You are currently taking exams or waiting for results? The time has now come for choices and applications for next year, and you might be thinking of studying abroad. That is why I would like to make a brief presentation of the French school system – maybe you will want to come and spend a few months in the land of the baguette and the Eiffel Tower!
Before the bac
For French children, school starts at the age of 3 with the l’école maternelle, which lasts for three years (petite, moyenne, and grande section). Then, pupils go to the l’école primaire for five years. They begin with the Cours Préparatoire (CP), where they learn how to read. The following years are called Cours Elémentaire 1 and 2 and Cours Moyen 1 and 2. Pupils do not go to class every day: school is only on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. But each school day lasts six hours and they are quite busy! As their weeks are rather full-on, they have long holidays: around fifteen weeks a year.
At the age of 11, the French go to the collège. They stay there for four years (called 6ème, 5ème, 4ème and 3ème – as in a countdown), and they take their first exam, the brevet des collèges. Some then choose a professional school to find work faster, but most students go to a lycée, which lasts for three years (seconde, première and terminale – countdown continues). As a conclusion to this first part of their education, they need to pass the baccalauréat.
The Baccalauréat is a major exam in a French student’s education. It gives access to university studies, and once students have passed their Baccalauréat, they often leave their parents’ home and have a more grown-up life. Students can choose between several major subjects for their Bac. There are three main areas of expertise (literature, science and economics), as well as several professional ones. The exam actually lasts two years: students take a few subjects when they are in their second-to-last year, and then their main subjects in their last year. Some subjects can be taken as a continuous assessment, but most are final exams.
The French marking system goes from 0 (the worst mark) to 20 (the best mark). To pass the Bac, the average of all subjects must be superior to 10. When students get a particularly good global grade, they get a mention, which is proof of the quality of their work. Marks between 12 and 14 get the mention “assez bien”, marks between 14 and 16 the mention “bien”, and marks above 16 the mention “très bien”.
Once they have their Baccalauréat, students have to decide where to go for the rest of their studies – they have a large number of possibilities and the choice is not always easy! We will talk about these possibilities in the second part of the article.