French pupils protest English exam for being too hard

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French pupils protest English exam for being too hard
Photo: AFP

More than 13,000 French high school pupils have signed a petition calling for the English section of the Baccalaureate exam to be cancelled because of “comprehension difficulties”.


It’s that time of year again.

All around France, stressed-out French pupils are taking their end-of-school Baccalaureate exams, and as they did last year, many are complaining that the English portion of the Baccalaureate was just too hard. 

More than 13,000 pupils have signed a petition asking for the English section of the exam to be annulled or for the grading scale to be revised. 

The contested portion of the June 17th exam is Document A, a 21-line extract from 2014 novel The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman. 

The text describes a man strolling down the Hudson River while contemplating urbanisation in the borough of Manhattan at the beginning of the 20th century.

Pupils were asked in which city and time period the text was set as well as questioned on the mood and the characters' feelings. 

But students found the extract unfair and too difficult to understand, with many of them apparently not making the connection that Manhattan is located in New York.

“I did not have the geographical and historical knowledge necessary for full understanding of the text,” one petitioner wrote. 

Another wrote: “It’s written English, to assess the level of ENGLISH, not an environmental planning Bac or a geographic or cultural exam."

However, the following Document B references both Manhattan and New York. 

It turns out not everyone had much sympathy for the pupils' complaints.

Indignant French, including some pupils who took the exam in question, have taken to Twitter to voice their concern for the future of today's youth. 

"Come on guys, stop. You're making us seem like a stupid generation. This petition is ridiculous," writes the Twitter user below.

"So guys, when an English person speaks to you and you don't understand, are you going to make a petition?" questioned another Twitter user.

The comments section of the petition also included some comments from those who clearly didn't sign it.

“Fortunately not all the youths are like you, that’s to say entitled people who give up at the slightest obstacle,” wrote Adrien Martin.

“Having seen that some idiots dared to make a petition for a subject that’s “too complicated”, I tell myself that the future of our country is uncertain.

"The problem isn’t national education, it’s YOU.” 

This complaint had a familiar ring to it, as last year French pupils took issue with an "impossible" question about Ian McEwan's novel Atonement.

Apparently many had trouble understanding a question that asked how a character was "coping" with a certain situation, arguing that "coping" was not a very common word. 

Perhaps these difficulties shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, as a recent survey ranked France as the worst in the EU at learning English.  

It remains to be seen if and how the Education Minister will respond to the petition, but after a similar outcry in 2014 regarding mathematics and physics-chemistry sections of the Bac, those grading the exams were asked to be lenient.

So are these French pupils just being ridiculous, or should the English portion of the Bac really be cancelled?

Decide for yourself by checking out a copy of the exam here.  






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