learning French For Members

10 tips for passing the French language test

Emma Pearson
Emma Pearson - [email protected]
10 tips for passing the French language test
Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

French language tests are now compulsory for certain types of residency card and for French citizenship - and the team at The Local has some tips for passing the all-important exams.


There are now various scenarios where as a foreigner in France you may need to take a French language exam - whether its for a long-term residency card or whether its the toughened-up language requirements for French citizenship.

Your questions answered on France's new language test requirements

In most cases, people who have been living in France for a few years will speak decent French - but sitting down to a written exam can still be daunting.

So the team at The Local have put together some tips, based on the language exams that we have had to sit recently.

Do some past papers

Unless you're very confident in your French, it's a good idea to know what to expect from the exam, and the best way to do this is to tackle some past papers.


The exam itself is divided up into four parts; listening, reading, writing and speaking - with time allocated for each section.

You can find a full breakdown of the structure of the exam - and take a quiz based on past papers - HERE

Reading past papers will prepare you for what to expect and the format of the exam. Naturally, all the exam instructions are in French so if you already know what to expect you won't waste valuable exam time puzzling over the instructions themselves.

Take a couple of prep classes 

The exam itself costs between €80 and €150 to take, and if you fail you won't get your money back, or a discount when you have a second attempt.

It therefore might save you a bit of money in the long run to take a couple of French classes in preparation.

A tutor can help you to understand what the examiners are looking for (eg using multiple verb tenses) and how to structure the essays in order to get maximum points.

They can also help you to pinpoint your language weaknesses and the things to revise.

Revise the basics

If you're speaking French in your daily life you'll probably be fairly confident about the exam, but it's possible that you will have slipped into some bad habits.

Small errors like using the incorrect gender of nouns or making spelling errors can end up costing you marks - so it's worth opening up your old textbooks and swotting up verb endings and noun genders.

Use the right preparation books

If you are looking for material to help you revise, start by going to the official 'France Education International' website. Then, go to the 'ressources' page.

You will be able to find links to recommended course books for the DELF/DALF (PDF) and TCF (PDF) exams. 

Know the scoring system 

It's also worth knowing how your exam will be scored - and the 'grille d'evaluation' (marking guide) is available along with past papers for your exam level.

You might have heard that in French schools, pupils are penalised for a wrong answer, so if you're not sure it's better to write nothing than risk an error. That's not the case when taking the French language exams - in fact it's the opposite.

The listening and reading sections are largely multiple choice and you get a point for each correct answer and zero points for an incorrect or blank answer. However when it comes to the written essay you get zero points for 'no answer or insufficient answer' and 1 point for 'poor answer'. So it's better to have a go at writing something even if you're not sure.

In order to pass you need to get at least 50 points out of 100, with 25 points available for each of the four sections. If you get less than five points on any section you fail, but if you only get 6 points out of 25 on one section you can still pass - as long as you have strong scores on the other three sections.

Practice introducing yourself 

Depending on the language level, the speaking section of the exam starts with you introducing yourself - this is something that you can practice at home and it's worth preparing a few paragraphs to introduce yourself and explain a bit about yourself - this could be your job, hobbies, reason for moving to France or anything you like.


Bear in mind that they're checking your French language skills, not interrogating your life, so there's nothing to stop you lying about your job if your actual profession is hard to explain.

At higher levels the speaking section involves being given a scenario and making a presentation or taking part in an interview in character. Don't forget the importance of introductions in French life - so you will need to introduce yourself with your character's name and occupation (think of it as slightly strange amateur dramatics). 

Keep talking 

On the subject of the speaking section - it's good to keep talking. There is a finite time allowed for this section, and when you're not speaking the examiner will ask you questions.

If you're worried about being grilled - just keep talking. It doesn't matter if what you are saying is interesting or even true, as long as you're saying it in correct French.

Read French news 

At the intermediate and advanced levels, the listening and reading sections are usually based on French news - for example you'll be expected to listen to a radio report and answer questions on it.


It's a good idea to practice for this by listening to French radio, so you're used to the speaking styles of presenters, and to keep up to date with French news. If you already know something about the topic being discussed it will be easier to follow the report and you're less likely to be thrown off course by a word or phrase that you don't understand.

Once you get to advanced levels (C1 and C2) you're expected to have a reasonable knowledge of French daily life and some of the major topics that have been in the news in recent years.  

Pick the exam type 

There are several different types of French exams available and the reason you need to take the test may inform which type is better for you. For example, if you don't need the certificate immediately it might be better to take a Diplôme, as these certificates have no expiry date. The downside of this is that it usually takes several months to get your results.

With some TCF-IRN exams - whose scores only offer you an attestation which expires after two years - you can see your listening and reading comprehension scores result right away, but you will have to wait at least two weeks for final score that includes the oral and writing components.


Be sure to ask your testing centre how long it usually takes for results to be available, as some exams - especially the DELF - can take several weeks to months for scores to come out.

There are also differences in price to these exams, and the DELF/DALF tends to be more expensive (especially the higher the level).

READ MORE: How much do French language tests cost and where can I take them?

Money-saving tip

Speaking of cost - if you are working in France you are entitled to the annual training budget known as Mon Compte Formation (CPF) and you can use these to pay for French classes - if you pick a course that includes in the price an exam at the end, you can use your CPF budget to pay for it, and will therefore not have to pay for your exam. 

READ ALSO How to get the government to pay for your French classes


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R.J. Evans 2024/02/19 17:25
I wonder if I, at 87, would have to take.a language test if I decide to go for a long-term residence card? I don't really need one, since I'm an ex-Brit EU Irishman. But who knows what might happen in 2027....?.
  • Emma Pearson 2024/02/20 10:03
    Hi, we have more info on age-related exemptions here

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