Bacs Against the Wall

My two teens are taking their bacs at the moment. The bac, le baccalauréat, introduced by Napoleon in 1808, is the qualification students gain (hopefully!) at the end of their three years in lycée, when the majority of them are aged around 18. Technically it is an academically qualifying degree, so if a student definitely doesn’t want to go on to university, he or she can refuse to take the bac. However, the vast majority of students sit it.

Benj and Caiti are taking the Baccalauréat general. (There are two other types of bac – Baccalauréat technologique and Baccalauréat professionnel.) The Baccalauréat general is divided into three strings. For each one, the exams are spread over two years. Benj is doing a bac L (littéraire i.e. arts). Last year he took exams in maths and computer science, natural sciences and French language. He was assessed on a TPE (Travaux personnels encadrés) project which counted towards his final marks. He then dropped all those subjects, and this year is in the process of being examined of French literature, philosophy, history and geography, English and German. Even his achievements (or lack of) in physical education over the year are taken into consideration. Caiti is taking a bac S (sciences). This year she is taking her French language exam and will have an oral exam too. She’s already had her TPE assessment. Next year, her last one at lycée, she will sit maths, SVT (sciences vie et terre – life and earth sciences), philosophy, physics and chemistry, maths, history and geography, English and German, and get a mark for her PE during the year. As you can see, her workload will be a lot heavier than Benj’s has been this year. There is also a third type of bac – bac ES, sciences economiques and sociales.

The exams are up to four hours long, which seems rather fierce to me. The longest I ever did were 3-hour ones at A-level and then at Uni, and also when part-qualifying as an accountant. Those were quite long enough! Benj had two of these 4-hour horrors on Monday. He still looks tired!

This being France, we need to complicate things. Each exam has a coefficient i.e. a weighting, which makes some subjects more important than others. For Benj, philosophy has a coefficient (coeff) of 7, which is a bit of a pain because Benj has found it harder going than he thought it would be. However, for scientific Caits, it will only have a coeff of 3. However, Benj did well in his bac last year and got well over the 50% overall you need to pass. Those excess marks will contribute towards this year’s scores. He has another secret weapon too. He has been taking an optional European German course, which he will be examined in orally. If he gets more than 12/20 for this, those marks will be added to his overall total, giving a nice little boost. (Caiti does the same course, so she stands to benefit next year too.)

If a student’s overall mark for the bac (i.e. from all the exams over the two years) is between 8 and 10, a near miss, he or she can sit the épreuve de rattrapage. This consists of orals in two subjects that the student can choose. And if these go well and bring the average up to 10, the bac will be awarded. But if they don’t, the student has the option of retaking the final year at lycée and resitting the next June. The results come out on 5th July this year, and the épreuve de rattrapage is held over the following few days so everyone their final result very quickly after the exams. This puts England and Ireland to shame where the waiting periods of several months for exam results are frankly ridiculous.

Pass rates nationally for the bac are generally above 80%, so I don’t think my two have too much to worry about. But I’ll keep my fingers crossed anyway!

STOP PRESS: It’s emerged today, 23rd June, that a question on the bac S Maths paper, which kids took on Wednesday 22nd, was leaked on Monday. However, the education minister decided not to cancel the exam, which is what students and teachers are saying he should have done.  The question, on probability and worth 20% of the marks, is simply not being marked and the other questions, more difficult ones, are being given a higher weighting to compensate. This isn’t fair at all, since, as Caiti tells me, probability is one of the more straightforward areas and candidates can usually pick up good marks on this question. There are rumours that questions from the English paper were also leaked, but I haven’t been able to find out  much about that yet.

0 Replies to “Bacs Against the Wall”

  1. I loved reading this Steph – and I never cease to be amazed at how different these things are throughout Europe! here is Switzerland only about 20% stay on past 15 to take the Matura. My eldest daughter is in the middle of it all – and I have never in my life seen such a pressurized and brutal system! If at any time your grades drop in 3 subjects (out of 13) you are made provisional and can be thrown out of school. Of my daughter’s class 5 (out of 22) have been kicked out or ‘left voluntarily’ in the last 2 years. I’m sure hose that make it to the Matura have a good education at the end of it, but there is way more pressure than we ever had in the UK when I was growing up – with the exception of A level year – but then I think we were old enough to cope with it. And to top it all, the UK universities don’t seem to have the faintest idea what to do with a Swiss Matura…..o the joys I have ahead of me, although at the moment said daughter is thinking she might study in Switzerland after all…..

  2. Ah-ha! On a whim, due to utter relaxation, after teaching exhausting non painting New Yorkers to paint this morning, I’ve just scrolled down my blog to see your nice comment …. I never think to look for these. I’ve now looked at your blog and will follow. We are in the process of re-locating to France, to the Aveyron near Villefranche de Rouergue …. I’m loving it and although French bureacracy is as complicated as it is in Italy, the French seem to have a much better grip on it all …. thank goodness!

  3. This brings back memories of when I visit my french relatives and also when I lived in Paris. I can’t believe how the bac still seems more difficult that then U.S. exams. I really despise all the multiple choice type questions they offer here in the U.S. Goo luck to both of them. Does your daughter want to become a Dr.? Did you know I went to Felixstowe College and then UEA in Norwich to study Environmental Science?

  4. Good luck to both of them. The marking system sounds horrendously complicated.

    And 4 hours … I thought I was hard done by at A-Level and then at Uni, where I had to do 10 3-hour exams in 5 days. Amazing how it varies between countries.

  5. P.S. I’ve just noticed that the lady who left the comment above mine is moving to a town close to us. Have left a comment on her blog in case she has any questions. Always glad to give other people the benefit of our 14 years here.

    1. I’m sure she’ll be delighted to get in touch. It’s invaluable knowing someone who knows the ropes. We found everything out the hard way and while that’s a very good way to learn, someone giving you a few helpful hints is much the best way!

  6. I have avoided ever putting the following words into print, but the above comments have pushed me into it.
    If you think it is easy to answer Q and A then you have never appreciated the amount of study required to make the correct choices.
    Exams maybe given 4 hours for completion, but this does not mean four hours must be spent. You can finish after one hour if you know the work. Also 4 hours is only half a work day. Surely people about to enter the workforce should be able to cope with that length of concentrated effort.
    Regarding UK A levels. My daughter with no preparation was able to pass Biology and two kinds of mathmatics with what she had learned in American HS. European kids do 13 years of school and 3 years at university. American students do 12 years of school and 4 yrs of university – who is smarter. Do the math!
    The Bac requires study of many subjects. Why not? But how deep is the knowledge? When my daughter did biology nobody studied DNA which had been covered in her USA school since the 10th year.
    This fuss about the Bac is a lot of nonesense by parents who wish to boast about their kids level of achievement without directly saying so. It is really not a difficult level to attain, if your family expects academic application.
    In Switzerland while only 20% do not go beyond age 16 within the walls of a HS, 80% continue in excellent apprenticeships the training of which is obvious in the high level of attainment throughout Swiss industry, engineering, business and banking.
    The blogs posted already do not attest to a high level of logic. Too much mixing of apples and oranges, if you know what I mean. Fuzzy math perhaps, French rhetoric peutetre.

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