University Entrance Exam Time

January 12, 2011

This Saturday and Sunday are the days for the “Senta Shiken” or “Center Shiken” or “Center Test”, Japan’s national university entrance exams. Many people talk about exam hell in Japan, but personally I don’t think it’s any different. When I was a wee lad back in the U.S. I put my heart and soul and a lot of free time into the S.A.T.s, achievement tests, and A.P. Tests. Then whatever was left of my heart and soul into essays for college applications.

Well, it’s no different in Japan. Kids are studying hard, but from my perspective, there doesn’t seem to be much different from myself, my English speaking friends from across the pond, my friends from Egypt, or South Korea, or other places. In fact, while “exam hell” may exist for some students who have their hearts and parents’ bank accounts set on attending the less expensive and purportedly “better” public universities, exam time is just a vacation for students who have “escalator agari” or automatic acceptance due to attending a private high school affiliated with a university.

If you are a tourist in the country, it’s a great time to watch the news for shots of prospective students crying in disappointment, or being heaved into the air by the school’s rugby team when accepted… or both. Also look for the annual “kid was late for exam and (fill in the blank) helped him/her get there in time”. There are often trains that skip stops or make extra stops for kids in dire straits.

I just wanted to throw a light-hearted post up here to prepare visitors to Japan for the inevitable comment they will here about how “american universities are easy to get into and hard to graduate from”, or stories of exam hell (which may be more true than not depending on the age of the storyteller).

Once the students are accepted to university, life is a fun swirl of a part-time job at a yakitori place, changing your hair color, and enjoying extra-curricular activities with one of your college’s fifty tennis circles… oh yeah, and class too… sometimes… and the university cafeteria where many cell phone photos of food and wackiness will be taken.

One last thing to look for is the publication of the test questions in next week’s Japanese newspapers! It’s always fun to peruse the English portion of the test.


1 Tokyo February 12, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Center Examination requires for all those who want to get into National Universities in Japan; Tokyo, Kyoto, Tsukuba, Hitotsubashi, and Chiba (Majors). Center Examination is kind of similar to SAT; however, differences are mathematics problems in Center Exam is 10 times harder than SAT, there are no multiple choices in math, of course, no calculators. Depending on which major you are going to select for colleges you have chosen for, requirement subjects that you are going to take on Center Exam will defer. For example, if I want to go Tokyo University, medical school, then I must take Physics, Math I,II,A,B, Biology I and II, Chemistry I and II, Japanese, English,… and usually total points are 900 based on. If you want to go to Tokyo University, you must achieve at least 700, however, center exam’s scores are first step; in other words, it is like you are not opening doors yet. After you finish with Center Exam, then in a month, you must take second step exam which is based on the test which creates by Universities. Each universities will provide you tests. However, Any universities in Japan will expect you to solve Calculus I and II and Advanced of them, some higher level universities; Keio, Waseda, Jouchi, Tokyo, Kyoto, Tsukuba, Meiji, will give you math test with mathematics competition level. Therefore, every year, the average points for math in Todai is only 40% out of 100. Most students will attend in secondary school, cram schools, to train most highest level mathematics over and over even though students can never solve them well. English is pretty tense since they are not native speakers. I asked more than 8 math teacher in my universities and high schools, none of them can solve any questions of entrance exams of Japanese universities. I wonder why. Here is a example of my high school’s entrance exam. When I was 15 years old, I was dealing with kind of this math problems. However, I am proud of myself that I could experience hard Japanese education, because I feel much easier in American univeristy

year of 2003- S.G high school in Japan- Entrance Exam- Mathematics (60 minutes)
I Answer following questions below
(1) find the number in 2005th under decimals of (1/7)^2003
(2) if a<b, replace numbers of a^2, b^2, an, a^2+b^2,1 from smallest to biggest.
However, these questions are based on Mathematics 7 grades in japan. Also, these questions that consider as basic, and none of questions like this is not on ACT or SAT at all.

2 jay@newzjapan February 13, 2011 at 12:23 pm

I want to thank you for the well thought out comment, Tokyo, but this is exactly the reason I decided to write this article. The whole point of the article is that the “exam hell” type experience is universal and not unique to Japan or any other country in the world. Parents, teachers, students all feel pressure. You make my point when you talk about how hard it is to get into top universities. The same is true of the U.S. and other countries as well. Comparing they type of math questions (note I don’t say “level”) on both tests is not really productive to the discussion, however if you want to argue that its more difficult that’s fine with me.

The biggest surprise for me in your discussion is the assertion that mathematics professors at American universities were unable to do questions from the Japanese entrance exam. If you used the above questions, I think a better translation is needed. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that someone with a PhD in math who’s dedicated his life to the field, publishes academically, and teaches students from a variety of backgrounds is unable to do a math problem taught to first year junior high kids in Japan.

The point remains that a kid in the U.S. that wants to go to an Ivy League school, M.I.T., Duke, Stanford, or another selective school has a very similar experience to the kid who feels he or she needs to get into Kyoto University.

Lastly, if you would like to get a proper translation of some math questions done (or provide a link or the actual text of the original Japanese instructions and problems) I’d be happy to present them here for an international audience.

I wish you continued success in your studies and that you continue to open your mind.