One of the big local news stories last weekend was the revelation that an unknown party posted questions from university entrance exams on a website while the party was actually taking the exams. Apart from the obvious question of how someone could do that and not be noticed by a proctor, the incident is further evidence of how twisted the whole entrance examination (nyugaku shiken) process has become.
Now that most of the entrance examinations are finished, the students who took them (presumably without cheating) have to wait impatiently for the results. For their parents, the wait is doubly unnerving. Because national universities are more prestigious and tend to lead to better employment opportunities, many students sit for the two examinations required to get into national schools. The first, given in mid-January, is the Joint Stage Achievement Test, colloquially referred to as the sentaa shiken (“center test,” since it’s administered by the National Center for University Entrance Examinations, yet another bureaucratic organ whose main job is to justify its own existence), a uniform exam that screens out some of the applicants. Then, in February, remaining applicants take exams for each national university they want to attend (kobetsu gakuryoku kensa). Students who are applying to private universities take only the tests for those schools.
The overlap in test-result announcements is what makes parents nervous. Many young people want to attend national universities, but they know the odds are against them: For the 2011 academic year there were 207,299 applications for 64,111 slots. Consequently, many also apply to private universities as a backup in case they don’t get into a national school. This process is known as suberi-dome, literally “prevention from sliding down.”