Entrance exams at the university level in Japan contain a particular type of English vocabulary known as “juken-eigo,” which is specifically employed in entrance examinations and has--in some cases--no other practical application. It has been noted that such juken-eigo vocabulary is comprised of high-level words that are not even included in junior and senior high school (JSH) English textbooks. This study undertakes (1) to scrutinize the language used in the Examination of the National Center for University Entrance (Center exams) and the entrance exams administered by the individual universities (University exams) and (2) to discover how the language compares with the vocabulary to which students are introduced in JSH textbooks. Because Japan's Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture revises its Course of Study guidelines approximately every ten years, exams from 1988, 1998, and 2004 were chosen to be used as samples for the study. The authors reviewed three Center exams and 48 University exams that had been administered during those years and they made quantitative/qualitative observations about the juken-eigo vocabulary.
To fulfill the study, the changes in the characteristics of juken-eigo vocabulary were observed, by year, from the following five aspects: (1) the total number of words (types and tokens) used in Center and in University examinations, respectively; (2) the coverage of JSH English textbook vocabulary for individual Center and University exams; (3) the vocabulary level of Center and University exams with respect to the level presented in JSH English texts, then compared to the high-frequency words of the British National Corpus (BNC); (4) the number of outstanding juken-eigo words in the University examinations, as identified from available usage statistics and compared with the high-frequency words of the BNC; and (5) the scope of the vocabulary used in the University exams compared with the coverage of the related JSH textbooks, with regard to seven practical applications in spoken English and in written English, respectively.
The study reveals that students are expected to be familiar with more words every year and that there are a higher percentage of juken-eigo words appearing in the individual University exams than in the Center exams. This study data prove that the juken-eigo vocabulary used in University exams is, in fact, above the level taught in JSH English textbooks, while the vocabulary used in the Center exams is very nearly appropriate for students who have just graduated from a senior high school in Japan. The authors discuss the implications of those findings and of the data collected when the vocabulary in respective entrance exams was compared with the high-frequency words of the BNC.
Although there is some controversy over the esoteric nature of some of the words used in the vocabulary of University exams, it is important to note that, as time passes, the words deemed to be a part of the juken-eigo vocabulary are more in line with current events and practical spoken applications than are the words presented in the standard JSH textbook vocabulary. The fact is that if the public's increasing demand for practical communicative English language ability is taken into account, a student's modest vocabulary can be supplemented with much of the juken-eigo vocabulary such as that used in the University exams. During the study, it was noted that the level of usability exhibited in the "exam vocabulary" has increased, slightly--in both spoken and written English. It is the authors' contention, however, that students can be better prepared for the entrance examinations if the level of vocabulary used in the University exams was brought more into line with what students actually study when they are in school. This study provides valuable information and basic data, which can provide a solid foundation for the important discussion about what an entrance examination should be.
日本の大学入試英語問題の英語は｢受験英語｣と呼ばれ、大学に入るための特殊な英語であると一般には考えられる。またその語彙の難易度は、文部（科学）省の学習指導要領に基づく中高英語教科書語彙のそれを超えて、難しすぎるのではないかと言われる。そこで本研究は、大学入試英語問題全体に使用される英語語彙の難易度と有用性を、1980年代以降を３年代に分けて定量的・定質的に調査し検証することを目的とした。調査分析は、（1）異語数と延べ語数、（2）中高英語教科書語彙によるカバー率、（3）British National Corpusを基準尺度にした語彙レベル、（4）特徴語の抽出、（5）音声英語と文字英語の各７分野に対するカバー率の測定、という５項目で実施した。結果からは、共通一次・センター試験問題語彙の難易度はほぼ適切であるのに対し、個別大学入試英語問題語彙のそれは高すぎることが確認された。一方、個別大学入試英語問題語彙の有用性は高いことが判明した。