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September 21, 2004

STEP to Compete With TOEIC

The Society for Testing English Proficiency Inc. plans to introduce a new type of English proficiency test to compete with the Test of English for International Communication, which has become very popular in recent years.

The new business English test will be introduced in conjunction with Cambridge University later this month. STEP has decided to abolish the existing five-scale grading system after many companies complained that it was difficult to use, and instead to adopt a system similar to that of TOEIC, which has a full score of 990. The new test has a maximum score of 100, and is tailored for Japanese test-takers based on an English proficiency test widely used in non-English speaking countries in the European Union, according to STEP. In addition, STEP plans to measure the speaking and writing abilities of test-takers as the two fields are said to be hard to gauge through TOEIC.

STEP, which has about four decades of history, drew about 3.5 million test-takers at its peak in 1996. But the number fell to about 2.5 million in 2003, of which about 2 million were junior high school or high school students. STEP officials attribute the declining number of test-takers to falling birthrates as well as to the trend in which many companies switched from STEP to TOEIC in screening job seekers.

TOEIC, which started in 1979 with about 3,000 test-takers, has rapidly grown and reported about 1.42 million test-takers in fiscal 2003. About 60 percent of those who sat for TOEIC in fiscal 2003 were working adults. In addition, many college students began taking TOEIC because the test is increasingly used by companies to screen job applicants. "We hear that those in charge of human resources at companies are unhappy that their employees who achieved high scores in other English tests cannot speak English," a public relations official at STEP said. "We want to measure the real command of English with our test." The Institute for International Business Communication, which runs TOEIC, believes that there will be no major shift in the number of people taking TOEIC in the near future. (Kyodo News)

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