5 Jun 2017, 6:21pm
STEP Eiken tests
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Changes to the STEP Eiken Tests (June 2017)

There have been a few…

The STEP Eiken Test is probably the best-known and most widely-recognized test of English for Japanese schoolchildren. It is closely tied to the school curriculum and the organization that produces it is trying to get more involved with university entrance tests once they are mandated to be 4-skills (from 2020).

Recently there have been quite a few changes to the STEP Eiken tests, most of which took me by surprise, so this post is to give other teachers a heads-up as to what has changed and what the latest version of the test looks like.

It seems as though the Eiken Foundation is trying to make the tests more rigorous in line with the new Course of Study and objectives for English education in Japan (particularly with regards to the upcoming changes to the university entrance tests).

I’ll describe each level in detail below, but the general changes are:

  1. the test seems to have gotten harder overall (the vocabulary and reading sections seem more difficult to me)
  2. there are new written sections in levels 3 and pre-2 (2, pre-1, and 1 already had a written section)
  3. there are new, optional, online “speaking” tests for levels 5 and 4
  4. the interview tests for levels 2, pre-2, and 3 are more rigorous: you now have to pass each section in order to pass the test. Merely getting a passing score is no longer enough to pass (we had a student fail with 20 points last time)
  5. interview examiners can no longer keep the interview cards and manuals, which is going to make practicing more difficult in the future 😉

Grade 5

The grade 5 test is 25 minutes for the paper and 22 for the listening. It consists of:

15 vocabulary questions (choose the word that goes in the blank)
5 conversation questions (choose the phrase that goes in the blank)
5 ‘rearrange the sentence’ questions (put the words in order)
10 listening questions with reference pictures
5 listening questions where you choose a written answer
10 listening questions where you answer about a picture

Overall I think the test seemed similar to previous years. No huge changes.

Grade 4

The grade 4 test is 35 minutes for the paper test, and 28 for the listening. It consists of:

15 vocabulary questions (choose the word that goes in the blank)
5 conversation questions (choose the phrase that goes in the blank)
5 ‘rearrange the sentence’ questions (put the words in order)
10 questions based on reading passages (one easy, one medium, and one difficult)
10 listening questions with reference pictures
20 listening questions where you choose a written answer

The reading section seems to have gotten harder in this test. The final text was really hard.

Grade 3

The grade 3 test is 50 minutes for the paper test, and 25 for the listening. It consists of:

15 vocabulary questions (choose the word that goes in the blank)
5 conversation questions (choose the phrase that goes in the blank)
10 questions based on reading passages (one easy, one medium, and one difficult)
1 writing exercise where students have to write 25-35 words and answer a question giving two reasons. The question this time was: “Where do you want to go during your summer vacation?”. They seem to be using old questions from the level 3 speaking test for this section.
10 listening questions with reference pictures
20 listening questions where you choose a written answer

The reading section seems to have gotten harder in this test. The final text made me think. The new writing section is going to trip up students who haven’t done much writing or practiced for this section of the test.

Grade pre-2

The grade pre-2 test is 75 minutes for the paper test, and 25 for the listening. It consists of:

20 vocabulary questions (choose the word that goes in the blank)
5 conversation questions (choose the phrase that goes in the blank)
5 vocabulary and phrase questions (choose the words that go in the blank in longer passages)
7 questions based on reading passages (one easy, one medium, and one difficult)
1 writing question where they examinees have to write 50-60 words and answer a question giving two reasons. This time the question was: “Do you think it is better for people to eat in restaurants or at home?”.
10 listening questions with no visual reference
20 listening questions where you choose a written answer

Overall this test felt slightly harder. Again, the writing question is similar to past interview questions for grade pre-2. The pre-2 test feels too long now. I think they have given too much extra time for the writing section.

Grade 2

The grade 2 test is 85 minutes for the paper test, and 25 for the listening. It consists of:

20 vocabulary questions (choose the word or phrase that goes in the blank)
6 vocabulary and phrase questions (choose the words that go in the blank in longer passages)
12 questions based on reading passages (one easy, one medium, and one difficult)
1 writing question where they examinees have to write 80-100 words and answer a question giving two reasons. This time the question was: “Today, more and more young people are starting their own companies. Do you think this is a good idea?”
30 listening questions where you choose a written answer

Overall this test felt slightly harder. Again, the writing question is similar to past interview questions for grade 2. This test also feels a bit too long.


I haven’t seen the new grade pre-1 or 1 tests yet, but I presume they haven’t changed as much. You can see past papers and a lot more information at the STEP Eiken website.

Anything to add? How are you finding the new tests?

STEP Eiken 4-kyu, 5-kyu Speaking Test from June 2016

Where are they going to find the interview testers???

I just read this press release/informational pamphlet on the STEP Eiken website (thanks for the tip, Mary!)

From June this year (ie the 2016-1 session of the STEP Eiken test) 5-kyu and 4-kyu will have a speaking test.

At first I was extremely surprised and wondered where they were going to find the interviewers to cope with these thousands of additional test, but then I read the content.

The new speaking tests will be online, can be done at any time, and will not affect whether students pass or fail the main STEP Eiken test. Instead students will receive an additional pass/fail certificate for the speaking test. I believe from the write-up that students will record their spoken answers and submit them via a website. Presumably Eiken will mark them using software, so it will be important to stick to the prescribed answer formats.

I’m guessing they will get those two annoying voice actors to do the audio (who is that woman, by the way? Sendai City got her to do the new subway line safety announcements, so now I have to listen to her every day rather than just for a couple of months a year…).

This is the content of the 4-kyu test.

eiken 4 new speaking test

And here is the 5-kyu.

eiken 5 new speaking test

As you can see (click on the graphics to make them bigger or just look at the original eiken version), they are both kind of watered down versions of the 3-kyu speaking test. Don’t know how they are going to guarantee the reliability of the test if students can take it at home with their parents or at school with their teachers, but I guess the stakes aren’t very high here and that’s why they decided to have it run parallel to (instead of be a part of) the paper test.

It’s probably a positive development and hopefully will put more emphasis on speaking skills for junior high school students. I don’t like that students have to read to answer the questions. It would be better to have them exclusively based on pictures and audio like the Cambridge YLE tests, but such is eiken 🙂

What do you think about the new speaking tests?

Social Skills Written Test

You’ve probably seen this already, it’s all over the English J-web, but just in case (thanks to goodandbadjapan):

Kanji Kentei, the best Japanese test?

The ???? (kanji kentei), or Japanese Character Proficiency Test, is in my opinion one of the best tests for non-native residents of Japan who want to improve their whole language skills.
Given that the test is designed for native speakers, and focuses on reading and writing Japanese characters, what basis could I have for making that statement?
I am not just being controversial for the sake of it, I honestly believe that, unlike it’s best-known competitor, the test is well-made, good value for money, and that studying for it yields benefits that amount to more than a passing score on a test.
The test has the following benefits:
1. it tests kanji and vocabulary in context, as well as on their own
2. in order to pass, you need a good knowledge of the meaning, reading, stroke order, compounds, usage, and antonyms of each character
3. you learn to write, which is an important skill if you live in Japan
4. the study materials are reasonably priced and widely available in book stores and even 100 yen shops (the earlier tests mirror school grades, so you can buy kids’ kanji workbooks and use them to practice)
5. the test is held three times a year and is reasonably priced
6. you get your results in a month or so, and they also give you the answers when you finish the test so you can check how you did while it is still fresh in your mind
There is a range of materials you can use to study for the test, but I have found the following the most useful:
1. renshuu.org allows you to drill data sets specifically for the kanji kentei
2. the official range of study guides are excellent
3. the range of Nintendo Wii and DS software
I will be trying for level 6 the next time I take the test, which is the equivalent of 5th grade elementary school.
The kanken is not for everyone, but if you are serious about improving your Japanese and need a structured approach with regular, achievable goals, it can be a useful tool.

 
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