Private Junior High Schools in Tokyo to Prioritize English in Entrance Exams

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
A teacher of Wayo Kudan Junior High School explains about a new English-based entrance examination, in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, in early November.

Some private junior high schools in the Tokyo metropolitan area plan to introduce a new entrance examination system from the 2024 academic year, putting greater emphasis on each candidate’s English-language prowess.

The private junior high schools hope to attract students with high English proficiency to help promote global education and send more of their graduates to prestigious universities.

University entrance goals

“Your pronunciation is beautiful,” said a native English teacher from Wayo Kudan Junior High School to an elementary school student who participated in a practice admissions interview in English in early November. The interviews were held at the junior high school in Tokyo and organized by Shutoken Moshi Center, a company offering preparatory services for people keen to excel in the junior high school entrance exams. Eight schools participated in the event.

“Acquiring students with high English proficiency can directly lead to a large number of graduates going on to the most prestigious universities,” said an official of Josai University Incorporated Josai Junior and Senior High School in Tokyo, which will newly establish quotas for students who apply for admission based on interviews conducted in both English and Japanese. “Such students will also serve as a good stimulus for other students.”

According to cram school chain Eikoh Seminar, 25 of the about 300 private junior high schools in the Tokyo metropolitan area will establish new admission quotas for students applying through English-based entrance exams next spring.

The move comes in the wake of English becoming a formal subject at elementary schools in fiscal 2020, lowering the hurdle for junior high schools to introduce English-focused entrance tests.

Other factors behind the development are the increasing popularity of schools that focus on global education programs, and the fact that Tokyo’s private junior high schools will be obliged to follow stricter rules on entrance exams for returnees from abroad, starting from the 2024 academic year.

According to the Association of Tokyo Private Junior and High Schools, which sets the rules for entrance examinations, students who are eligible to take “returnee” entrance exams must have lived abroad for at least one year and subsequently returned to Japan within three years.

However, the principal of a Tokyo private junior high school said it was possible for students at domestic international schools with high English proficiency to sit the school’s returnee-focused entrance exam, even if they had not lived overseas for more than 12 months or failed to satisfy other requirements.

Until 2022, no rules existed regarding the timing of the entrance exams for returnee students. In recent years, some schools have held such exams as early as mid-October in the year preceding their enrollment year in a bid to attract international school students — who could take the exams as if they were returnees — at an early stage.

The association decided that, from this year, schools should hold such exams in or after November.

Toshimichi Fujita, head of Eikoh Seminar’s entrance examination information center, said junior high school entrance examinations generally comprise four subjects — Japanese, mathematics, science and social studies — and only a small number of students who study English can be accepted.

“Parents should be careful not to place an undue burden on their children by adding English to the four existing subjects of study, unless their kids are good at or really love English,” Fujita said.