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French pupils rebel over ‘impossible’ English exam question

Exam test

More than ten thousand French pupils have signed a petition calling for the education minister to cancel an “impossible” question in this year’s baccalaureate English exam.

The exam, which is sat by all French pupils in their final school year (normally at 17 years old), presented a passage from Ian McEwan’s “Atonement” relating to the book’s central character Robbie Turner.

The notorious “Question M” asked “What are three of his concerns about the situation?” and “How is Turner coping with the situation?”.

For many French teenagers sitting the exam on Friday, the answer was that they were not coping well at all, particularly with the word “coping” which baffled so many of them.


After the exam, social networks in France exploded with indignation under the hashtag #BacAnglais.

Pupil Arthur, 17, (whose family name was not given) told reporters on Monday that after the exam he spoke to a friend at a different school who also had trouble with “coping”.

“So I launched a petition to see if others were as baffled as us, and it went viral,” he said. “Loads of people were stumped with ‘coping’. It’s obviously not a word in common usage.”

The petition, titled “Cancel Question M”, was launched for the attention of the education minister, and called for the question to be removed or for bonus points to be given to anyone who could answer it.

By Monday morning it had garnered just over 10,000 signatures.

Not everyone agreed with Arthur, however. Fellow examinee Hugo Travers mocked him, tweeting: “You find one question difficult so you start a petition. Totally wrong.”


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