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IB French exam - What to expect and how to pass it

What is the IB French exam?

The International Baccalaureate® (IB) programmes are designed to help students develop their critical thinking skills, nurture their curiosity and develop their ability to solve complex problems.

There are four programmes in total:

  • Primary Years - age range 3-12

  • Middle Years - age range 11-16

  • Diploma - age range 16-19*

  • Career-related - also for students 16-19 but who are looking at further/higher education, apprenticeships or employment 

*As part of the Diploma programme, students have to take at least one subject from the Studies in Language and Literature category. Modern Languages falls under the Language Acquisition section within that.

There are Language ab initio courses for students who have little or no experience of their chosen language. These are only available at Standard level and focus on the themes from the Primary Years and Middle Years programmes.

On this page, we’ll be focusing on the Language B course, designed for students who have some previous experience of their target language: French, in this case.

You’ll need to show that you’ve learnt the language and can use it in a range of contexts whilst also demonstrating an understanding of French culture. If you're getting ready for your IB French exam and want some quick tips and exercises by area (writing, speaking, listening, reading), read our guide on How to get ready for your IB French Language B exam.

What's the difference between Language B Standard Level (SL) and Higher Level (HL)?

The language B Standard Level (SL) and Higher Level (HL) IB are both aimed at students with some previous experience of the target language. The distinction between the two levels is reflected in the number of recommended teaching hours: 150 hours of study for the Standard Level and 240 for the Higher Level.

The level of competency you’re expected to reach in the various skills is different, depending on whether you’re taking SL or HL. An additional challenge at HL is that you have to study two literary works in French.

When can I take my IB French exam?

According to the IB official website, in 2023 the next Diploma Programme (DP) and Career-related Programme (CP) IB exams will take place in May. The French IB exam specifically, will be covered in the second week (around the 12th and 15th of May).

Important: The IB recently announced there will be three time zones for the 2023 examinations:

For more information about which schedule applies to you and your school, you'll need to talk to your school coordinator.

Make sure you check the International Baccalaureate official website to corroborate the correct dates of the IB French exam you'll be taking.

What will the examiners be looking for?

The examiners will be testing what are described as your receptive, productive and interactive skills: 

  • How well you can understand the spoken and written language

  • How well you can produce the language in your own writing

  • How well you react in conversation

What does the IB French exam cover?

The language B syllabus is organised into 5 prescribed themes:

  1. Identities
    • Health and lifestyle
    • Personal expression
    • How do language and culture form our identity?
  2. Experiences
    • How does our past shape us?
    • What cultural experiences have affected our world view?
    • How does travel broaden our experience?
  3. Human Ingenuity
    • How have recent scientific advances improved our lives?
    • How has technological innovation changed the way we shop/eat/travel?
    • What does cultural expression tell us about a culture?
  4. Social Organisation
    • What role does language play in society?
    • How do rules and regulations influence social behaviour?
    • How is your school or community organised?
  5. Sharing the planet
    • What environmental issues are currently affecting the world?
    • How does sustainability affect our daily life?
    • What challenges does globalisation bring?

The 3 types of text in the IB exam

You could be asked to explore these themes in three different types of text:       

  • Personal - casual style of writing, e.g. emails, texts, diary entries

  • Professional - more formal communication such as business letters, proposals, instructions

  • Mass media - speeches to a wide audience e.g., podcasts, adverts, web pages. 

 They may not necessarily be written down - you might be reading them but you might also be listening to them or discussing them orally.

How the IB assessments work

The IB examiners are looking for the way you demonstrate your knowledge of the ‘what of language’ i.e., your vocabulary and grammar.

But you also need to show you understand the ’why and how of language’, in terms of the audience, context, purpose, meaning and variations.

And underpinning all of that they’re looking for evidence of international-mindedness and awareness of other cultures.

What criteria will be used to mark your IB exam?

There are 3 aspects to bear in mind as to how your work will be marked.


First, you need to show a good command of the language. Build up a wide vocabulary on all of the themes so you can demonstrate variety. Show that you understand the rules of grammar as that will enhance what you’re trying to say. You will also set yourself apart if you use idioms and expressions.  


The examiners will be looking to see that you are conveying a clear message. Stay relevant and don’t go off topic. Develop your arguments fully in a logical structure with relevant examples.

Conceptual understanding 

Finally, show that you’ve chosen the right tone for the specific type of text. You’ll be assessed as to how well you’ve considered the audience, the purpose and the context of the piece.

IB French Paper 1

Paper 1 of the IB is an external assessment that lasts 1 hour and 15 minutes for SL and 1.5 hours for HL. It will test your written or productive skills and will make up 25% of your overall marks.

There will be 3 different tasks, each based on a different theme but you only need to answer one. You’ll need to write about 450-600 words on the topic so it’s a good idea to have a few facts ready on various subjects and be prepared to express your opinions.

You might be asked to write a personal diary entry about your holidays, for example. Or an essay outlining the pros and cons of an environmental issue such as pollution or climate change. Or you might decide to tackle a mass media type of task such as a speech representing a government spokesperson.

You can see how you will need to give careful consideration to the tone required depending on the type of communication. Some pieces of writing will be much more formal in style than others.

IB French Paper 2

Paper 2 of the IB Language B is also an external assessment and is 1 hr 45 at SL and 2 hours at HL. It will test your reading and listening skills and will make up 50% of your total result.

You’ll need to demonstrate your receptive skills by listening and showing your understanding of three audio passages. And your reading skills by demonstrating your understanding of three written passages.

As you’ll already have shown you can do long written answers in Paper 1, the questions in Paper 2 will be asking for much shorter answers. They will be multiple choice type questions, looking for antonyms or synonyms of words, true/false statements or mix and match responses.

Everything will be based on what you read and hear in the assessment so you don’t need any prior knowledge. The questions will all be linked to the course themes and the three text types.

Internal Assessment - Oral IB French exam 

The internal assessment of the IB exam consists of an interactive, oral exam which makes up 25% of your final grade and will last 12-15 minutes. It will be conducted by your teacher but will be recorded and sent off to the IB examiners to be externally moderated.

For Standard Level

You’ll have to give a presentation based on a visual stimulus, such as a photo based on one of the prescribed themes (you’ll be given a choice of two pictures). There will be 15 minutes to prepare a series of approximately 10 bullet points. You’ll need to show that you can produce good spoken French but also that you can interact with someone in conversation.

Task 1 - (3-4 minutes) Make your presentation.     

Here is an example of the type of photo you could get.  


Source: Preview photo from tes.com 

Task 2 - (4-5 minutes) Have a follow-up conversation with your teacher who will ask you open-ended questions about your presentation.

Task 3 - (5-6 minutes) General discussion with more open-ended questions on a different course theme.

For Higher Level 

At Higher Level, instead of your presentation being based on a visual stimulus, you’ll be required to give a talk about an extract from a choice of two literary works studied during the course (max 300 words). You’ll be given 20 minutes to prepare and again just come up with approximately 10 bullet points, not whole paragraphs, to help you.

Task 1 - (3-4 minutes) Presentation to summarise the extract (not the whole book) and relate it to the rest of the work. Analyse the characters and themes. Express your views.

Task 2 - (4-5 minutes) Conversation with your teacher. Follow up on ideas you talked about in your presentation. Make connections to previous cultural experiences and show your appreciation of the diversity of the target language. It needs to be an authentic conversation so ask questions and share your opinions.

Task 3 - (5-6 minutes) General discussion not limited to the passage but one of the course themes. Make connections to your life and show off what you know about the French language and culture.

What you need to demonstrate

The examiners will be looking to see if you’re using varied vocabulary including idioms and expressions. They’ll be checking you’re using the correct grammar correctly and if you do make any mistakes that they’re not getting in the way of the true meaning.

They’ll want to see you have understood the message of the extract and that your ideas are well developed. So engage with your teacher, ask their opinion and make it like a real-life conversation.

What’s the equivalent of the IB exam in the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR)?

The IB programme equates to B2 or Upper Intermediate in the CEFR levels.

So you can practise, we’ve put together a collection of B2 examples in reading, listening and writing as well as some complex B1 examples to ease you in.

If you’re keen to work on your grammar and expand your vocabulary right away, sign up for a free Progress with Lawless French account and receive your own tailored lesson plan.

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