Can new entrance exam appropriately measure problem-solving ability?

The Yomiuri Shimbun It is no easy task to appropriately measure a person’s powers of thought and expression. It is important to thoroughly review the content and makeup of questions for a university entrance test while considering the burdens on examinees.

The results of a trial test — a prelude for the standardized entrance exam, which will be introduced in fiscal 2020, replacing the National Center Test for University Admissions — have been released. The latest pretest was participated in by a total of 180,000 students at about 1,900 high schools, or about 40 percent of national, public and private high schools nationwide.

The questions for the pretest bear signs of painstaking effort. This seems to be a result of efforts to highlight differences between the test and the current center exam. A noticeable number of questions were set in each subject to test the abilities of examinees to think on their own and resolve problems by reading and comparing multiple materials that would not be handled in school textbooks.

The questions on world history and Japanese history used a lot of diagrams and picture materials. Those for chemistry and biology attached importance to the process of experimentation and observation. Such an approach can be expected to prompt reforms in high school education, which tends to emphasize rote learning.

The Japanese language part of the test not only addressed literary texts, but it included a new question that tested the ability to read information from such practical sentences as rules set by a student council and a school newspaper. It is understandable that the main purpose of the pretest was to improve reading comprehension skills that would also be helpful in the real world.

Question formats not used in the past were also adopted, mainly in the physics and math parts, including choosing all correct answers from among multiple choices given in computer-scored answer sheets. Such questions could not be readily answered through a random guess, so the percentage of correct answers given to them stood at a low level.

Reduce examinees’ burden

The degree of difficulty in the pretest was higher than in similar previous exams, partly because examinees had to read a large amount of text. The standardized test, which will be taken by 500,000 people, will have a role to play in measuring the basic capability of examinees. It will be important to properly determine the appropriate level of difficulty in the test.

Anxiety persists about how to score answers given for problems requiring written answers to be introduced in Japanese language and math. Thorough measures should be taken to check the results of exam-paper grading by private companies.

Another problem involved in the questions requiring written answers is how examinees should mark their own exam papers, a procedure to be carried out when they apply for entrance exams at colleges and universities. Can they accurately determine whether their written answers are contextually appropriate and whether their answers have no misspelled and omitted words?

The questions on English, which attach importance to practical skills, have been postponed until February. Preparations were too late for the planned schedule for the test, due to delays in making decisions about a policy regarding how to implement the exam.

National universities are unanimous about requiring each examinee to take both a standardized English test and a private-sector exam, such as the Test in Practical English Proficiency, also known as the Eiken test. Concrete methods of implementation have yet to be decided. Ingenuity needs to be exercised in reducing the burden of test-takers.

It is indispensable to ensure the aims of questions set in the standardized test are made well known to high schools. If examinees feel anxious during a transition period, it could put private cram schools into overdrive in preparing examinees for the new test.

Next autumn, a pretest whose methods are even closer to those of the actual standardized exam will be conducted at university venues. Efforts should be made to identify problems to be cleared in smoothly shifting to the new test, thereby making the exam reflect the purpose of the reform.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 5, 2017)Speech


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