Despite the criticisms of MacGregor’s study raised by Henry (1998), her work represents an important initial attempt to illuminate the major strengths and weaknesses of the Eiken . In contrast to MacGregor, who chose to examine overall test functioning of one level of the test, we will begin a more focused line of research by investigating the Eiken vocabulary section. Our primary purpose is to undertake a preliminary analysis of the vocabulary section of all levels of the Eiken in order to determine the types of words being tested and to make recommenda- tions for improving that section. We have chosen to focus on the vocabulary section for three reasons. First, unlike some sections of the Eiken , a vocabulary section is included on each level of the test. Thus, unlike some other areas, it is one tested at all proficiency levels. Second, a number of studies conducted in the past decade have highlighted the importance of lexical knowledge for aural language processing (Miller & Eimas, 1995; VanPatten, 1996), speech production (Altman, 1997; de Bot, 1992; Levelt, 1993), reading (de Bot, Paribakht, & Wesche, 1997; Durgunoglu, 1997), and writing (Engber, 1995; Laufer & Nation, 1995). Third, we believe that research on the vo- cabulary section in particular is needed. The first author’s experience and her discussions with other Japanese who have taken several levels of the Eiken suggest that the difficulty of the vocabulary section does not increase in smoothly graduated steps. Instead, the informal consensus is that the vocabulary sections of the pre-first and first level tests present unusually severe challenges in comparison with both the vocabulary sections of other levels of the test and with other test sections. Finally, the perception that some editions of the test (same level but appearing at different times) are easier than others, contributes to the feeling that the tests are not entirely fair. The Importance of High Frequency and Academic Vocabulary The notion that particular groups of words are of special importance has been largely inspired by corpus-based research undertaken in the past by researchers such as West (1953) and continued in the present in corpora such as Collins’ COBUILD Bank of English Corpus (- nia. cobuild. collins.co.uk/). Such corpora have consistently shown that
110 JALT J ournAL a small number of words account for a high percentage of the words met receptively and used productively. For instance, the 2,000 high fre- quency word families as represented by the headwords in West’s (1953) General Service List ( GSL ) provide coverage of up to 75% of fiction texts (Hirsh, 1993), 90% of non-fiction texts (Hwang, 1989), and 80% of aca- demic texts (Nation, 2001). In addition, the 570 general academic word families included in the Academic Word List account for an average of about 10% of the running words in academic texts (Coxhead, 2000). Together, these approximately 2,600 word families (i.e., 2,000 high frequency and 570 academic word families) are crucial for academic success in English-language settings as shown by the fact that they accounted for 86% of the vocabulary in Coxhead’s 3.5 million word academic corpus, and they constitute the
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