Thursday, April 14, 2016

Studying for entrance examinations

Juken benkyou

Year of Requirement, Part 6

I mentioned previously that my teachers were amazed at me academically. Not my English (which was slightly better than average in Suburbia, U.S.A, and therefore off the charts in a public junior high school in Japan), but my math (somewhat above average) and science (inconsistent but average overall), social studies (below average) and language arts (as in Japanese: below average, but obviously literate.) In short, they were impressed with me because I was...average. This was because, at the time, there was a lot of stuff in the Japanese media about how the American education system was failing, and that Americans were looking toward Japan to see how Japan had got it right.

They’d obviously never met my friends from Suburbia.

But, back to the topic of the Year of Requirement. Japan’s school system is different from the US. Required education is nine years. When your education is required, there is a public school you are assigned to attend, and you go there (or, of course, if you are very smart you can go to an uber-selective school in the middle of town), same as the US or pretty much anywhere else in the world. To attend high school, however, you have to apply for and be accepted by a school, because high school is not required (whereas an American kid would be required to go to a high school for two years, and be allowed to stay for an additional two).

(I’m completely ignoring homeschooling here because it wasn’t a big thing when I lived in Suburbia, and it doesn’t really exist in Japan. I knew one person who was homeschooled. She was my piano duet partner, and was homeschooled until 8th grade and then we were in the high school in Suburbia together.)

This is why things were so, um, interesting for me during my final year of requirement. The year I was in the first year I got back was chu-san, or third year of middle school, as in, the final year of requirement. High schools in Japan chose students based on their transcripts and their entrance exam scores. Since I’d gone to school in Suburbia, U.S.A., my academic transcript from my single semester of 9th grade (or for that matter my transcripts from 7th and 8th grade) was essentially useless. My grades for the next year would be the only ones in my transcript. Also, I had obviously not gone to a Japanese school for the past two years, so I hadn’t learned the course material at all. Math was, of course, math all over the world, but, well, do you know how to say “arthropod” or “absolute monarchy” in a language other than English?

So, if I just sat around, I would end up in an average area public high school. Which wasn’t likely to let me get into the university I wanted to go to so that I could have one of the careers I wanted. We needed a plan.

Plan A would be to apply to one of the schools with special slots for kids like me. They’d make you sit a different examination from the standard slots, look at your transcript from your American/ British/ Australian/ French/ German/ wherever school AND your school in Japan, interview you, and admit you (or not) based on that. One of these was a school in Tokyo that had boarding facilities. It was an expensive school, but it would be worth the money.

Plan B was the old fashioned way; to do as well as possible in my new school and learn as much as possible of the three years worth of material in one year, and sit the same exam as everyone else to get into a top school in the area. This would obviously be cheaper but also be risky. The target school was the one that sent the most girls to big name universities, and was , of course, considered the most difficult.

I talked about plan A with my parents and teachers, and they seemed to think it was a good plan (the school in question was a very famous high school affiliated with a very famous university). I could have sworn we were going with plan A until at least the third month of the school year. But somehow, we ended up going with plan B. I think the main reason was finances. I don’t think I’d have ended up where I am today if I’d gone with Plan A, so all’s well that ends well, I guess.

No comments: