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Are French exams getting easier?

To write this post I am depending on slightly unreliable memory and long experience!

If I limit myself to the GCSE era since about 1987, a comparison of listening and reading tests would show that the content of today's papers is easier, at least at higher tier level. Over the years teachers have bemoaned the difficulty of GCSE listening tests. Exam boards have responded to these criticisms by designing papers which are less demoralising for candidates. On the other hand, the boards have become less generous when converting raw marks to UMS scores, so overall the range of grades has not changed hugely. In this sense, therefore, the exams have not got easier. Fewer of my students now get full UMS scores for listening.

The same could be said for GCSE reading papers. In the nineties many of my students achieved full UMS scores, but today far fewer do because the raw/UMS conversions are meaner.

How about orals? I would argue that the latest CA regime is easier for candidates that what went before, mainly because it allows for memorisation of dialogues and there is no real spontaneous conversation or role play.

Writing has also become easier since, again, material can be pre-prepared and set to memory. But in the case of both speaking and writing, the mark schemes ensure that the grade outcomes have remained reasonably consistent, with some toughening up due to the falling cohorts and the inability of exam boards to compensate for this adequately. Example: the ability range of my grammar school candidates has changed little over 25 years, yet twenty years ago we would get at least 35 A* candidates a year. Now we are lucky to get 20. Last year we had 13 in part due to some dubious marking of written CAs.

How about A-level?

I detect less of a change at this level. You still need to be very good to get an A-level at French, but the data does suggest that it is harder to fail or get a very low grade. Very good candidates can still get A grades (or, in rare cases, A* - that's another matter!). Weaker students who used to struggle for an E grade are now more likely to get a C or D. What has changed a good deal is the content of the course. There is much less reading of literature, but a greater concentration on other cultural topics and more time spent on practical language use, especially listening.

This page has some fascinating data on grade inflation:


  1. any advice on writing an AS and A2 essay ? i got a low A on the reading and listening session in AS but i scored really low on the essay like a D which made my overall AS grade a C :(

  2. Make lots of clearly expressed content points. Don't waffle. Prepare your points at the brainstorming stage. Very good content = very good mark. the examioner needs to be able to put ticks in the margin for each good point made.


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