A content analysis of prefectural senior high school entrance exams: What aspects of English do they assess and how?

Article appearing in Shiken 26.2 (December 2022) pp. 1-18;

By Peter O'Keefe1 and David Allen2

1. Fujikawa Board of Education
2. Ochanomizu University


Research into high-stakes English tests in Japan has typically focused on entrance examinations to university while few studies have investigated those for high school. In this study, a content analysis was conducted of 24 prefectural English entrance examinations for public high schools administered in 2022. We focused on the language skills and subskills targeted in the exams by referring to the socio-cognitive framework (Weir, 2005), and examined the item types and response formats, and readability of the reading passages. Key findings revealed that in terms of item distribution, the exams focus primarily on reading (62.38%), followed by listening (29.16%), and finally writing (8.46%). In terms of subskills, the exams tended to target comprehension of main ideas at the text level rather than comprehension of specific details or discrete linguistic knowledge at the sentence level. Overall, the findings highlight the convergence between the exam content and the goals of the MEXT course of study. However, the dominant focus on receptive skills remains, which presents a potential barrier to achieving positive washback from these high-stakes exams.

Keywords: Content analysis, English entrance exams, Japanese senior high schools, prefectural entrance exams

Download full article (PDF)