French Language Blog

À l’École!: French and American Grade Levels Compared Posted by on Feb 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

It seems like just yesterday I was beginning my first year of French school in the small town of Villeneuve-sur-Lot in the Lot-et-Garonne department of southwestern France. Jean Jaurès was l’école élémentaire publique (public elementary school) in my area and was named for the French socialist leader who lived in the early 20th century.

The French scholastic system is similar to the American system but also differs in a number of ways. Just like in the U.S., French students begin attending school à l’âge de six ans (at the age of six) and finish at age eighteen. From there, they can choose to pursue their higher education at the local university but only after having successfully completed le Baccalauréat (the Baccalaureate), also known as simply le Bac, a grueling series of final exams covering a range of subjects to be taken over the course of several days in the month of June.

Here’s a brief breakdown of the French school system vs. the American school system:

École maternelle – Preschool

École Élémentaire – Elementary School

-Cours préparatoire (CP) – 1st grade

-Cours élémentaire 1 (CE1) – 2nd grade

-Cours élémentaire 2 (CE2) – 3rd grade

-Cours moyen 1 (CM1) – 4th grade

-Cours moyen 2 (CM2) – 5th grade


Collège – Junior High School

-Sixième – 6th grade

-Cinquième – 7th grade

-Quatrième – 8th grade

-Troisième – 9th grade


Lycée – High School

-Seconde – 10th grade

-Première – 11th grade

-Terminale – 12th grade

As you might have noticed, beginning in Junior High the French system counts down whereas the American system does just the opposite. The French academic system is generally much more rigoureux (rigorous) and demanding than the American system. I remember having around deux heures de devoirs (two hours of homework) every night beginning in the Cours préparatoire (1st grade). You might find it choquant (shocking) that 6-year-old French children have to do so much homework every night, but many believe it instills a strong éthique de travail (work ethic) at an early age.


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  1. Sheila:

    Love getting your posts! S. Elliott