Competing in academic and coursework exams, especially those focused on language proficiency, can be worthwhile for several compelling reasons. These exams provide a unique opportunity to gauge your abilities in comparison to your peers and students around the world. They serve as a valuable benchmark, allowing you to assess where you stand in terms of language skills, comprehension, and application, thus helping you identify areas for improvement. Moreover, the National French Contest, and other competitions like it, encompasses listening-based components, an aspect not frequently emphasized in high school assessments. Developing proficiency in listening comprehension is a critical skill in today's globalized world, making these exams a unique place to hone this skill set.
What is the National French Contest?
The National French Contest, or Le Grand Concours, is an annual competition for students learning French as a foreign language. All students from primary school through high school — both in the U.S. and internationally — are eligible to compete. Consisting of French grammar, reading comprehension, and listening components, your performance will demonstrate where your skills fall in comparison to students at similar levels of study. Not only will this serve as a benchmark of how far you’ve advanced in your French studies, but can also be valuable for college or French-language programs to show your level of competence in an international context.
What does the Competition Consist of?
Le Grand Concours is split into two categories; students in grades 1-6 compete in the FLES Contest (Français Langue Étrangère et Seconde (French: French Foreign and Second Language), while those in grades 7-12 compete in the Le Grand Concours, which is split into 6 divisions based on your current level of study:
Level 01 –Proficiency range: Novice Low
Level 1 – Proficiency range: Novice mid
Level 2 – Proficiency range: Novice High
Level 3 – Proficiency range: Intermediate low
Level 4 – Proficiency range: Intermediate mid
Level 5 – Proficiency range: Intermediate high or Advanced low
To determine which level you will compete at, the Specifications for Le Grand Concours 2023 based on the World-Readiness French Standards breaks down each level by a student’s knowledge and abilities in French Communication, Culture, Connections, and Comparisons.
Le Grand Concours is only offered online and is taken in a proctored classroom between late February to early April.
For more information on correct level placement and division categories, you can review the official enrollment guidelines.
Application Dates and Important Deadlines
The test is required to be taken between these dates:
Grades 1-6 (FLES): February 12 - March 6, 2024
Grades 7-12 (levels 01-5): February 14 - April 8, 2024
It is important to note that the test will typically be taken either in class or at school with a proctor. Students typically do not apply or coordinate their test dates independently but through their French professors.
To apply, you must have your French teacher register you through the National French Contest Website here.
What will you win in the National French Contest?
In the 2023 National French Contest, 158 students were awarded platinum awards, 2261 with gold awards, 3729 with silver awards, and 4022 with bronze awards. Overall, a total of 10170 students were awarded in the 2023 competition for Levels 01-5 (grades 7-12). While you will have to work hard to earn an award, that is an achievement you will be able to put on college applications and resumes for years to come.
Is the National French Contest Prestigious?
In 2023, there were 1,983 students enrolled in FLES and 41,769 students enrolled for Levels 01-5 in Le Grand Concours. Of these numbers, 10,557 students, or 24% of those who enrolled in the competition, were presented with awards in the 2023 competition.
Awards are given separately for each level — you’ll only be evaluated relative to others in your division.
Le Grand Concours awards are determined by the percentile in which you score. Let’s take a look at how the categories break down:
Platinum award: Given to the single-highest scorer on the exam
Gold award: students in the 95th percentile and above
Silver award: students in the 94th through 85th percentile
Bronze award: students in the 84th through 75th percentile
Mention d'honneur award: Students in 74th through 50th percentile
The rest of the 2023 statistics, along with a comprehensive chart showing award distribution by level and division can be found at this link.
6 Tips to Help You Win the National French Contest
Now that we’ve discussed the benefits of participating in a language competition like the National French Contest, it's clear that taking this leap can be a transformative experience for any student. However, to truly make the most of this opportunity and increase your chances of standing out among the competition, it's crucial to prepare effectively. In the following section, we'll delve into a set of seven tips and strategies that will not only help you perform at your best but also elevate your confidence and skills as you prepare for this linguistic journey.
1. Prepare well in advance: For grades 1-6 (FLES) the contest takes place February 12 - March 6, 2024. While for grades 7-12 (levels 01-5), the contest will take place February 14 - April 8, 2024. With these dates in mind, you have roughly six months to study and prepare yourself for the competition- which can give you a headstart on other students, and also ensure that you will not need to rush your studying. You will be giving yourself ample time to carefully prepare and give yourself the best chance of success.
2. Utilize Different Mediums: Since the exam contains passages from French literature and newspapers and content from news clips and podcasts, you should ensure that you’re comfortable engaging with the language in each context. To be fully prepared, your studying should include reading books and articles in French, watching French-language movies, and holding full conversations in French. By practicing French across different mediums, you'll not only prepare for each component of the exam, but also gain a deeper understanding of its grammar, sentence structure, and cultural context.
3. Understand the Test Format: Something that sets the National French Contest apart from other competitions is the listening portion of the exam. The exam is meant to push your boundaries and replicate real-world scenarios. Therefore, potentially unlike your French professor, the listening portion will move at a rapid pace- as real French speakers do. Work towards listening to, and understanding, how French speakers speak to gain an advantage going into the exam.
4. Master French Grammar and Vocabulary: Ensure your grasp of French grammar and vocabulary is strong. Focus on advanced topics, including verb conjugations, tenses, and complex sentence structures. Expanding your vocabulary will not only enhance your ability to express yourself effectively but will be helpful no matter what level you compete at.
5. Cultural Awareness: A basic understanding of French culture, history, and current events will play a role in the level requirements for Le Grand Concours. The exam’s content will be based on these subjects, so be sure to memorize some background knowledge or keywords relating to French culture. This information may prove to be valuable for essay writing and comprehension sections.
6. Take Mock Exams and Accept Feedback: Quiz yourself and seek feedback. Simulating exam conditions can help you manage time and reduce anxiety. When you request feedback from teachers, mentors, or experienced speakers, you will be able to identify areas for improvement and refine your skills –- enhancing your chances of earning an award.
Here are the key takeaways about participating in Le Grand Concours:
Le Grand Concours is a national assessment of French students with competence-based division levels. Within the categories of Communication, Cultures, Connections, and Comparisons Le Grand Concours tests your skills in French grammar, speech comprehension, and reading abilities. Typical test content includes answering comprehension questions after listening to French podcasts, reading and synthesizing passages in French news articles or books, and applying relevant grammatical structures.
The main benefit of participating in Le Grand Concours is that performing well in the competition will demonstrate that your skills in French are advanced relative to a national pool of students rather than solely within the context of your school. Since admissions officers are tasked with comparing students from vastly different backgrounds, exams like Le Grand Concours will make your high grades in French stand out.
While a high score does have the potential to positively impact your strength as an applicant, understand that this is not a “traditional” competition. The National French Competition can be considered like a subject-specific standardized test that provides competitors’ percentile rank within the wider pool. Overall, ranking high in the National French Competition is beneficial, but has limited prestige.
Awards for Le Grand Concours are generally not individualized but are designated based on what percentile range you fall into. After all examinations are scored, if you fall into the 50th percentile or above you will receive an award of Honorable Mention, Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum, based on progressively higher percentile range. The only individualized award is the Platinum Award, given to the single highest scorer. Of course, if more than one student earns the highest score, multiple Platinum Awards may be given.
Keep in mind that students cannot independently enter Le Grand Concours, as it is coordinated by school French instructors. If your school does not administer the exam and you’d like to compete, you should reach out to your French teacher to register you for the test and agree to proctor you during the competition.
If you’re eligible to compete in your school, take advantage of the chance to participate in Le Grand Concours. While it does have limited impact as an academic achievement, a high national ranking will nevertheless work in your favor by providing a more objective assessment of your French skills and showing that you are among the top French students nationally.
If you don’t study French and are looking for a similar opportunity, there are national language competitions offered for high schoolers studying German, Latin, and Spanish or Portuguese. Gallaudet University also offers a National Literary Competition in ASL for d/Deaf and hard of hearing students, though this requires independent registration.
If you are interested in conducting research in linguistics, history, and sociology, you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.
Mandy Brenner is a current junior at Harvard University. She is concentrating in History and Literature and loves to read and write in her free time.
Image Source: National French Contest logo