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March 09, 2011

Newsletter Editorial: Are University English Exams a Sham?

Teaching-English-in-Japan-Education-Tim-Murphey" This week I have been working on a fascinating interview with Tim Murphey, author of The Tale That Wags. Tim, of course, was a plenary speaker at last year's JALT Conference in Nagoya but he is a star in my mind for his principled stand against the way in which university entrance exams for English are created and the detrimental effect they have on students. According to Tim, many, perhaps most, of these exams are created in an ad hoc fashion by unwilling participants and have no validity. They don't accurately test what they set out to test. And yet these exams are the focal point for much of a young person's life in high school, and failing them has led to suicides.

Tim resigned from a comfortable, tenured position at a respected university rather than be part of such a system, and his semi-autobiographical novel The Tale That Wags is a short, but entertaining and stimulating work of "faction" and everyone who cares about ELT in Japan should have a copy.

To support the cause is selling The Tale That Wags at a loss, and Tim is donating all of his royalties to charity. I hope that you will consider taking a look.

The interview with Tim will be out before the end of the month. We have quite a few interesting interviews lined up after that: Professor Kumiko Torikai, whose comments to the Asahi Shinbun caused quite a stir recently, Marcos Benevides co-author of the award-winning Whodunit book, and Shane Lipscombe who recently sold his interests in Japan, including Shane English School for around $24 million. If you have questions for any of these people, then drop me a line.

Till next week!

Russell Willis
Founder, ( This article was originally published in the Newsletter, sent to 14,000 teachers every week or so. Click here to find out more.)

P.S. With St. Patrick's Day coming up, teachers might be interested in the following resource: "Everything you wanted to know about Ireland" (in Japanese).

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I would recommend The Tale That Wags. It's a well-written, accessible story that filled a lot of gaps in my knowledge about testing and assessment in Japan, and assessment in general. I don't know Tim, but he has my thanks for writing an important and useful book.

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