Monday, June 07, 2010

The Japan Foundation Under Attack Over New JLPT Format

Publishers drop reference to the JLPT from their products.

As you probably know from reading this blog, a big part of what I do is helping people prepare for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test through my lessons on eduFire and newsletter. You would also probably know that toward the end of last year The Japan Foundation released details of the new format JLPT to be held in 2010, minus the test content specification. At the time there was an uproar from bloggers and test hopefuls. Behind the scenes also publishers were scrambling to establish their relevancy in a rapidly changing test environment.

When Deer Attack, Miyajima, Japan
When Deer Attack, Miyajima, Japan 

As an affiliate of White Rabbit Press I was able to gain a small insight into this struggle from independent publisher Max Hodges, who was kind enough to share an email exchange he had with a representative of The Japan Foundation Center for Japanese-Language Testing. Here for your benefit I have redacted the conversation.

It starts with Max expressing his disappointment in October 2009 with the decision by the Japan Foundation not to publish the test content specification.
As a producer of Japanese language learning materials, we are very disappointed by the upcoming changes to the JLPT. In past years, a "test contents specification" was produced, which allowed educators and publishers to create content designed to prepare people for the JLPT. But since the Japan Foundation has now decided to keep the contents a secret, we can no longer say that our products "provide preparation for Level X of the JLPT" for example.
Books specifically targeting preparation for the JLPT are among the most popular books on White Rabbit Press and stores like the The Japan Shop. White Rabbit Press' Japanese Kanji Flashcards series is also the top-selling product of its kind in book stores across Japan and in markets like White Rabbit Press have now redesigned their Flashcard series removing any reference to the JLPT. Max explains;
The reason is because without a test-contents spec, we no longer have any confidence that our material provides appropriate preparation for any specific level of the JLPT.
Max also argues that without reference to the JLPT on his products and and similar materials from other publishers the Japan Foundation loses a valuable source of free advertising and good will.
I think it is a disservice to educators and publishers like me, who now lose the ability to confidently prepare people for the test, and it's a disservice to the students who will now have a harder time structuring and prioritizing their limited study time. Also, as I mentioned above, I think it will hurt the popularity of the JLPT itself.
In reply nearly 5 months later the Japan Foundation copied sections of the FAQ (QA8 and QA9) from New Japanese-Language Proficiency Test Guidebook: An Executive Summary.
The new JLPT is to measure communicative competence required to perform tasks. In the new test,“communicative competence” stands on both practical Japanese communicative competence AND knowledge of the Japanese language.
Though we don’t publish “Test Content Specifications”, we offer enough alternative information to prepare for the new JLPT. “New Japanese-Language Proficiency Test Sample Questions” has all the types of test items for all the levels. Even “Test Content Specifications”, past test items will still do as the former test levels (KYUUs) and the new levels correspond to each other.
Seeing both sides of the argument

I would argue that a paper test really doesn't offer any measure of communicative competence. I can clearly say that 4 out of 5 test levels bear some resemblance to former levels. Those of you that are preparing for the N3 have the difficult task of deciding what to study between the two extremes of the old levels 3 and 2. I don't believe the Japan Foundation offers enough information for people attempting this new level, nor any specific information about test content for other levels.

For me this seems counter-productive. I thought one of the main reasons for providing a new intermediate step between the old 3 and 2 was to bridge a very difficult gap for intermediate students. It certainly doesn't make things any easier for people who are considering moving on to more advanced levels of Japanese.

I can appreciate Max's position, having taken the decision to redesign his products without reference to the JLPT. I can also see that the Japan Foundation may have acted without any consideration of the impact it would have on publishers, and the good will that they had shown up to this point. What do you think? What impact on test popularity do you think this going to have if publishers no longer carry any reference to the JLPT on their products?

How does it affect your approach to test preparation?

As a test taker and educator, it has made things a little more difficult for me. I have decided to see the problem as an opportunity in disguise and apply some creativity to my approach. You can find out more about it in my newsletter.

Tell us what you think about the the lack of content specification in the comments. Perhaps you have a view that differs from mine. How have you found test preparation with out a test content specification?

If you'd like to ask the Japan Foundation about their decision to keep the test content specification secret their email address is

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