When I was 17, 64 years ago, I sat the Higher School Certificate. In French, there was a grammar and essay paper and one based on the study of a play by Jean Racine, another by Pierre Corneille, Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's Paul et Virginie and the poetry of Alphonse de Lamartine.
At least one literary critical answer had to be written in French.
So no decline in standards, then.
Kenneth Counter, Exeter