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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

French Bac 2012

It is that time of year again when French high school students pass (or not as the case may be) the grueling examination called le baccalauréat.  This exam was created in 1808 and today it serves as the gateway to higher education, professional training and the world of work.  There are three kinds of "Bac": général, technologique and professionel.  Within the baccalauréat général (which is primarily for students headed for university) there are three possible disciplines to choose from:  Literature (Bac L), Science (Bac S) and Economy and Society (Bac ES).  Last year the elder Frenchling passed her Bac in Literature which allowed her to enter McGill last Fall.  This year, Arun's (of the excellent blog Arun with a View) daughter successfully passed her Bac in ES and you can read about it in his post Rites of Passage.  You can also find some interesting stats concerning this year's exam on the Ministry of Education website.  In June 2012:
703 059 candidats étaient inscrits aux épreuves du baccalauréat : 48 % en filière générale, 21 % dans les séries technologiques et 31 % dans la voie professionnelle, avec une augmentation de près de 7 % des inscrits par rapport à 2011.
(703,059 candidates were registered for the exam:  48% for the baccalauréat général, 21% for the bac technologique and 31% for the bac professionel.)
Based on the first results covering 90% of the candidates, the success rates were: 79.3% for the general bac, 69% for the technology bac and nearly 69% for the professional bac.

We lived through this process last year but, alas, we are not out of the woods yet because the younger Frenchling is now in her final years of high school here at the Lycée de Sèvres (sections internationales).  She is actually preparing two exams:  the French baccalauréat général in science (Bac S) and the OIB (Option Internationale Bac) with exams in English supervised by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate. Interestingly enough she had her first set of French exams this year because some of the tests are given in Première (the year that corresponds to the American Junior year of high school) with the others to follow next year when she is in Terminale (Senior year).  Specifically she had to take her French tests (oral and written) before being liberated for the summer.

 How tough are these tests?  Well, have a look at her convocation:  4 hours for the written portion and 20 minutes for the orals.  This is not a SAT-style multiple choice exam.  This is an essay to write on a serious subject and an individual oral exam in front of someone from a Commission d'interrogation. 

Ça ne rigole pas.

She survived.  Or at least she showed up on time, took the test, and then came home and slept.  When we asked how it went, she grimaced and told us to "go away and leave me alone." In theory we are supposed to get the results today but the website is down (or groaning under the weight of all the students and their parents trying to log in) and I haven't been able to access it.  We're crossing our fingers and hopefully we will have her grades later today or tomorrow.


Kirk said...

I can't help but think that the Bac is a useless exam. It causes undue stress to both kids and parents, and it wastes nearly an entire year of lycée on preparing for the exam.

I lived through it 3 years ago when my son took it. Seeing the kind of studying he did - essentially memorization - and seeing the kinds of questions they asked, I can only think that it is designed not so much to have kids spit back information they have learned by heart, but to do so in a very strict manner. The way they have to present their answers - in all but math - is rigid and unrealistic.

In any case, he passed, with a higher grade than expected; so much so that we wonder if his grades hadn't been switched with someone else. He was very strong in German, but only got a 10.5 or so. On the other hand, he was weak in math, but somehow got a 14.

As much as the SATs are unrealistic, but in a different way, I think the Bac doesn't really do much but format the way people think and present information.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Kirk, my younger daughter agrees with you 100%

We had the same experience as you last year with the elder Frenchling. Her Bac scores in the subjects that she normally did very well in were in one or two cases surprisingly low. In other subjects where she had failing grades (German for example) she passed with very respectable scores.

So I do have to wonder how fair this is and whether or not it is really a good reflection of a student's knowledge and abilities.