An Analysis of Vocabulary Level in Reading Passages of the National Center Test

Article appearing in Shiken 23.2 (December 2019) pp. 19-27.

Ewen MacDonald
Kanda University of International Studies

A strong knowledge of high frequency vocabulary is essential for second language (L2) learners of English as it provides a large proportion of text coverage for general English texts. Additionally, a minimum understanding of 95% to 98% of the words in a text is essential to allow for reasonable comprehension and guessing of words in context. The current study examines the text coverage provided by the New General Service List (NGSL), a list of high frequency vocabulary for L2 English learners, for reading comprehension passages of Japan’s National Center Test, a standardised high-stakes national university entrance examination. Results showed that text coverage provided by the NGSL exceeded the minimum 95% threshold for reasonable reading comprehension for examinations between 2015 and 2019 with a similar level of vocabulary found across these years. The findings present a compelling argument that supporting students to acquire high frequency vocabulary should be strongly focused on at secondary school in Japan.

Keywords: Center Test, New General Service List, high frequency vocabulary, vocabulary level, Japan entrance examinations

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