The BFI (French International Baccalaureate) is not a separate diploma but rather a specialisation within the framework of the French Baccalaureate. It may be in English, German, Italian or one of twelve other languages and is the equivalent of taking two A levels on top of the already difficult French Bac. Not for the faint of heart and not to be confused with the Geneva-based IBO’s International Baccalaureate (or IB): the BFI and the IB are worlds apart.
...a really great page! Very informative. I’ve been using it as a way to explain to my future American classmates what the program is, so thanks! The site really is a great help to me." Claire - student at Lycée International, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Paris
French international schools have been offering bi-cultural programmes of study for over forty years now. As the practice grew, so did the need for a formal framework to recognise the students’ attainment at the end of their school years. In 1981, the French government proposed a specially designed international component be added to the mainstream Bac. One important purpose was to ensure that foreign students would be in a position to return to their countries of origin for higher education if desired, whilst having also fulfilled the requirements of the French Bac.
What is the BFI?
Originally called the OIB (Option International du Baccalaureat), the newly renamed BFI, will produced its first batch of students summer 2024.
BFI students follow a two-year syllabus in the language and literature of their country of origin, on top of the same programme as their mainstream French peers. In addition, the mainstream Bac history and geography syllabus (which all Bac students must study) is modified to reflect a different cultural bias, and combined with an element of domestic history and geography from “back home”. This adds up to an additional eight hours of classes in the language of their section: Language and Literature (ACL), History and Geography (DNL) and a component called ‘Connaissance du Monde’ (“world knowledge”) leading to a comprehensive research project on a contemporary issue of global importance.
The international options of the French Baccalauréat possess two important characteristics:
• It has the same status and validity as all the mainstream Bac (Bac général); and
• The international subjects are taught and examined in the relevant language, to a standard comparable to that of the equivalent examination in the home country (A levels in the UK, AP in the USA).
The ‘Connaissance du Monde’ element is what makes the BFI different from the old OIB; It enables students to explore contemporary issues, to look at building a healthy future and become global citizens. In addition to this new course work, students will prepare a personal project based on their interests and give an oral presentation in their final year.
British Section and American Section BFI
The UK and USA were among the first countries to take part in the old OIB initiative, the relevant education authorities taking responsibility for creating and administering each “option”, in cooperation with their French counterparts.
The British Section BFI thus differs from the American Section BFI to the extent that the subjects concerned (language and literature, history and geography) are, to varying degrees, modelled on their own national curricula.
British Section BFI is jointly designed, set, marked and certified by the University of Cambridge International Examinations and the French Ministry of Education.
American Section BFI exams are administered by the College Board (Advanced Placement program) and the Franco-American Commission (Fulbright office) in Paris, in cooperation with the French Inspection Générale.
Who does it suit best?
Both the British Section and American Section BFIs are popular with academically-inclined bilingual students around Paris. The basic Bac général already covers more subjects than its American or British equivalents – most students preparing at least eight or nine subjects for examination. To compensate for the extra breadth of study, you might expect there to be less depth, but you would be wrong. Standards are high. Bac students already carry a heavy workload compared to their peers in the UK and the States, spending longer in the classroom and staying up later to complete their homework.
The BFI exams weight the various papers in such a way as to stress the “international” papers (ie language and literature, the modified history and geography and CdM): students who are basically bilingual but whose English is stronger than their French are thus heavily favoured. Such is the bias in these exams that bi-cultural children who have more “French” in them than American or British, all other things being equal, may fare less well than their British-dominant or American-dominant counterparts.
As with the regular Bac, BFI students choose three ‘spécialités’ (more commonly referred to as ‘spé’) to study alongside common subjects such as French, general sciences and sport. Naturally, the choice will be informed by a student’s academic aptitude as well as by his or her university aspirations. These ‘spécialités’ include arts, maths, economics/social sciences, history/political sciences, languages/literature, physics/chemistry, with some establishments offering a wider variety than others. Computer sciences and engineering are also on the list of ‘spé’.
One of the three is dropped at the end of grade 11 (première) following an exam, but additional ‘à la carte’ subjects can be taken up as options in grade 12 (terminale). The main idea is for students to still be able to study subjects they are interested in and good at, but also to widen the spectrum of study. The previous version of the Bac was too often criticised for channelling and restricting students into a path too early in their academic career.
Regardless of these ‘spé’, it is worth noting that all Bac students, whatever their chosen stream, must sit a French literature exam (which includes an oral component) by the end of première, and a philosophy exam (compulsory for all) at the end of terminale. The common subjects also include two languages (one of which is replaced, for BFI students, by the BFIlanguage/literature component). Therefore, a BFI student who chooses a language ‘spé’, such as Spanish, will have three hours of language tuition, four hours of language/literature in that same subject, and four hours of English language/literatureper week.
Naturally, there will be obligatory ‘spé’ for certain university courses, such as maths for engineering and literature for literary courses.
One of the novelties of the new Bac is the 'weighting' of grades. The ‘spé’ and the BFI components carry particularly high coefficients, accounting for approximately 60% of the final grade. There is also less focus on the final exam, allowing for evaluations throughout the year to be included in the overall grade for the Bac.
Further, communication skills take a more prominent role in the final grade too with students preparing an oral presention for their individual CdM research project in addition to the existing oral examinations in BFI Language/Literature, History/Geography and the Bac Grand Oral.
Students able to succeed in this dual curriculum are renowned for being capable of hard work. In the course of their programme they gain good time management, research, project management and prioritization skills. All students, even the scientists, learn to write organised, impactful and well-reasoned essays to a high standard. All students, even the linguists, learn how to research a project that crosses disciplines. They all show intellectual and cultural flexibility.
Needless to say, all these qualities are highly valued in universities everywhere. Consequently, admissions tutors in France, Britain and the US often consider reducing the entrance requirements for BFI students as compared to students offering the straight Bac.