French find examinitis cure

July 14, 1995

The education ministry's inspectorate has hailed a cure for what it describes in its annual report as "the well-known French syndrome of examinitis".

France's universities tend to have the most severe case of the condition in the education system. The organisation of exams regularly takes up between ten and 12 weeks a year, compared to the number of actual teaching weeks, averaging just 25 weeks a year.

This is largely due to the second resit sessions organised in September and October, which, according to the inspectorate, "reproduce in their totality the first session".

The report notes that the four pioneering universities which have brought forward their resits and hold them before the summer vacation have experienced "entirely positive effects, both for the students and for the institution".

There has been no drop in success rates when the second session is held three weeks after the first one, rather than two to three months later. The inspectorate believes this is because students who fail their examinations have usually revised some of their subjects thoroughly and find three weeks long enough to go over the remaining subjects.

An early second session also enables students to make any decisions about a change of course in time for enrolments. As for the institution, early resits allow universities to organise annual enrolments without the "quasi-systematic non-respect" for national regulations, which specify an October 15 deadline for first- and second-level courses.

Earlier resits are usually shorter than autumn sessions, notes the report, which suggests that a "quiet revolution" is under way, making examinations less sacred, to the "great satisfaction of many".

The inspectorate recommends that this experimental rescheduling of examinations should become more widespread. Another benefit would be the presence of academics in classes and classes right at the start of the year, when many are absent, organising examinations.

But even more important, total student numbers would be known much earlier on. Up to a quarter of course enrolments in French universities are made after the October 15 deadline. The statistics on student population used to calculate a university's share of central funding are always those relating to the previous year.

In another chapter of its annual report, the inspectorate notes that the reorganisation of first- and second-level courses, which range from the two-year diploma to masters degrees, still has a long way to go to have the impact hoped for.

Since 1993 universities have in theory reorganised courses to cut the high failure rate by introducing modules and starting courses with a core curriculum which leaves time for students to choose their specialisation.

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