Grading on the French System

One of the biggest adjustments I’ve had to make coming from teaching in the United States to teaching in France is implementing a new (and in my opinion, quite subjective) grading system.

American Grading Systems:

1. The first system is based on the 100-point grading system, used in universities and many high schools. For anyone who is not familiar with the American System, an A is considered excellent, a B is considered proficient, and a C is considered the last acceptable passing grade–basic. Although technically, a D is considered a pass, it is definitely not anything to brag about. An F is considered a fail and designates a re-take.

  • A+ (99-100)
  • A (94-98)
  • A- (92-93)
  • B+ (90-91)
  • B (85-89)
  • B- (81-84)
  • C+ (79-80)
  • C (74-78)
  • D (69-73)
  • F (below 69)

2. The second American system is a relatively new, but in my opinion, effective, system. This system has been implemented across the state Wisconsin in an attempt to accelerate the new Common Core standards, and to make effective changes to assessments and grading practices. Basically, teachers develop assessments and rubrics aligning with learning targets to allow students to demonstrate their understanding and skill acquisition. The goal is to help students become more aware and active in their learning. It also aids as a guide to teachers when meeting the needs of all students. At the end of each semester, these numbers are then calculated into a Grade Point Average (GPA).

  • 4 = Advanced (Can apply the knowledge/skills to new situations or teach others)
  • 3 = Proficient (Solid and consistent understanding of learning target)
  • 2 = Basic (Developing understanding, inconsistent performance)
  • 1 = Minimal (Knowledge/skill just emerging, struggling to show comprehension)

In the first American grading system, it is very possible (and definitely not rare or unheard of) to get a 100%, or a perfect score of A+, especially on tests and projects. The second grading system requires students to go above and beyond in order to receive a 4 (ie: the philosophy behind it explains that getting a perfect score on an assessment designates a 3; to get a 4, a students need to apply those skills even further.) However it is definitely still possible to do so. Many would fairly criticize that the American system is much too easy, and in most ways, I definitely agree. The second system works at combatting this very real concern.

The French Grading System:

The French system uses a 20-point scale:

  • 16–20: Very good (très bien)
  • 14–15,9: Good (bien)
  • 12–13,9: Satisfactory (assez bien)
  • 10–11,9: Basic (passable)
  • 0–9,9: Fail (insuffisant)

The French grading system is very unique, and holds the philosophical ideal that a 20 equals perfection. However, the French philosophy also implies that no one, and nothing, is ever perfect, and it is therefore almost impossible to receive a 20/20 on most assignments that are not math or multiple choice tests. In fact, 18/20 is extremely rare, and 12/20 (a low B) is considered a good score! When determining a grade, all aspects are considered: presentation, written expression, reasoning, organization, research, and even the overall subjectivity of the professor who is grading the paper. It is extremely easy to just simply give a score based on feeling; I have found that the only way I have been able to justify my scores and keep things as fair and consistent as possible for all of my students is to develop a specific rubric system for each assessment and explanations for each factor. At the university, I think the highest I gave was 17 or 18. Often, I collaborate with my colleagues to make sure our grades are consistent across the board, as the subjectivity of each professor can vastly change the score of one student’s grade to the next.

Overall, adjusting to the mindset has helped me grow as a teacher, especially in regards to a worldwide view of learning and assessing. I do not believe any system of grading is perfect, but working as a teacher abroad comes with implementing new grading systems and accurately evaluating students by whatever means possible.

Which grading systems does your country use? How does it compare to the American or French systems? Do you have a preference or an opinion about any of the three systems I’ve listed above? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.



17 thoughts on “Grading on the French System

  1. Oh Boy!!!

    I knew something was wrong when one of my students (my worst student) was very happy with a grade of 10!! and that’s not the bad part, I have been giving my students 18,19 and even 20 lol. I don’t know why it is so damn hard for me to give a grade of 12-16, it just doesn’t make sense to me and I just can’t do the switch.

    1. No worries, I give lots of 19’s and 20’s in high school if they deserve them! In middle school we’ve switched to skills-based assessments, so no more numbers for us!

  2. Hello Dana,
    Thank you for your post on the French Grading system. I am currently writing an article which tackle the question about grading system and grade conversion from French System to British or American System . Specifically, i wonder if students from French system moving to British system or American system are being evaluated fairly according to the admission requirements that often select students with a GPA of 3/4 or above. As it was mentioned above, a simple conversion of grade from one system to another does not give a perfect pictures of the students ability . For instance, I completed my high school and first degree in Biology in a French system . I moved to a British system to enroll to another first degree in Management. Even though it was a different field of study, with me having an average English proficiency level , I still performed much better in term of grade compare to my first degree in the French System . Is there a better way to look beyond the converted GPA from French System to British or American System given that French students generally get poor grade scored after conversion.
    I am looking for articles that have answered some of these questions .if anyone has come across of such publication please share with me .


    1. Hello, I don’t think I am quite the right person to ask! From what I can tell, British and American universities have their own expectations for French students (ie: get 16/20 or something.) But it depends on the university. Hope that helps! Good luck!

  3. Hi. My daughter is currently doing a project education in France. Could you tell me what happens to a student who isn’t receiving good grades. Thank you

    1. Hmm.. well it depends what level they’re at. In high school sometimes they hold kids back (it’s not as taboo or frowned upon though is certainly done less and less.) In most cases however, students are given a chance to the the “ratrappages” which is basically a re-sit. If they fail that, then they have to redo the class or the year.

  4. I actually was subjected to the 20 point grading system for the first 9 years of my life because I attended the French-American School of NY here in the States. The school is accredited by the French Ministry of Education so this means I was following the curriculum that students in France were following, including math. That’s right, I learned math in French until 8th grade than switched to an American high school and it was so different and I was so lost! But I hated math even before the switch, it was not uncommon for me to get 5/20 on tests because I just couldn’t make myself care enough (and I still turned out okay). In fact, my math teacher from that school STILL remembers to this day how much I hated math and last year greeted me with “Alors Amelie, comment ça va les maths?” when I went to a reunion for that school.

    The 4.0 grading system is pretty widely used in American universities. It may not be used in classes but all the grades in all of the classes will be combined to calculate your GPA on the 4.0 scale.

    1. Wow! That’s so cool you went to the French-American School in NY, as well as learned math in French. Did you receive ESL services when you switched schools? Do you prefer the French or American grading systems? Thanks for the comment!

      1. There were ESL services for students whose families had moved from France to the US–usually a parent (and it was almost always the father) got transferred to NY for a few years for work and the rest of the family came along. The French kids usually ended up in ESL but eventually caught on quick enough that within a few years they could get transferred to the regular English class.

        There were also FLE (Français Langue Etrangère) classes for “anglophone” students who had French parents but grew up in the US (so like me) to give them extra support in the French language. A lot of those students ended up in FLE but my sister and I were some of the few anglophones who did not have to take them. The school was surprised we did not need the support but I guess we placed out of those. They even complimented my American mother on our level of French and said it was unusual we spoke French so well considering we had never grown up in France and had been born in the US.

        As for the French/American grading system, they have pros and cons. In France, 10/20 is not necessarily a death sentence, it can be considered passing in some cases. However 50/100 is an automatic F in the States. I think it’s a bit annoying that getting 20/20 is almost impossible but I guess it’s a bit more realistic to say nothing is ever perfect and there’s always room for improvement.

  5. I remember the first time I gave a 20 for an oral exam. We were talking about the exams with a few other English teachers, and when I said I gave a 20, they were all like “WHAT?!”. Then, I said the name of the student, and our lovely British colleague was just like, “Oh, he speaks better English than I do.”

      1. We gave oral exams as finals my first year (I gave them as well my second). I also gave a few 20/20s on first year presentations. Some of the kids were basically bilingual.

  6. Interesting post, Dana. I didn’t know about the new 1 to 4 scale in Wisconsin.

    Newly trained teachers in France (people like, ahem, me) and older teachers who are on top of it know that it’s best to have a rubric, and try to use it, even if they don’t always give it to the students. I find it almost impossible to grade an assignment that counts for something without using a rubric, and sometimes students do ask to know how they were graded.

    In classes like math where exams are often exercises and right/wrong answers, 20s definitely happen. And I’ve known other teachers who’ve given 20s, even on things like official BTS exams.

    My point is, I think things are changing in spite of a historically severe pedagogical culture. The government is trying to work toward a “skills-based” system rather than a simple 1-20 grading system.

    Still, the most ridiculous thing I find in French grading is the dictée. Each mistake is worth a certain amount of points deducted, so you can end up with negative grades that are then entered as 0. I mean, come on, let’s just acknowledge that that is NOT a 0 to 20 grading system! But maybe the dictée is on its way out… my boss says the brevet de collège is.

    1. Thanks for your comment! I was sort of wondering about math and other related subjects, so thanks for clearing that up! i’m going to add that into my post.

      The new grading system isn’t very well-known. It’s really only in a few school districts in southeast Wisconsin, though I’m sure other schools have adapted it as well. I’ve only really seen it done in high schools , but never universities. Some universities are still on the A/AB/B/BC/C method, but my university moved away from that after the first year…

      I didn’t know about the dictee! That’s so interesting, and as you said, ridiculous. I definitely agree a with a “skills-based” grading system (which is what US system 2 is striving towards) so maybe we’ll see some changes with the French system as time passes.

      Rubrics Rock, btw! glad I’m not alone.

  7. I actually JUST had a conversation about grades in the US vs. French with a friend yesterday!! I was trying to explain the 100 point system and how even though there are more numbers, it’s only a small range which is considered “good”. I’ll have to share this with her!

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