Olivia’s Bac-O-Rama!

My "baby" is forging her own scholarly path by being the only one to tackle the Baccalaureate – those ominous European tests that are your only proof that you didn’t sleep through high school. This year she had to take the science and French "épreuves" (the term for the different subjects tested for the Bac, translated as a hardship or ordeal.) And at the end of her senior year she’ll do philosophy, English language, sports, history/geography, German language/literature, and French Lit part 2. I found the details so enlightening that I wanted to share her experience with you from Olivia’s perspective.

In French, you "subir" an exam, which can be translated as to endure or suffer, as well as undergo, and you will see that this is most appropriate. The pressure-cooker started in January this year with the creation of the "TPE" – a personal research project on a topic of your choice combining 2 subjects and presented creatively. It was presented in written and oral form in March. I chose English and literature to write and illustrate a tale called Murophobia in the defense of the rat. The most nerve-wracking part was finding my way around a new public high school (our school isn’t certified to do testing) with minimal directions and feeling like an outsider. I think I did well, but my grade will appear as part of my total Bac score that I won’t see until July, on-line.

This year in biology/physics, literature-track students like me studied eyesight, sustainable agriculture/energy issues, and human reproduction. For the Bac in June, three of the four topics were tested in 90 minutes with short texts and diagrams provided for reference. I wrote an essay about water quality, answered questions about fertility tests, and checked multiple choice questions on fuel and thermo-nuclear energy. No sweat.

The French épreuve consists of a written and oral part. In preparation, I studied eight different topics during the year, analyzing:

  • political theater index
  • characters who fell in love in novels from the 17th century on
  • the history of humanist education
  • the history of theater from the 12th century on
  • the French novel "Le Grand Meaulnes" 
  • the quest for meaning in poetry from the Middle Ages on
  • feminist issues from the French revolution to Simone de Beauvoir
  • how the Greek Andromache myth has evolved throughout history

Here’s how we attacked them: my French teacher extracted 30 excerpts from France’s mountain of literature on these topics and asked a pertinent question for each one to debate or analyze. We also learned the author’s biography and historical context, and then created an outline on which to base a 4-page response. I had to memorize all of this information as a literature-track student, while my friend in the science-track only had to learn 20!

So at the same hour on the same day, I and all the other 11th graders in France faced 3-5 new excerpts from one of these above topics and were given 4 hours to write a clear and organized two-page essay comparing and contrasting the texts and then writing the well-practiced 4-pager on the question, “Do you think that every literary creation is in some way a copy of former works?” I chose to debate the answer, which means I answered for both sides and then closed with a synthesis.

Clément MarotLast week I took the oral portion of the exams. A copy of the thirty excerpts I had studied was sent to the examiners ahead of time for them to choose one, which was a poem by French Renaissance writer Clément Marot. He then gave me 30 min. to collect my thoughts and I had 10 min. to give an oral analysis in a polished manner. Then he spent 10 more min. interviewing me about the Romantic period, asking me for specific dates and kings I didn’t know, until another poet I had studied was brought up, and that’s when I impressed him.

O closeupNegative Bac pressure from public school teachers can make a lot of students physically ill from the stress, and this year a 50 yr old mother even made the news by trying to sit the English épreuve for her daughter! But as the only 11th grade literature-track student this year, it was easy for my Christian teachers to be supportive and encouraging of me. The grading can also be unfairly subjective for the essays, however my examiners were kind and attentive and the Holy Spirit gave me the words I needed to write. So, I’m facing next year’s "ordeal" with confidence, or in the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, "I’ll be Bac…"

Happy Summer from a proud mother!

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