The Leaving Certificate French Paper at Higher Level is divided into four sections:

  • Oral
  • Reading comprehension
  • Written production
  • Listening comprehension or aural.
Section Marks allocated Percentage of paper
Oral 100 25%
Reading Comprehension 120 30%
Written Production 100 25%
Listening Comprehension
80 20%

The Oral Exam

The oral section, in which you have a conversation lasting 12-15 minutes with an examiner in your school, is usually what most students get most stressed about.

The problem is, you need a good knowledge of the material yet you’re not supposed to simply learn it all off. You should learn the material, but only memorise the main points. Adapt these points to the question asked and steer the conversation as you’d like it to be.

A good tip is to pretend that you’re acting: you know that you’re relying on your oral notes and so does the examiner; you just have to “act” as if you’re fluent in the language!

The most important aspect of preparing for the oral is to ORGANISE YOUR NOTES PROPERLY!!! Don’t have random sheets of French (or Irish, or any subject, for that matter!) in every textbook, copy, hardback, folder, file or portfolio that you have – invest in an oral copy (a hardback would be recommended, but a standard homework copy or a presentation folder would suffice).

More detailed notes on certain sections of the oral exam will be going up on oral section shortly.

Reading Comprehension

The reading comprehension is the most mundane section of the exam, yet it carries the most marks – so try to suffer the endless amount of comprehensions in your textbook or in your exam papers that your teacher dishes out: it’s totally worth it in the end.

As you’ve heard a thousand times, there are two comprehensions, each carrying a sweet 60 marks. Both are examples of different genres of French literature – the first being a journalistic passage and the second being a literary passage. Each usually deals with a topical issue (homelessness, poverty, alcoholism, etc.).

The second passage tends to be a little bit trickier in that it is taken from a novel and the style is a tad more traditional – know the l’imparfait, as it is used as the past tense in these passages, as opposed to the passé composé.

There are five types of questions present in the comprehensions:

  1. The multiple choice question: Surprisingly, it’s often one of the trickiest questions – but remember, there can only ever be ONE TRUE ANSWER.
  2. The quote: Look out for citez, relevez and trouvez. Remember that un mot = one word, une expression = a section of a sentence, but not the whole sentence and une phrase = an entire sentence from the capital letter to the full stop.
  3. The reformulation question: We must re-jig the question to suit the answer. (This is a really simple example!) eg. (feminine point of view) Je fais mes devoirs tous les joursQ: Qu’est-ce que fait la narratrice tous les jours? A:La narratrice/Elle fait ses devoirs tous les jours.
  4. The vocabulary question: We must find a synonym of a verb, an adjective, a noun or even a whole sentence.
  5. The grammar question: You must find the word in italics in the text that is replaced by the pronoun (eg. ceux) It may also be helpful to revise adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, verbs and  tenses. Check out 2003 Comprehension One Q.5 as an example.
  6. The summary question: This question comes up every year, guaranteed. It checks your overall, well, comprehension of the piece! How you understand it. In answering it, you generally make two points, each of which is backed up with a quote. Backing each point up is vital in order to get full marks.

In first tackling each comprehension, read the title, the subtitle/headline and then read Q.6. Then STOP! You now have a basic understanding of the piece, which should benefit you from hereon in.

Written Production

Section 2 of the written exam is called “Written Production,” in which you must answer topical questions in either 90 or 75 words. You must complete one exercise from Q.1, and two from Q.2, Q.3 and/or Q.4. (You may pick just one of either (a) or (b) in each question).

Question 1 is usually related to the comprehensions, and hence, totally random!  It is extremely important to note that question 1 is compulsory – LA QUESTION 1 EST OBLIGATOIRE.

Question 2 usually relates to the journal intime  in which you are given points to write about, and a letter, be it formal or informal, again, with points to write about. Remember the layout of each, and veuillez agréer, madame/monsieur, l’expression de mes sentiments distinguées. However, notes and messages have popped up from time to time, so be vigilant.

Questions 3 and 4 are the “reaction” questions in which you give your opinion to a specific image, quote or piece of text. They are 75 words long. They greatly differ from year to year – in 2013, the horse meat scandal came up! Form an introduction, two to three solid points and a conclusion, where you sum up your piece in about three lines.

Aural/ Listening Comprehension

The aural or listening comprehension is the final part of your exam.  It is worth 80 marks, or 20% of your exam. There are five sections. Sections I-IV are heard three times. Section I tends to be one or two separate pieces, Section II an interview, and Sections III and IV conversations of some kind. Section V contains two to three news items, each of which are played just twice, so keep up! Try to write your answers during the long spaces between the BEEPs!!

They aren’t there to make you impatient. Writing down answers while the material is playing means that you will most likely miss the next question or two (or three – it depends.) Even multitaskers, who can do both simultaneously, it’s a bad idea. For Section V especially. All you can do for this section is practise.

Oh, and one last thing – the questions are in English, so answer in English!  Answering in French scores 0 marks.

That’s your French HL paper in a nutshell. Any questions? Ask in the comments below!

Bonne Chance!

PS. All the past papers (and, more importantly, the marking schemes!) can be accessed on [Like ye didn’t know already!]. The curriculum can be accessed here.