How to prepare for the French Written Leaving Certificate Exam?
French is the official language of NATO, the United Nations, the International Olympic Committee, the Red Cross, and other international organisations.
It is one of the fastest-growing languages. The Telegraph reported that proficiency in French has remained a highly sought-after skill among employers, with 49 percent rating it as useful for their organisations. It’s no surprise that French is a very popular choice amongst Leaving Certificate students.
The French written leaving cert exam accounts for 100 marks of the paper which is 25% of the total.
French Leaving Certificate Paper Structure
The Written French Leaving Certificate exam is divided up into 3 different sections. The oral French exam takes place prior to the written test and accounts for 25% of the overall marks. The sections are as follows:
- Listening Comprehension (20%)
- Reading Comprehension (30%)
- Writing Production (25%)
To best prepare for the Listening Comprehension, practise using previous papers. Here you will familiarise yourself with the style of questions in the exam. For the Reading Comprehension; listening to French speakers or reading newspaper articles will help you broaden your range of vocabulary. You should spend at least 30 minutes on the reading comprehension. Highlight keywords and phrases that will help you to answer the questions that follow the passage. Make sure to answer in French or English as you are asked, depending on the question.
The following key words below come up regularly:
Trouvez – find
Citez – quote
Cherchez – look for
Un mot – a word
Une expression – an expression
Une phrase – a phrase
Montre – show
Indiquez – indicate
Une raison – a reason
Décrire – describe
Exprimer – express
L’auteur – the author
Selon – according to
Qui – Who
Quand – When
Où – Where
Comment – How
Pourquoi – Why
Que/ quel/ quelles – What
Combien – How much
In the written section, there are a total of 6 questions.
You must answer one of three parts of question 1 (a, b, or c), and one more question from either question 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6.
Question 1 relates to the reading comprehension texts and is usually a choice between a 90-word opinion piece and a récit (narrative/account). Be clear and concise with your points and avoid ambiguity or vagueness. Keep repeating the question in your head as you write to make sure you have answered the question asked. Prepare for a range of different topics (see below).
Récit: This question provides a prompt, and asks you to write a short story about a particular incident
If you choose to write a récit, you will need to have a good understanding of the three past tenses (passé composé, imparfait, and plus-que-parfait) and be comfortable with using descriptive language, such as adjectives and adverbs
Since 2007, the récit has come up 9 times (2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2020)
Opinion Piece: This question also provides a prompt from the reading comprehension, as well as a specific question to answer
This question comes up every year
They usually deal with current affairs (see below) and are written in a style that encourages the use of argumentative language.
Possible topics for the 2022 French Leaving Certificate exam:
The US withdrawal from Afghanistan could influence a question about conflict and war, also the ongoing violence in Ukraine
Violence could come up in the form of either gun violence/ mass shootings or terrorism (20th anniversary of 9/11 occurring in 2021)
Technology, the media, and social networks as a result of the ongoing Facebook scandal, the use of technology during the pandemic
Homelessness and the housing crisis have been big topics both in Ireland and France, where huge numbers of immigrants are currently homeless. The housing crisis came up in 2020 but could easily come up again
Extreme weather conditions may come up on its own or may influence a question about the environment and climate change
The Olympics in Tokyo took place in the summer of 2021 and this could influence sport to appear on the paper
This question is a functional writing question, with a choice between any of two of the following:
Journal intime: This question provides a prompt and asks you to write a diary entry recounting a series of events. This question typically aims to encourage the use of emotive language and strong descriptive language – they often ask you to write about your feelings on an event or subject. It has come up every year since 2007.
Formal letter: The formal letter has only come up once since 2007, in 2016
This question usually asks you to write a letter in order to apply for a job/ make a complaint/ book a hotel room. As it is a formal letter, you must use formal language and only ever address the recipient as “vous”
Informal letter: The informal letter has not appeared since 2007
This question usually asks you to write a letter to a friend, a family member, or a pen pal. As it is an informal letter, slightly more casual language can be used, and the recipient can be addressed with “tu” or “vous”, depending on their age
Email: A question asking you to write an email has come up 10 times since 2007.
Emails usually have the question style and contents as an informal letter to a friend or family member. It is not impossible however that you get asked to write a formal email in response to a job advertisement or to make a formal complaint via email
Q3 and 4 are usually opinion pieces that deal with topical subjects, which will be examined below
Often, they will provide a photograph, a quote, or a statement as a prompt, and then ask you to give your reaction or opinion on the subject
Structurally, they should have an introduction, a conclusion, and at least two but preferably 3 main points laid out as paragraphs
The aim of these questions is to show you are capable of making coherent arguments in French rather than testing your general knowledge of a topic.
Make sure you learn off phrases that can be used in the opening paragraph, some argumentative phrases to open each paragraph, and important logical connectors such as “cependant”, “mais”, “en revanche” etc.
The most important thing in these questions is to keep your French simple and accurate and to clearly answer the question without using irrelevant information.
Make sure you know how to make adjectives agree with the gender and quantity of a noun, and make sure you know the different ways to make a noun feminine and/or plural
Spelling is very important. Chief Examiner’s reports in the past have highlighted the fact that students misspell words frequently. Make sure you know where accents go and which order vowels come in words like “malheureusement” and “chapeau”.
The following recommendations were made from a recent Examiner Report for students:
Practice answering comprehension questions, understanding whether manipulation or direct quotation from the text is required.
Ensure you are familiar with key grammatical terms, and you can identify the different elements in a sentence.
Strive for accuracy in written work, constantly practicing basic tenses, verb endings, agreement of adjectives, and correct genders.
Familiarise yourself with the requirements of different types of written texts e.g. cloze-tests, form-filling, narrative writing, diary entries, messages, e-mails, letters, personal accounts, and questions that require some discussion.
As always, we believe that immersion is the best form of preparation for french exams. There is still time to enroll in our courses.
Click here for more information about our Leaving Certificate Prep Course in Paris, France.