020.

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