Here are tips to help you write a great French essay with exam requirements in mind. Once you’re done, I strongly suggest you proofread your text using my checklist.
Note: if you’re preparing for the French VCE, there is an updated version of these exam tips in my guide “How to Prepare for the French VCE & Reach your Maximum Score”.
While supervising exams or tutoring for exam preparation, I’ve seen too many students writing straight away on their exam copies. Stop! Resist the urge to jump on your pen and take a step back to make sure that you will be addressing all the exam requirements or you may be shooting yourself in the foot and lose precious points.
I recommend that you train with exam sample questions so that you set up good working habits and respect the required length of the essay, as well as the timing (allow at least 10 minutes for proofreading).
Crafting your French Essay
1. Identify the situation: preparation work
- Read the topic carefully, slowly and at least twice to absorb every information/detail.
- Underline/highlight/jot down any piece of information that you are expected to reuse:
- What type of text do you need to write? (a journal entry? A formal letter? A speech? Etc).
Note to VCE French exam students: refer to page 13 of the VCE French Study Design for more information about the different types of texts.
- Who are you in the situation? (yourself? A journalist? etc)
- Who are you addressing? (a friend? A large audience? Etc) à adjust the degree of formality to the situation (for example by using the “tu”/”vous” form, a casual or formal tone/register, etc)
- What are the characteristic features of the type of text you need to write? (eg a journal entry will have the date, a formal letter will start and end with a formal greeting, etc)
- What is your goal ? What are you expected to talk about / present / defend / convey?
- What are the length requirements for your French essay? Respect the word count (there’s usually a 5% or so tolerance. Check the requirements specific to your exam)
Tip: when you practice at home, count how many words in average you fit on a line. This will give you a good indication of how many lines your text should be.
Ex: You write an average of 15 words per line. If you are required to write a 300-word French essay, you should aim for:
300 words / 15 words per line = 20 lines total.
2. Draft the outline of your essay
- An essay typically has an introduction, a body with 2 or 3 distinct parts and a conclusion. (See if that outline is relevant to the type of text you are expected to write and adjust accordingly.)
- Use bullet points to organize your ideas.
- Don’t remain too general. A good rule is to use one main idea for each part and to back it up/reinforce in/illustrate it with one concrete example (eg. data).
- Brainstorming about things to say will also help you use a wider range of vocabulary, which will get noticed by the examiner. Are there some interesting/specific words or expressions that you can think of using in your text (example: if you are writing about global warming, brainstorm the vocab related to this topic. Brainstorm expressions to convince or disagree with something, etc)?
- Make sure you have reused every point identified in part 1.
3. Write your essay
- It’s better if you have time to write or at least draft a few sentences on your draft paper rather than writing directly because:
- You want to meet the word count requirements
- You don’t want multiple words to be barred cross crossed-out and your page looking messy and great anything but neat!
- you don’t want to have to rush so much that your handwriting is really unpleasant to read (or worse, impossible to read…)
- So… monitor your time carefully!
Structuring your text
- Visually, the eye should instantly be able to see the structure of your French essay: make paragraph and skip lines so that it doesn’t look like an unappealing large block of text.
- Use connectors/link words to structure your text and make good transitions.
4. Proofread, proofread, proofread!
- It’s important that you allow at least 10 minutes for proofreading because there most likely are a few mistakes that you can fix very easily. It would therefore be a shame not to give yourself your best chances of success!
Check out my Proofreading Checklist.
If you need any help with your essay, you can submit it to me there.