School in France

In France, school starts at 3 years old with what we call “maternelle”. It lasts 3 years, but is not obligatory (but strongly advised). One class per age: ‘première section’, ‘ deuxième section’, troisième section’ de maternelle. After these three years, the child enter one of the most important class: ‘le CP’ (cours préparatoire) where he will learn to read mostly. it’s the first year of the elementary school or ‘école primaire’. Elementary school lasts 5 years: CP, CE1, CE2, CM1 and CM2. A child leave the elementary he is (normally) 10/11 years old.

Then starts ‘collège‘ from the age of 11/12 to 14/15 years old with 4 classes: ‘sixième’, ‘cinquième’, ‘quatrième’ and ‘troisième’. At the end of the 4th year of ‘collège’ (la troisième) there is a big exam, which is the same for all troisième students in France and which is called ‘Brevet des Collèges’. It lasted 2 or 3 days at the end of June and gather several disciplines: French, Mathematics, History/Geography/Civics and Physics/chemistry/biology/technology. An oral exams takes place in ‘quatrième’. Each discipline is graded on 20 points, and all these disciplines represent 300 points maximum. These points are added to all the grades the students had during his year, which represent 400 points. To pass the brevet, a student must have 350/700 minimum.

And that, the lycée starts and lasts 3 years (from 15/16 to 17/18 years old): seconde, première and terminale. These three years are very important because they will shape our future. There are 3 different kind of lycée:

  • lycée général (senior high school)
  • lycée technique (vocational school): it’s targeted on a field (for example: IT, medical, management ….)
  • lycée professionnel (technical school): It’s targeted on a profession. After 3 years, students can start to work, contrary to lycée technique or général.

The first class of the lycée is the same for lycée technique and general, knowing that we can specialized in lycée technique in première.

I will talk about the lycée général because it is what I did, so what I know. At the end of the seconde, we must chose what type of première and terminale we want to do: L (literature classes), ES (economy classes) or S (scientific classes).

At the end of the première, there is the first part of the high school diploma. It is for all classes of lycée général and  technique a french exam (oral and written exam). Of course, according to the type of  the première, it won’t be the same exam topic or the same coefficient either! In addition of this french exam,  S section will have an history/geography exam and ES/L a biology/physics exam. These exams count for the second part (and the biggest) of the high school final exam: le Baccalauréat (le Bac). These exams lasted one week and gathered all subjects we had during the year. Contrary to the brevet, grades students had during their year don’t count, only final exams are taken into account, in addition of that student won’t be in there high school for these exams, they can be in any high school of there department, that’s why the Bac is so much stressful. A subject is common to all sections of the lycée général and technique : philosophy. Like the french exam, it is the same subject, but not the same topic and not the same coefficient according to the section ! Philosophy is the first exam of the week, and starts the Bac up.

Subjects are the same for every students of the same section in France, that’s why they stay secret until the D day, and are published on the web 30 min after the beginning of the exam.

Without the Bac,  students can continu their study at university or other post-Bac schools. That’s why the Bac is so important.

This year, the Bac is in 9 days and everybody talk about it, in news paper, on TV shows … It is a big event !


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