Exam Review: French

Exam Review by Sarah Clancy

Although perhaps not as pleasant as last year’s written paper, students remained very positive about the Leaving Certificate Higher Level French written exam. In Section A, students were required to complete both the journalistic and literary reading comprehensions. In Section B, they responded to a total of two questions: the mandatory Question One (with a choice of three topics) and one additional question from a selection of five other themes/topics.

The reading comprehensions tested students’ understanding of various aspects of both texts, while the grammar and synonym questions demanded thoughtful analysis. In my opinion, these two comprehensions exemplified why students must take their time analysing and translating the questions into English before reading to grasp better what they are looking for in the text. This was arguably the toughest hurdle. The opinion pieces covered a diverse range of topics, including social media, cultural areas of interest, the Olympics, pollution, and maintaining optimism in a world challenged by war, famine, and natural disasters. Tackling certain questions in this section required significant planning and thought, which could not be rote learned, particularly the obligatory Question One, which was not as straightforward as last year’s paper.

Conversely, the aural paper was notably easier compared to previous years. Worth 20% at the higher level, the aural component can often be a stumbling block for students aiming for top grades. This year’s aural paper, however, was excellent and should not have presented any major difficulties or surprises to students.

Section A: Reading Comprehension Q.1 Journalistique

The journalistic reading comprehension was challenging compared to previous years. The passage, titled “Billie en a marre des clichés qu’elle entend sur son quartier” (Billie is sick of the clichés/stereotypes she hears about her area), featured dense content that required careful rereading. Although much of the vocabulary and expressions used should have been familiar to students, the complexity of the text posed a significant challenge. The passage was adapted from the French media resource La-Zep.fr (La Zone d’Expression Prioritaire), which recounts people’s experiences living in France. The extract examined Billie’s experiences living in a banlieue of Seine-Saint-Denis and her disagreement with the media’s negative portrayal of her area.

Some potentially unfamiliar nouns, verbs, and expressions from the text include:
Les menteurs = The liars
Une résidence pavillonnaire = A suburban residence
S’éloigner = To distance yourself
Un banlieusard = A resident of the suburbs
Un voyou = A gangster/thug
Une sonnerie = A bell
Retentir = To ring out (bell)
Malsain = Unhealthy/Unwholesome
Fournir = To furnish/supply

In the journalistic comprehension, the multiple-choice question was straightforward. However, the synonym question required a strong understanding of expressions, and the grammar question needed students to differentiate between the present tense and a present participle (which ends in ‘-ant’ and equates to ‘-ing’ in English). Although little manipulation was required for the open questions, precision was crucial to avoid giving too little or too much information.

Example questions and answers:

  1. (a) Selon la troisième section, le prof de physique-chimie : a critiqué les élèves.
  2. (b) Trouvez dans la troisième section un verbe au participe présent : portant / criant.
  3. (a) Relevez le mot qui veut dire « travaux fait pour trouver de nouvelles connaissances » (work done/accomplished to find new knowledge): recherches (research).

Section A: Reading Comprehension Q.2 Littéraire

The literary comprehension was adapted from a contemporary novel, “Le choix du monde” (The Choice of the World) (2021), by Agnès Martin-Lugand. The story follows Dimitri, a 20-year-old man who has trouble making decisions about his future. His mother, Sophie, sees that her son is suffering and is worried about him, while his father is losing patience. In contrast to previous years, students might have found this comprehension easier than the journalistic one – which is unusual. Thematically, it closely related to students’ lives and the vocabulary was quite straightforward. Despite the occasional use of the literary past tense (passé simple) (e.g., je proposai / I proposed, je décidai / I decided), it would not have confused students as the verbs were readily recognizable.
The grammar question was on the trickier side, testing students’ knowledge of direct object pronouns. Similarly, the synonym question required students to think abstractly, but the multiple-choice question was much more straightforward than in previous years. Little manipulation was required, apart from occasionally changing a possessive adjective (e.g., Q.2 (a) mes études -> ses études). Open-ended Question 5.(b) required the most manipulation, as students needed to recognize the verb ‘serrer’ (to hold/cuddle) and modify the phrasing as needed.
Example questions and answers:

  1. (b) Selon la troisième section, Sophia pense que Fabrice devrait : mieux comprendre les désirs de son fils.
  2. (a) Relevez l’expression qui veut dire « suivre ton exemple » (to follow your example) : « marcher dans tes pas » (to walk in your footsteps).
  3. (b) Dimitri dit : « Je t’aime, maman ». Comment a-t-il montré son amour pour sa mère ? (How did he show his love for his mother?) (Section 4): Il la serra fort dans ses grands bras d’homme / Il serra sa mère fort… (he held her /or/ his mother tight in his large, manly arms)

Section B

As noted previously, the selection of topics in Section B was very pleasant but still required planning in order to answer them to a high standard.
For the obligatory Question One, students were able to choose from the following prompts:
(a) “Do you believe that media gives a fake image of young people?” – This linked back to the first reading comprehension.
(b) “What is the importance of having cultural areas of interest?” – This also linked back to the first reading comprehension.
(c) “You received a large sum of money for your 18th birthday. Speak about what you did with the money.” – This linked back to the second reading comprehension and could be either a real or imaginary story.
For the final written question, students were then able to choose from a selection of topics:
Q. 2 A diary entry on sharing a room with a cousin who is coming to study in your town.

Q. 3 An email responding to your friend asking for details about doing a cycling trip in Ireland.
Q. 4 Giving your reaction to the Olympic games based on a young person’s quote.
Q. 5 (An image) We are all polluters. Do you agree?
Q. 6 Despite the current situation in the world, with wars, famines, and natural catastrophes, it is important to stay optimistic. What do you think?

Overall, there was a nice choice of questions for students to choose from in Section B. The questions were very clear and concise, and the vocabulary and expression used should not have posed any problems for students. This variety allowed students to engage with topics they felt most comfortable with, thus enabling them to showcase their writing skills effectively. It was not possible to rely solely on rote learning; instead, students needed to adapt their knowledge and skills to tackle the questions thoughtfully.

Aural Examination

The Leaving Certificate Higher Level French aural exam comprised five short listening exercises. Students were allotted 40 minutes to complete this section, with all questions and answers in English. Overall, the aural exam was well-received and likely left students feeling very satisfied. The scenarios and vocabulary were straightforward, avoiding any unusual or confusing elements, and the questions were clearly phrased.

The audio quality and accents were clear, with most topics and vocabulary being familiar to students. The listening paper emphasized the importance of reviewing key vocabulary, including terms related to jobs, transport, time, pastimes, numbers, days, and months, as well as being aware of current issues potentially relevant to the opinion pieces, such as artificial intelligence.

Section A. Danielle, Louis, and Appoline talk about living in Paris. Overall, this was a very nice opening exercise to the aural paper that should have settled students in nicely. The accents of the different speakers were very clear, and the vocabulary was straightforward and familiar, requiring students to identify time, days of the week, and problems linked to working from home.

Some vocabulary that students may not have been familiar with:
L’esprit d’équipe = Team spirit

Section B. An interview with French wheelchair basketball player, Sofyane Mehiaoui. Once again, this interview was very fair. The speed of the conversation was nicely paced, and the sentence structure was not overly complicated. The vocabulary should not have posed a problem. The word ‘équipe’ (team) made another appearance. Perhaps identifying the second sport he enjoyed in question 3 may have caught some students out: ‘la voile’ (sailing). If students completed past reading comprehensions in the lead-up to the exam, the 2021 paper would have been very handy, as similar vocabulary appeared in the literary comprehension. The past listening comprehension in 2013, which dealt with the topic of the Paralympics and ‘handisport,’ would have given students an upper hand in understanding the content of this piece. This highlights the importance of completing and analyzing as many past papers as possible in preparation for the Leaving Certificate French exam.

Section C. A conversation between two friends, Omar and Florence. The audio and accents were very clear in this clip. Some varied vocabulary came up in this section as Omar and Florence were discussing birthday arrangements. It was important to be aware of nationalities and countries (un restaurant chinois/vacances en Grèce).

All questions were very fair; however, Q.2 may have proven difficult for some students:

What main course and dessert has Florence chosen to eat:
Main course: Le canard rôti au miel (roast duck with honey)
Dessert: Une salade de fruits exotiques (exotic fruit salad)

Section D. IT expert Anne Moreau talks about artificial intelligence. This exercise was once again very doable compared to previous years, where Section D can prove the most difficult. Some very familiar vocabulary/expression was used (e.g., la santé, l’éducation, le réchauffement climatique). Once again, any students who covered AI for the opinion piece would have been able to tackle this section with no difficulty.

Section E. News Items. The news items were very straightforward and clear this year. In contrast to previous years, questions were not as difficult and didn’t require vocabulary which usually appears in this section, such as weather, accidents, and trickier dates/numbers.
Q.1 (Fireworks) Un feu d’artifice
Q. 2 (Violin / cello / harp) violon, violoncelle, harpe
Q. 3 a (World champion of chips/fries !) Champion du monde de la frite
b ([Only] one year ago) Il y a un an seulement