Philosophy: the 2013 Edition


I know you are all waiting with bated breath for this year’s essay questions so that you can wonder what you would have written and share the topics at home or at work! So here are this morning’s exam questions.

Philosophy is a compulsory subject for all French students at the end of the high school years unless they are preparing a vocational degree. The students sit for four hours and have to write about one question out of a choice of three – two in the form of a question and one text.

– Is language a tool?
– Is science limited to recording facts?
– What do we owe to the state?
– Do we interpret because we cannot know?
– Is it possible to act morally without being interested in politics?
– Does work allow an awareness of the self?
– An extract from a letter to Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia by René Descartes
– A extract from De Concordia by Anselm of Canterbury
– An extract from The Creative Mind: An Introduction to Metaphysics by Henri Bergson

All Suggestions Welcome


For the third consecutive year the French Ministry of Education, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that they won’t leave me alone during the holidays and that they are responsible for keeping me busy – lest I get bored I suppose.

In other words, in early September (two days before Rosh Hashanah) I will be asked to provide three texts comprising of about 30-35 lines which will be turned into exam papers – complete with questions and essay titles – in the first term of school. Articles and novel excerpts are fine sources.

These texts are supposed to be authentic (ie written for an English-speaking audience) but also understandable by students whose level of English is not exactly brilliant as they specialize in the services and will do short courses after high school.

This is where you, my dear readers, come into action. Do you have any idea(s) of books that would be pleasant and with an exciting plot (I’ll obviously need to read them) as well as straightforward for the students concerned? I was thinking of novels aimed at young adults, although this is not an obligation, but have no idea what is popular at the moment.

Taking Over


I have mentioned on one or two occasions that I have two new classes this year. I teach them Business English and prepare them for a two-part exam: a written paper and an oral.

For the written part of the exam the candidates get an article they have never seen before and which is related to a Business theme such as “Getting a Job”, “Human Resources”, Company Values”, “Retailing”, “Getting Global”, “Business Ethics” and ten more. They have to summarize it and translate a few lines. The oral is in two parts: they need to account for a written or oral document and also present a former work experience in English.

It is a new challenge both because it is completely new to me and because the students are older than those I am used to. I realize that I like the fact that they are older and usually more mature than ordinary high school students. It is nice to deal with young adults.

However I still feel daunted by the fact that all this is new to me. I am used to a certain type of English vocabulary and teaching situations but not to Business English – or at least not much. In addition I am taking over a colleague who had taught this course for years. Therefore I am always wondering if I am doing the right thing and what he would do.

I guess I’d need some sort of specific training that would help me feel more confident and at ease. Meanwhile I will have to trust my instincts and understanding of what the course is all about and how it should be devised and taught.

Marking Papers and Having Fun


As some of you know, I teach English in a French high school so this time of year is always devoted to marking exam papers. After three years of high school, French students take the baccalauréat, an exam which marks the end of their secondary education and allows them to go to university if they wish to.

Because of the importance of this exam, we mark papers which are anonymous and come from a different area than the one where we teach. Not all English exams are the same; it depends how significant English is in their curriculum. In other words students for whom languages are important get longer and more complex texts and questions.

This year I have been asked to mark papers for a stream where English carries very little weight but who have been studying it for at least seven years. The text they had to read was an extract from The Promised Land by Sarfraz Manzoor. It relates how a teenager, whose parents forbade him to go to the cinema, discovered it at the age of fourteen and how The Breakfast Club made him wish to spend a year in the USA.

After some straightforward questions, where the students were expected to show their understanding of the text, they were supposed to write in English. Unfortunately, apart from a few notable exceptions, what I read was rather horrendous considering the amount of time these students had spent in English classrooms. Sometimes it was also quite funny.

1) Imagine his father finds him (the narrator) outside the cinema. Write the dialogue (80 words).
2) Is there a film that has particularly impressed you? Relate and say why (120 words)

Here are a few gems found in the essays:

Question 1:
– Hello, what did you doing ear?
– You should doing to very important stud.
– I would go to the cinema witch watch Rocky.

Question 2:
– I was always on cinema, one day for week.
– This film touch my hearth and now I have a better communication with my mother.
– The job of guardener jail (Tom Hanks) is to kill.
– On the one hand he kidnapped the children bottom her parents … I’m chocked.
– (About Pearl Harbor) It’s a film who speak a second warm.
– (More about Pearl Harbor by a different student) It’s the worth moment of the war beacause China attack USA by surprise and there are many murdered.
– (About Harry Potter) I like this film because the actors are student. They are my old years.

Philosophy for French Students


Today is the first day of the baccalauréat, the academic qualification which French students sit at the end of the lycée (secondary or high school).

Here is a selection of the questions on which the students were expected to write an essay this morning. Each student has a choice between three topics : two in the form of a question and one text.

– Does language betray thought?
– Does objective history require impartial historians?
– Is it absurd to desire the impossible?
– Are there questions that no science can answer?
– What do we win in exchanging?
– Does technological progress transform man?
– An excerpt from The World as Will and Representation by Schopenhauer
– An excerpt from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke
– An excerpt from Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville

Which one would you have chosen?

Exams in France: Philosophy

180px-3-statue.jpgToday was the first day of the baccalauréat, the academic qualification which French students sit at the end of the lycée (secondary or high school). This exam qualifies students for university entry. It was created by Napoleon I in 1808, that is to say exactly 200 years ago.

Traditionally Philosophy is the first exam, regardless of the students’ streams. In addition, the baccalauréat questions are the same for all students in a given stream throughout France.

Here is a selection of the questions on which the students were expected to write an essay. Each student has a choice between three topics : two in the form of a question and one text.

– Is it possible to desire without suffering?
– Is it easier to know others than oneself?
– Does art alter our awareness of the real world?
– Can one’s perception be guided?
– Is it possible not to believe in anything?
– An excerpt from Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville.
– an excerpt from Notebooks for Ethics by Sartre.

Which one would you have chosen?