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National Philosophy Exam, France

Alice Huaut

June 15th, 2023

According to Florida’s State University “Philosophy is an activity people undertake when they seek to understand fundamental truths about themselves, the world in which they live, and their relationships to the world and to each other. Those who wish to receive a secondary school certificate in France are required to take a lengthy exam in philosophy, on top of their other courses, like science and language.

Exam Length and Weight

This year, on Wednesday, June 14, scheduled from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., 536,000 terminal (senior) high school students took their second to last high school exam. 

The exam is a lot less stressful than it used to be, as the share of a student’s philosophy grade is only 4 to 8 percent of a student’s final grade. The final grade a student receives when exiting high school (lycée) includes the accumulation of two years of exams and in-class tests. Studied subjects range from mathematics to history and geography (depending on the student’s choice of curriculum). 

Exam Format

Despite the greater flexibility given to students when selecting courses, all academically inclined, French, high school students take philosophy classes for up to eight hours a week during their last year of high school. Then, they all take a four-hour philosophy exam at the end of the course, which is considered a rite of passage, focused on a single question like the one from this year, including:

Is happiness a matter of reason? Is wanting peace wanting justice? What does art teach us? Is transforming nature gaining freedom?

Alternatively, if students are not inspired by the essay questions presented to them, a text associated with the studied philosophy curriculum is provided. The textual analysis requires students to comment on the text, extracting and explaining its main philosophical message. 

Differing Opinions

Unsurprisingly, students and professors have differing opinions concerning this exam. High schoolers commenced the exam, already knowing 80% of their final grade because of the French baccalaureate’s new structure, created under France’s Education Minister, Jean Michel Blanquer, and first tested by the high schoolers who graduated in 2021.

As a result, students are less stressed about this exam, and many reports have revealed many students study at the last minute. Furthermore, few students hope to continue studying philosophy post-high school and do not consider this subject a good use of their time.

On the contrary, philosophy professors, such as Marie Perret, a philosophy professor at Rueil-Malmaison and president of the French Philosophy Professors Association (APPEP); deplore that philosophy is crucial for the functioning of France’s democratic and republican values.





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