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OIB or “Option Internationale*” is not a separate diploma but rather a specialisation within the framework of the French Baccalaureate. May be British, American, German or Italian 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 OIB 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 prescribe recognise the students’ attainment at the end of their school years. In 1981 the French government proposed that specially designed "international options" 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.  

The international options of the French Baccalauréat possess two important characteristics: 

They have the same status and validity as all the mainstream Bac (Bac général); and

The “option” 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). 

British Section and American Section OIB

The UK and USA were among the first countries to take part in the OIB initiative, the relevant education authorities taking responsibility for creating and administering each “option”, in cooperation with their French counterparts. 

British Section OIB is jointly designed, set, marked and certified by the University of Cambridge International Examinations and the French Ministry of Education.

American Section OIB exams are administered by the College Board (Advanced Placement program) and the Franco-American Commission (Fullbright office) in Paris, in cooperation with the French Inspection Générale.  

Not an easy option

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.

OIB students however, on top of following the same programme as their mainstream French peers, also follow a two year syllabus in the language and literature of their country of origin. 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”.  A particularly demanding version of the French Bac, the OIB requires eight supplementary course hours per week to cover this syllabus. 

The British Section OIB thus differs from the American Section OIB to the extent that the subjects concerned (language and literature, history and geography) are, to varying degrees, modelled on their own national curricula.

Who does it suit best?

Both the British Section and American Section OIBs are popular with academically-inclined bilingual students around Paris. The exams weight the various papers in such a way as to stress the “Section” papers (ie language and literature, plus the modified history and geography): 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.

Three ‘spécialités’

As with the regular Bac, OIB 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 OIB students, by the OIB language/literature component). Therefore, an OIB 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/literature.

Naturally, there will be obligatory ‘spé’ for certain university courses, such as maths for engineering and literature for literary courses. Note that in the previous Bac, students still had to take maths in the literature stream; this is no longer the case and can be abandoned at the end of grade 10 (seconde).

Coefficients

One of the novelties of the new Bac is the 'weighting' of grades. The ‘spé’  and the OIB language/literature and history components carry particularly high coefficients, accounting for approximately 25 per cent 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.  

University entrance

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 prioritising 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 OIB students as compared to students offering the straight Bac. 

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