The French Baccalaureate
The French Baccalauréat, or ‘le bac’, is a national examination taken at the end of secondary education (or lycée in French) and is recognised worldwide by universities. It is the required qualification in France for those students wishing to carry on their studies at university. It is the equivalent of A-levels in the English National Curriculum and is studied by students aged 15 to 18. There are three main types of baccalaureate in France: the baccalauréat général (general), the baccalauréat professionnel (professional) and the baccalauréat technologique (technological). The diploma allows students to choose between three different options according to their interests, abilities and ambitions. Each chosen series has a demanding syllabus and requires a mastery of written and spoken French.
Students who choose the baccalauréat général have core subjects (two foreign languages, history and geography, science culture and sports). They then have to choose three specialty subjects, one of which they drop and take an exam for at the end of Première (First Year). Some examples of specialty subjects are:
- Economics and social sciences
- Language, literature and culture of a foreign language
- History, geopolitics and political sciences
- Digital and computer sciences
French Baccalaureate assessment
From 2021, the French Baccalaureate has used a combination of ongoing assessment and final examinations. Ongoing assessments include exams based on nationally designed exercises, focused on history, geography, foreign languages A and B, science culture, physical education and the specialist subject chosen by students. These exams are taken throughout 11th and 12th grade and contribute to 30% of the final grade. Throughout the two years, teachers also set different tests for each mandatory subject. These assessments contribute to 10% of the final grade.
The French Baccalaureate includes final examinations at the end of grades 11 and 12. In 11th grade, students take a French language and literature final exam in June. This tests them on their written skills and on an oral presentation of a text. They also take the exam on the specialty subject they decide to drop. At the end of 12th grade, students must sit final written exams in history, geography, foreign languages A and B, science culture, philosophy and their two remaining specialty subjects. They also have oral exams in their two foreign languages and the Grand Oral. The final exams contribute to the remaining 60% of students’ final grades.
Exams take place in June each year, in the final year of the lycée; they are usually in the form of an essay and take between two and four hours to complete. There are exams in September each year as well, but these are for those students who missed the June exams for reasons such as illness. Students who fail their June exams cannot retake the baccalaureate in September that same year.
The French Baccalaureate grading system
All students studying the French Baccalaureate must achieve at least 10 out of a possible 20 points in order to obtain a baccalaureate. Students who pass each stage of their examinations the first time are eligible for honour grades, which are awarded based on the average points scored throughout the assessments.
- Mention Tres Bien (highest honours) – Average of 16 or more
- Mention Bien (high honours) – Average of 14-15.99
- Mention Assez Bien (honours) – Average of 12-13.99
Exceptional marks of 18 or above can receive unofficial “félicitations du jury” (jury’s congratulations). There are no set criteria for this accolade, and it is awarded at the marking panel’s discretion. If a student passes the exam but does not score high enough for an honours grade, they receive a Sans Mention.
Students who score less than ten, but eight or more, can opt for the épreuve de rattrapage, which is an oral exam given in two subjects of the student’s choice. In this way, providing the student does well enough to raise his/her overall grade to ten, those students just missing the required pass mark are able to obtain their baccalaureate without having to repeat their final year at school.