The washback effects of the Japanese university entrance examinations of English : classroom-based research.
It is commonplace to assert that the Japanese university entrance examinations
dominate the whole educational system and practice in Japan. There are critics who
even go so far as to claim that the exams are so powerful that if the exams were to
change, innovation in education would automatically follow therefrom. Despite a large
number of assertions and claims. however. surprisingly little empirical research has
been conducted to look into the nature of the impact to date. The purpose of the present
thesis is to report an empirical exploration into the washback effects of the Japanese
university entrance examinations of English on pre-college level education.
In the present research. an attempt was made to test the validity of various
predictions derived from general public opinions by directly observing the classrooms.
as well as gathering information from teacher interviews. The samples were taken from
regular and special exam preparatory classes of high schools, and the summer and
winter intensive courses of yobiko (a special exam preparatory institution). The results
provided very little evidence that the predicted types of washback were present either
on the exercise types employed in the classrooms, contents of the lessons, or teaching
methods. Other factors than the exams, such as teachers' beliefs, their familiarity with
teaching methods, school cultures, and availability of support-materials, seemed to be playing a greater role in determining what happens in the classroom. On the basis of
the results, sets of suggestions were advanced for teachers, test-constructors, material
developers, and future researchers.
The thesis concludes with a progressive re-conceptualisation of the notion of
washback in the light of the research findings.