Saturday, October 15, 2011

College Entrance Exams

It's 9:30, and I'm waiting outside my elder daughter's cram school (she's coming home early today, she usually finishes at 11:00). She has university entrance exams coming up in a few months, and has been cramming for several months, 6 days/week, 5-6 hours/day after school.

In the States, many students take prep courses to do better on the ACT or SAT, hoping to increase their chance of getting into a university, but it's not the same thing. The SAT or ACT, while undeniably important, are not the only criteria for admission. Your high school grades, extra-curricular activities, references and even volunteer work are taken into consideration. And if you bomb either of those tests, you have the opportunity to take them again, and again, and again if needed.

Not here in Japan. Your entrance test is the only thing that will get you into college. The only thing. Bomb this puppy, and you'll be "Ronin", a masterless samurai in search of a school, and spend the next year in prep school before trying again. Your high school grades don't count for jack-shitt, other than your homeroom teacher's determination of which school you should test for. Several of my students spent junior high asleep in the back of the class, then played with themselves in a lower high school for the first (Sophomore) year, before finally buckling down, studying and becoming the #1 student in their graduating class.

Oh, and each college has its own entrance exam. College A has this exam, College B made that one; hopefully they aren't on the same day, or your options just got cut in half. Just pay your $250-500 per test and go. A standardized "Center Test" came out a few years ago which is supposed to serve the purpose of the ACT and allow students to take one test for multiple schools, but it hasn't worked out that way. The schools need that test fee, what with Japan's declining birth rate and resulting declines in attendance rates, so they look at your Center Test, say "How nice!", then make you take their test anyways.

Meanwhile high school seniors like my daughter continue to spend as many as 8 hours after school, and 14 hours each on Saturday and Sunday, hoping to cram in as much information as possible that may appear on the test. They aren't really required to make grades at school any more, and during the last 2-3 months, many don't listen in class; they just openly do their cram school homework or sleep, soaking up energy for tonight's lesson.

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