Thursday, January 12, 2017

Entrance Examination System

Nyushi Seido

Year of Requirement Part 19

I should probably mention that in winter, there was an actual speech contest, in which participants would speak in Japanese. However, it was supposed to be a personal statement and it wasn’t about presentation. A classmate who said stuff about being raised by a single mom who saved money so that she could pay the admission fee for high school was chosen as the rep. It was a nicely put-together heartwarming story, but she had zero presentation skills.

In case this wasn’t clear yet, I didn’t like Pumpkin Junior High School. I didn’t mind the uniform or the rules. It was the company, or lack thereof. There was a group of girls I hung out with but I couldn’t really relate to any of them, not the way I could with my friends in Suburbia. I was actually looking forward to the high school entrance exam. It would mean new people that might actually understand where I was coming from, or at least try to understand, and it would be the next step toward the career I wanted. When I mentioned this, people looked at me the same way they looked at me when I said my favorite subject was math, which was the same way they would have looked at me if I’d said I wanted to have major surgery without anesthesia.

You could only apply to one public high school. Your homeroom teacher would steer you toward the school that you actually had a chance of getting into based on your transcript and your practice test scores, but from there, it was up to you to score high (enough) on the exam, which was a one-shot deal of five subjects (Japanese, Math, Science, Social Studies, and English) taken over a period of one day (this was back in the mid 80’s. Later, they added an interview and spread the test over two days).

Another way to get into a school was suisen nyugaku which roughly translates into “entrance on recommendation.” Kids who were really good at sports or got lots of awards for art or writing or whatever or were exceptionally talented in any way got in this way, but this was only available in some schools. _The exam was just an interview, and they chose students based on their transcripts and relevant accomplishments. Usually, the purpose was to get kids good at sports into schools that were strong in sports. Since I was neither good at sports or interested in focusing on sports in HS, this information was not relevant to me.

Since you could, of course, fail to get into the public school of your choice, a lot of kids applied for private schools as well (sometimes more than one). For most kids, this was the “safety school” that you were sure to get into. (It was the first choice school in rare cases. Of course, if you were from Tokyo or Osaka or thereabouts, your first choice school was frequently a private school. But Pumpkin City is in the boonies and the top public school was the most competitive.)

If you were accepted to the private school, you paid the admission fee for the private high school and sat the public high school exam, and then, if you didn’t get into the public high school, you’d go to the private school. If you got into the public high school, you (or rather, your parents) had to give up the admission fee as lost. I thought this was absurd and I opted not to choose a safety school. I thought my parents couldn’t afford it. I knew enough about how this whole thing worked to see that pretty much my only chance of having any of the careers I wanted (I wanted to be either a lawyer or a diplomat or what I am now) was to get into my first choice school.

It was a risky move. If I wasn’t accepted, the next chance I would have to sit the exam would be one year later. (There were private prep courses for that. It was rare but not exceptionally so. I know a couple people personally who did this in HS.)

Admissions to all schools involved academic transcripts and personal information like attendance records and extracurriculars and competitions. I had almost perfect attendance (the one day I was absent, the teacher looked around and said, ‘She’s absent? Really? Maybe it’ll snow tomorrow” AND THEN IT REALLOY SNOWED) and I did drama club and I’d won that “speech” contest. But the transcript…well, the transcript. I was behind in Japanese language (of course) and didn’t get the hang of memorizing details in Japanese (I was all right with doing it in English, but not Japanese) until the 2nd trimester, and I had a 3 (C) in P.E. and Home Ec and Art. The girls in my glass trying to get into the same school had better grades than I did.

So, a test (or five tests, depending on how you count) was going to determine my future. This was extremely annoying. But the world (or even just Pumpkin Prefecture) did not the way some fifteen-year-old wanted.

* If you’re into Japanese anime or manga, you may have noticed that most of the HS stories take place in private schools. This is because private schools will tend to have the diverse student body of jocks, brains, geeks, rich kids, poor kids and creative types both male and female (or trans, let’s not judge here, although they are unlikely to be outside their biological gender, not in a Japanese HS, and even less likely so in the mid 80s) all in the same building. Public schools are sports/ vocational or academic in an assortment of levels, and the student body is not nearly as diverse (although it tends to be more diverse in the boonies like Pumpkin City than in Tokyo). And unlike honors and AP in American HSs, you can’t be in standard one year and honors the next. You’re in that school campus you graduate.

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