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Government unveils major reform of final exam for French school students

High school students take the philosophy exam, the first test session of the 2016 baccalaureate (high school graduation exam) on June 15, 2016 at the Fustel de Coulanges high school in Strasbourg, eastern France. FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP

The French government has unveiled the new format of its reformed baccalaureate exam – the so-called ‘Bac’ - the exam that French students sit before graduating from lycée, France’s secondary school. The new format will include four written exams and an oral exam.

Presented by the Minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, Wednesday, 14th of February, the new exam will also probably be accompanied by changes to the curriculum in secondary school. The Minister, however, has said he will focus his efforts on this reform first before looking at reforming the school curriculum.

Unions representing teachers have criticized the proposals saying they are short on detail. The reform is being introduced at the same time as reform of the way student’s access university.

'Bac' reform

Reform of the so-called ‘Bac’ was one of Emmanuel Macron’s campaign promises.

The new format, which students currently in their third year of secondary school will be the first to sit in 2021, will consist of four written tests: French first, two specialty tests after the spring break in Terminale, and philosophy in late June.

An expanded oral exam, lasting 20 or 30 minutes, will focus on a project derived from one of the main subjects chosen by the student.

The four written tests and oral maturity exam will account for 60 percent of the average bac. The remaining 40 percent will come from semi-annual "partial" exams, which students will sit in the two years prior to the main exam (30 percent) and 10 percent based on their grades from the last two years in school.

Reform of the ‘Bac’ has been on the cards for the past 12 years with the then minister for education, François Fillon, forced to shelve a number or proposals he had made to reform the exam.

A survey in November last by Elabe showed that 40 percent of French people are in favour of overhauling the exam entirely, with a further 37 percent favouring partial reform.