A key government panel on education has unveiled a set of proposals designed to reform the university entrance examination system, including a plan to end admission tests that assess examinees' scores in one-point increments.
The proposals, which the education ministry is expected to carry out in 2020 at the earliest, also called for conducting entrance exams for colleges and universities more than once a year, ministry officials said.
The reform plans, put together by the Central Council for Education, would seek to scrap the current system, which critics say disproportionately emphasizes the importance of fragmentary knowledge. Instead, the proposed system would primarily aim to assess the abilities of applicants to think and make judgements.
The proposals also call for fundamentally reforming the high school and university education systems.
On Monday, the council submitted a report detailing the reform plans to Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Hakubun Shimomura.
The main thrust of the proposed reform is to replace the current system, known as the National Center Test for University Admissions, with a new one tentatively called an "academic achievement test for prospective university entrants."
The envisaged system will likely be introduced in 2020 or early 2021. Students who are now in their sixth year of primary school will be in the third year of high school in 2020.
The new testing system is distinct from the current method in that it would adopt not only subject-based tests, but provide an examination in which the combined knowledge and skills acquired through several subjects, including mathematics and science, would be tested simultaneously.
It also would adopt essay questions and a private-sector English proficiency test. The ministry is considering using the system more than once each year, while also seeking to adopt computer-based testing as a means of conducting entrance exams under the system.
If the new system is introduced, it would mark the most significant reform since 1979, when the universal first-stage entrance exam system was adopted.
However, the details of the new system, including the content of actual examination questions, have yet to be decided. Some high schools and universities have expressed anxiety about and objections to the proposed reform.
"Society is rapidly changing. If the same type of education [as the current one] continues, it will be impossible for children to acquire skills necessary for the future," the report said.
The report also criticised the current testing system, which it said places excessive emphasis on the importance of rote memory and fails to properly assess the abilities of examinees to think and make decisions.
"It will be essential to reform [the system]," it said.
The report also urged individual colleges and universities to revamp their respective entrance tests. It will be necessary for them to screen applicants against various yardsticks, including short essays and interviews, according to the report.