The French Baccalauréat or ‘le bac’, is an academic qualification taken at the end of the lycée (secondary education), usually when the student is 18. It is the required qualification in France for those students wishing to carry on their studies at university. Students not wishing to go on to higher education can, in theory, opt out of taking the baccalaureate and those who do not have one can instead take the higher education entrance exam, which leads to its own diploma.
There are three main types of baccalaureate in France:
the baccalauréat général (general);
the baccalauréat professionnel (professional);
the baccalauréat technologique (technological).
Students who sit for the baccalauréat général have to choose one of three specialised streams as follows:
S – scientifique (sciences)
Mathematics, physics and chemistry, also biology or engineering sciences
ES - sciences économiques et socials (economics and social sciences)
Equally split between literary and economic/social studies.
L – littéraire (literature)
French literature, philosophy, history and geography, as well as foreign languages.
The French baccalaureate exam is available in over 40 languages including French regional dialects such as Alsation and Catalan.
Exams take place in June each year, in the final year of the lycée, they are usually in the form of an essay and take between two and four hours to complete. Some options are more popular than others due to a weighting system that can have a significant effect on the student’s final grade. There are exams in September each year as well, but these are for those students who missed the June exams for reasons such as illness. Students who fail their June exams cannot retake the baccalaureate in September that same year.
Option Internationale du Baccalauréat
This is an additional option to the general baccalaureate and offers further subjects. Extra exams are offered in literature, history and geography allowing a higher grade to be achieved towards the final baccalaureate mark. In general, this option is taken by students wishing to study at overseas universities.
In order to obtain a baccalaureate, the student must achieve at least ten out of a possible mark of 20. Above this, honours are awarded as follows:
marks between 12 and 13.99 – assez bien (honours);
marks between 14 and 15.99 – bien (high honours);
marks between 16 and 20 – très bien (highest honours).
In addition, those students obtaining marks above 18 may also receive the félicitations du jury (jury’s congratulations), which is an unofficial award given entirely at the panel’s discretion.
For those students who score less than ten, but eight or more, they can opt for the épreuve de rattrapage, which is an oral exam given in two subjects of the student’s choice. In this way, providing the student does well enough to raise his/her overall grade to ten, those students just missing the required pass mark are able to obtain their baccalaureate without having to repeat their final year at school.