The Divine Code

By: Andrea Bouchaud

With a title like that, of course I am referring to something biblical, right? Wrong. The French collegiate grading system is completely different than its American counterpart. Do not fear! Your study abroad program is well aware of this (refer to below photo) and they will work with you to ensure that you receive a grade that accurately reflects your intelligence and academic capabilities. Now let’s find out more about this divine code.

The divine code describes the French grading system. The French grading system is based on a system of twenty possible earned points, not one hundred. One would think that the maximum grade one can is earn is a 20/20; however this is not correct. My first day of class at the Sorbonne which really was not the first day of class for me is when I found out this information. Another American student advised me that the French grading system goes as follows: 20 is reserved for God, 19 for professors. This little vignette did not really make sense until a few days later when I was on the metro and saw an advertisement for a tutoring company. The ad showed a young man posing with a skeleton and holding a report card, a big smile on his face. He was tutored for a biology class, hence, the skeleton. The report card showed a 14,5/20 (the French use commas where we use decimal points). If you calculate that grade to the American equivalency, it means he earned a 73 in the American system. This grade is not something that would merit pride, but this boy was smiling- obviously elated that he was able to raise his grade in biology. It was at that moment that I realized that the theoretical grading system started at 20 but the “real” system that everyone bases the weight of their grade is 15.

When you are in France, it is important that you are not aiming for the highest possible grade in the grading system. It is nearly impossible to earn any grade above 15. Do not let this discourage you or encourage you to slack off. 15s are not given away like candy and they do have to be earned. Do your best and when you are struggling, reach out to French students in your class, your French professor and your Parisian program director for help.




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