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The baccalauréat ([bakaloʁea]), often known in France colloquially as bac, is an academic qualification which French students take at the end of high school. It was introduced by Napoleon I in 1808. It is the main diploma required to pursue university studies. There is also the European Baccalaureate which students take at the end of the European School education. It confirms a rounded secondary education, gives access to a wide range of university education and differs from English A-levels and Scottish Highers in that it cannot be obtained in single subjects.



Much like British A-levels or European Matura, the baccalauréat allows French and international students to obtain a standardised qualification, typically at the age of 18. This then qualifies holders to work in certain areas, or go on to tertiary education or acquire some other professional qualification or training.

The vast majority of students in their final year of secondary school take the exam. In theory, the students in lycée could choose not to sit for the baccalauréat at the end of the lycée, as it is by law an exam to qualify students for entrance into university. Unlike some U.S. high school diplomas, it is not a lycée completion exam.

The word bac is also used to refer to one of the end-of-year exams that students must pass in order to get their baccalauréat diploma: le bac de philo, for example, is the philosophy exam (which all students must take, regardless of their field of study).

Within France, there are three main types of baccalauréat:

  • the baccalauréat général (general baccalaureate);
  • the baccalauréat professionnel (professional baccalaureate);
  • the baccalauréat technologique (technological baccalaureate).

  • For entrance to regular universities within France, however, there are some restrictions as to the type of baccalauréat that can be presented. In some cases, it may be possible to enter a French university without the bac by taking a special exam, the diploma for entrance to higher education.

    Though most students take the bac at the end of secondary school, it is also possible to enter as a candidat libre (literally, "free candidate") without affiliation to a school. Students who did not take the bac upon completion of secondary school (or did not manage to pass it) and would like to attend university, or feel that the bac would help them accomplish professional aspirations, may exercise this option. The exam is no different from the one administered to secondary-school students, except that free candidates are tested in Physical Education, whereas students' Physical Education grade is calculated based on evaluation throughout the year

    Baccalauréat général streams

    The students who sit for the baccalauréat général choose one of three streams (termed séries) in the penultimate lycée year. Each stream results in a specialization and carries different weights (coefficients) associated with each subject. Another terminology is sometimes used, which existed before 1994, and further divided the different séries. Until this date, it was possible to sit for a bac C or D (which is now S), B (now ES), or A1, A2, A3 (now L). People who passed the baccalauréat before this reform still use this terminology when they mention their diploma. However, the streams for the baccalauréat général are now as follows:

    The baccalauréat permits students to choose to sit for exams in over forty world languages or French regional languages (such as Alsatian, Catalan or Norman).

    Série scientifique (S)

    The S stream prepares students for work in scientific fields such as medicine, engineering and the natural sciences. Natural sciences students must specialise in either Mathematics, Physics & Chemistry, Computer science or Earth & Life Sciences.

    Série économique et sociale (ES)

    Students of the Baccalauréat économique et social prepare for careers in the social sciences, in Philosophy (and other human sciences) in management and business administration, and in economics. The subject Economics & Social Sciences is the most heavily weighed and is only offered in this stream. History & Geography and Mathematics are also important subjects in ES.

    Série littéraire (L)

    Students in the L stream prepare for careers in the humanities such as education, linguistics, and public service. They also have interests in the arts. The most important subjects in the literary stream are Philosophy and French language & literature and other languages, usually English, German and Spanish.


    The majority of the baccalauréat examination takes place in a week in June. For lycée students, this is the end of the last year, terminale.

    Most examinations are given in essay-form. The student is given a substantial block of time (depending on the exam, from two to five hours) to complete a multiple-page, well-argued paper. The number of pages filled-out varies from exam to exam but is usually substantial considering all answers have to be written down, explained and justified. Mathematics and science exams are problem sets but some science questions also require an essay-type answer. Foreign language exams often include a short translation section as well. In the S stream, the Mathematics and the Earth & Life Sciences tests sometimes contain some multiple-choice exams (questionnaire à choix multiples).

    All students also have to work on a research project called the travaux personnels encadrés or TPE. These are generally conducted in groups of 2, 3 or 4 and focus on a subject determined by the students under supervision of a faculty member.

    When taken in mainland France, the baccalauréat material is the same for all students in a given stream. Secrecy surrounding the material is very tight and the envelopes containing the exams are unsealed by a high-ranking school officer (usually a principal or vice-principal) in front of the examinees only a few minutes prior to the start of the examination. The procedure is the same for each subject, in each stream. Students usually have an identification number and an assigned seat. The number is written on all exam material and the name is hidden by folding and sealing the upper right corner of the examination sheet(s). In this fashion, anonymity is respected. The correcting staff is usually a member of the teaching staff in the same district or, at a larger scale, in the same académie. To avoid conflicts of interests, a teacher who has lectured to a student or group of students cannot grade their exam. Also, to ensure greater objectivity on the part of the examiners, the test is anonymous. The grader sees only an exam paper with a serial number, with all personally identifying material stripped away and forbidden from appearing, thus curbing any favoritism based upon sex, religion, national origin, or ethnicity.

    Unlike the English GCSEs, Scottish Standard Grades or the American SAT, the French baccalauréat is not a completely standardised test. Since most answers — even for biology questions — are given in essay form, the grades may vary from grader to grader especially in subjects like philosophy and French literature.

    Students generally take the French language and literature exam at the end of première, due to the fact that this subject is not taught in terminale (where it is replaced with a philosophy course). It also has an oral examination component, along with the written part. The oral exam covers works studied throughout première.

    Weight system

    Each baccalauréat stream has its own set of subjects that each carry a different weight (coefficient). This allows some subjects to be more important than others. For example, in the ES stream, Economics & Social Science carry more weight than the Natural Sciences; so, the former is more important than the latter. Students usually study more for exams that carry heavier weights since the grade they obtain in these exams have a bigger impact on their mean grade. Whether or not one passes the bac and/or receives eventual honours are determined in the calculation of this mean.

    Option Internationale du Baccalauréat

    The general baccalauréat offers several additional variants. The best known subset is the "option internationale du baccalauréat", the OIB. This is sometimes confusingly translated as the "French international baccalaureat". However it is unrelated to the International Baccalaureate (IB).

    The OIB adds further subjects to the French national exam. Students choose one of the L, ES or S streams. It differs as students take a two-year syllabus in literature, history and geography in a foreign language. This syllabus and the way it is examined is modelled on the national exam of the target nation. For instance, the British Section (administered by the University of Cambridge) models the programmes on A-levels in English, History and Geography. It is therefore necessary to be fully bilingual to complete this qualification. To date there are 15 different sections supporting 14 different languages. The list is as follows: American (U.S.A), Arabic, British, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, German, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swedish.

    At the end of the "Terminale", OIB students have extra exams in Literature and History/Geography. These exams have a high weight in the final mark of the bac and they do not give extra points to the OIB students. Overall, these students work much more (up to an additional 10 hours per week of classes with a significant amount of required reading and homework attached as well) than the other general baccalauréat students and many of them tend to go to foreign universities. University admissions tutors often consider reducing the entrance requirements for students taking the OIB compared with those taking the standard French Baccalaureate, to reflect the additional demands of the OIB.

    Since the students that attend these schools make up a fairly small demographic, they tend to be spread over a far larger area than would traditionally be expected of a normal lycée or secondary school. As a consequence, many of these students must commute long distances, with one-hour trips each way being fairly common. Add these long commutes to the longer days and increased workload that come with the OIB, and the result is that this system is highly demanding of students, and it is not uncommon for those who cannot handle the workload to transfer to schools teaching the standard French baccalaureate. This is one of the main reasons why many consider the OIB qualification to be highly challenging, and that it is not only a sign of academic prowess but also one of tenacity and hard work.

    Different languages at Baccalauréat

    To test their foreign or regional language students can choose among these different languages (all languages listed are not necessarily taught in all schools): English, German, Arabic, Armenian, Cambodian, Chinese, Danish, Spanish, Finnish, Modern Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Norwegian, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Turkish, Vietnamese; regional languages: Basque, Breton, Catalan, Corsican, Auvergnat, Gascon, Languedoc, Limousin, Niçard, Provençal, Vivaro-Alpine, regional languages of Alsace regional languages of Moselle), Tahitian, Albanian, Amharic, Melanesian languages, Bambara, Berber, Bulgarian, Cambodian, Korean, Croatian, Hausa, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Malaysian, Laotian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Malagasy, Persian, Fulani, Romanian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Swedish, Swahili, Tamil, Czech.

    Passing and honours

    The pass mark is 10 out of 20. The 2014 success rate for the baccalauréat in mainland France was 87.9%.

    For the baccalauréat, three levels of honours are given:

  • A mark between 12 and 13.99 will earn a mention assez bien (honours);
  • A mark between 14 and 15.99 will earn a mention bien (high honours);
  • A mark of 16 or higher will earn a mention très bien (highest honours).
  • Honours are prestigious but not crucial, as admissions to the classes préparatoires (or preparatory classes, which prepare students for the grande école exams) are decided months before the exam.

    French educators seldom use the entire grading scale. The same applies when marking the baccalauréat. Therefore, students are very unlikely to get a 20 out of 20 or more (it is actually possible to get more than 20, thanks to options). It is also very rare to see scores lower than 5.

    European section

    European section is an option in French high schools in order to teach a subject through a European language other than French. It also gives pupils the opportunity of having more hours in the language studied. It is also an opportunity to learn more about the culture of the country of which you're speaking the language. That is to say, if you learn History in Spanish, you will mainly study the History of Spain and that of Central and South America. Teachers present their lessons in English, German, Italian or Spanish.

    At the end of their high school, students can receive a "European section" mention on their baccalaureat. In order to have this mention, they need to get at least a 12/20 mark at their language exam and 10/20 mark at an additional oral exam on the subject in the language.

    For example, if you chose to study History in Spanish as an additional subject, you will have to take your Spanish exam like the rest of your classmates (that do not have History in Spanish) and get at least a 12/20 mark, and you will also have to pass an oral exam discussing history in Spanish language, and you have to get at least a 10/20 mark at this exam.

    Supplemental examination

    If a student averages between 8 and 10, he or she is permitted to sit for the épreuve de rattrapage (also called the second groupe), a supplemental oral exam given in two subjects of the student's choice. If the student does well enough in these exams to raise the overall weighted grade to a 10, then he or she receives his or her baccalauréat. If the student does poorly in the orals and receives below a 10, he or she may choose to repeat the final year of lycée (terminale).

    The student cannot choose to re-sit the entire examination in September, as the September exams may only be taken by those who have not been able to take the June exams for serious reasons (such as illness).

    Receiving the baccalauréat in the United States

    There are a small number of schools which prepare students for the baccalauréat in the United States. Otherwise, it is possible to prepare for the baccalauréat with the CNED, a French public institution under the oversight of the department of education dedicated to providing distance learning material. It can, of course, only be taken after completion of the necessary coursework, which is entirely in French. Upon receiving the baccalauréat, students wishing to pursue post-secondary studies in the US generally will submit their lycée/high school transcripts to a college or university office of undergraduate admissions. If it is decided that the coursework, along with American standardized test scores, application essays, and letters of recommendation, merits admission, students holding the baccalauréat will be admitted to the undergraduate program to which they have applied.


    1. The formula was taken from the Lycée Claudel website, a French lycée in Ottawa, Canada and might only be accurate for Canadian—and even Ontarian—percentage grades. In Ontario an 80% grade is an "A" on the American Scale and the student is awarded an Ontario Scholar Diploma. A 90% grade is an A+ on the American Scale is considered a grade with honours and automatically qualifies the student for government funded scholarships and bursuries. The formula should be used for comparison only.


    Baccalauréat Wikipedia