Make sense of... Le baccalauréat

Created in 1808, the ‘Bac’, is the French school leaving exam and a pass - at least 10/20 overall – grants students the right to go to university. There are plans for reforms of the exam by 2021

It may have been started under Napoleon but the name baccalauréat has much older roots.

In fact its origins are the same as for the English word ‘bachelor’ (used in the UK for first-level university degrees) and in the Middle Ages it referred to a trainee knight. A person who has passed le Bac is called un bachelier or une bachelière.

In 1880 only 1% of a generation took the exam. This was still only 3% in 1945 but had risen to 77% by 2015.

The Bac has a specific vocabulary to understand how it works (see end of the article).

Firstly, there are three main types (filières) for students to choose from: general, technological and professional (‘pro’).

Pupils need to plan ahead starting in troisième (generally age 14-15), discussing plans with teachers and parents as the choice of filière may ...

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