University in Paris - the French Education System

University in Paris - the French Education System "La Ronde infinie des obstinés" by Alain Bachellier

This article was written by Tania Li, published on 2nd January 2010 and has been read 8243 times.

A word of advice: surviving uni in France is going to be tough. Whoever said it was going to be easy was lying. However, don't despair. This might sound contradictory but Paris I is known to be a jungle. And Paris II Assas. The other Parisian unis have definitely acquired a better reputation and if Paris X Nanterre is in your list, by all means please rush there. The most important thing that you have to understand about the French system is that while the Anglo-Saxon unis often ask for entry requirements, French unis exercise what they call le droit d'acces à l'education mais pas le droit au diplome.
Roughly translating, everyone has a right to access higher education institutions but not everyone will be guaranteed graduating with a degree. French unis don't look at grades, they merely ask whether you have a baccalaureat. The fact that there are barely any entry requirements means that the selection will not be à l'entree but à la sortie i.e. professors get to decide who gets to graduate. So be prepared to get a lot of coursework and to sit exams that won't be as easy as in your home institution. The Uni year is split is 2 semesters. A typical year will start in October: first semester will involve classes, mock exams, revision break/holidays in December (around 2-3 weeks), exams in January and then you get the second semester straight after with the same routine (class, mock, revision/holidays in April, exams in June). Resits take place around August or so and all exams tend to be condensed in 2-3weeks. Some modules involve seminars plus exams, others are assessed by exams only. It generally varies from uni to uni. For example at Paris I, the requirement for my year abroad was 4 modules per semester, 2 of which had seminars and 2 of them were electives and were only assessed by exams. Usually the ones with seminars have a higher ECTS level. The marking scheme goes from 1 to 20 with 10 being the pass-mark. Most people get 9 to 12 or so and that's considered the average. Your final mark will involve coursework (i.e it can be anything from participation in class, handing in work can be imposed or on a voluntary basis, the mock exam) and the exam. Coursework doesn't have set standard. I was lucky to have really cool Erasmus-friendly seminar leaders. One was really laid-back and marked you on a participation basis – as long as you asked or answered a question and/or volunteered for a case commentary, you could be sure to pass the coursework bit. My second one preferred written pieces of work but was nice enough to accept 4-5 case analyses per semester and she would average the two best marks for the coursework requirement. Some however can be very demanding and can ask for a full handwritten dissertation to hand in every week, and will not hesitate to sanction you if you don't do so (i.e negative marking on the coursework requirement). Exams are usually 3 hours for 1 big essay-type question with a proper intro, body and conclusion or 3-4 short ones comprising of a couple of paragraphs. As a native French speaker, I had the linguistic advantage over the other students but that didn't make the workload any easier. If you work your butt off during term-time and make the pass-mark, you can be sure to pass the exam if you work as hard. I really emphasise the importance of working hard in coursework because it WILL work in your favour come exam-time. If you get an 8 or 9 in the exams and you got a 10 or more in coursework, the grand jury will most probably give you sympathy marks – those 1 or 2 little points that you need to pass the module overall. You can also pass by equivalence i.e. if you got an overall mark of 12 in module A (coursework plus exams) and 8 in module B, the average is 10 and you can still pass the semester overall. Same goes for say 11 in module A and 9 in module B.

You may be wondering 'How will I survive Uni??!' We have the answer...

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