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French Students Not 'Coping' Well With English Test Question

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

High school seniors, if you think you have it hard with the SAT, take a look across the pond at what French kids are dealing with. They're now taking the two-week baccalaureate exam known as Le Bac. The massive test covers subjects from philosophy to science and determines a student's entire future. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports that, this year, there is a small uprising.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: So far, more than 12,000 French seniors have signed an online petition calling for the education minister to cancel one of the questions on this year's baccalaureate English exam. The notorious question refers to a character in one of British writer Ian McEwan's novels and asks how he is coping with his situation. French teenagers, it turns out, could not cope because so many were baffled by the word, coping. This being 2015, their indignation soon exploded on social media, and a petition to have the question struck has gone viral. What is that cursed question, asked one agitated test-taker. This group of students is taking a cafe break from the Bac, which has ruined the month of June for nearly 700,000 high school seniors across the country. Leah Bogliolo says she understands why students are up in arms.

LEAH BOGLIOLO: It's very stressful and difficult for us because it's just, like, one of the most important exams in your life.

BEARDSLEY: Of the four high schoolers here, two weren't able to cope, but 17-year-old Victor Glaze could.

VICTOR GLAZE: Just one question was a little bit confusing, I would say, because people didn't know the word, coping.

BEARDSLEY: Did you know the word?

GLAZE: I did. I mean, actually, I knew that word, but I wasn't sure about it, so...

BEARDSLEY: But it's a hard word, no?

GLAZE: Sort of. I mean, I would say, for French students, we are not very good at English.

BEARDSLEY: One study out last year ranked the French in last place in English proficiency in the European Union. Glaze says there's no reason for his fellow students to make such a big deal over one silly question. But protesting, he says, is something the French are really good at. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.