Study Abroad Evaluation
We ask that all those who wish to study abroad in a French or Francophone program present themselves for a Study Abroad Evaluation. These evaluations happen three times a year, in October, December and February, prior to the due dates for application to the various Study Abroad programs. You should always take the evaluation at the session closest to the date of the program you desire, unless the programs you select for your first and second choices have different application dates, in which case you should present yourself for evaluation immediately prior to the earliest application due date. The Office of Global Education can offer you the most current information on programs and due dates for applications; you should always check there first when determining at what time you need to take the Study Abroad Evaluation.
The Study Abroad Evaluation has two parts: a written exam (listening comprehension and essay) and an interview. What follows is an outline of what you can expect of us, and what we expect of you in the evaluation process.
Assessing your proficiency is necessary to ensure that your direct matriculation experience will be as rewarding and successful as possible. The numerous benefits of immersion and study in a foreign language, culture and educational system can only be reaped by students who have attained a minimal level of proficiency; insufficient preparation will almost certainly result in a stressful and frustrating experience, if not in outright failure in academic terms.
Much of your class-time abroad will be spent listening to lectures delivered by a native speaker of French at normal speed, a format to which your classes in the U.S. may not have prepared you. You need to be able to comprehend what is being said, even in less-than ideal listening conditions (large lecture halls, background noise, for instance), and to be able to overcome such obstacles as regional accents and, probably, cultural references and vocabulary unfamiliar to you. In most cases, you cannot expect the instructor to explain or even repeat what s/he has said. In addition, you need to be able to take detailed and accurate notes — IN FRENCH — on each lecture, as its contents may not be available elsewhere and the instructor will expect you to have properly recorded the information s/he delivered. In the majority of courses, this is an absolute condition to passing exams. As a result, it is imperative that you develop the ability to listen attentively and transcribe in a kind of French shorthand with which you feel comfortable.
Expect to complete lengthy readings (several hundred pages) for each course each semester. Not only do you need to read fairly quickly AND understand what you read, but you must also be able to take notes on your readings. Since French is not your native language, this means also developing excellent proficiency in the use of a dictionary like the Petit Robert.
This is by far the most problematic area, for a variety of reasons. Contrary to what you may think, the major hurdle you are facing is not simply the fact that French is not your native tongue, nor is it the fact that you need to “improve your grammar.” Academic writing in France is considered as a reflection of clear, rational and logical thinking expressed in very defined formats (résumé, commentaire composé, dissertation, etc.) which all have precise rules to be followed. Your understanding of the topic at hand, the relevance, originality — and even brilliance — of the ideas you may have do not matter much if they are not channeled in those accepted formats. The numerous constraints and rules of each writing form are well known to your French classmates through the force of habit: they have years of intensive practice behind them. To you, it may all be new and somewhat mysterious.
Simply put, your written work will be evaluated according to the following criteria: Your ability to meet the demands of a given format in addressing the given topic — straying off the topic (hors sujet) is severely sanctioned and may be regarded as the equivalent of turning in a blank sheet of paper, which deserves a punishing grade of 2/20. The organization of your paper, usually materialized in a detailed outline (le plan): clarity, logical progression, and balance are absolutely essential. THESE CRITERIA ACCOUNT FOR AT LEAST HALF OF YOUR GRADE. In other words, if you violate some of the rules for the given format and/or if the structure of your paper is faulty, you will not reach the fateful moyenne, i.e. the passing grade of 10/20. The force and validity of your arguments (i.e., their substance), as expressed in an effective writing style, which includes complex sentences, appropriate use of transitions and precise vocabulary. “Good grammar” only matters insofar as it contributes to an effective writing style. In and of themselves, grammatical (and spelling) mistakes are merely regarded as minor irritants.
Students looking to study at a Sciences Po campus should follow the Intensive track (FREN-112 recommended).
We offer programs in Tours and Paris, which can help you reinforce your proficiency.
As far as academic work is concerned, your ability to express yourself orally will have little bearing on your success. Although you may be asked to deliver short formal presentations (“exposés”) and answer questions in class, your speaking abilities will likely be adequate without any additional training, if you reach the level of Literature/Culture & Writing (or higher) before you go.