Ultimate Guide to the AP French Language and Culture Exam
The AP French Language and Culture exam is one of the most popular AP language exams, second only to Spanish. In 2016, over 20,000 students took the exam, about 66% of which were standard foreign language students and the remainder being students who regularly spoke or heard the foreign language outside of school, or who studied abroad for more than one month. Students who are interested in gaining proficiencies in the interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational modes of French communication are best suited for this line of study. If you are interested in taking the AP French Language and Culture exam, whether you have taken the class, are a native-speaker, or are planning to self-study, read on for a breakdown of the test and CollegeVine’s advice for how you can prepare for it.
About the Exam
The AP French Language and Culture exam aims to promote both fluency and accuracy in French language use. To accomplish this, the AP French Language and Culture course is taught primarily in French and students will be expected to read and listen to authentic texts from the francophone world throughout the course and exam. Instruction in this course focuses on the three foundational modes of communication (Interpersonal, Interpretive, and Presentational) as defined in the Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century.
Though it is easy to get caught up in grammatical nuances when learning a foreign language, the AP curriculum explicitly seeks not to overemphasize grammatical accuracy at the expense of communication. As such, while grammar is tested on the exam in the context of written and oral responses, a higher weight is placed on general communication skills.
A spelling reform known as La Nouvelle Orthographe is currently underway in France. The new spelling is officially encouraged but not required by the French government. The AP French Development Committee notes that students will not be penalized for using the new spellings in the writing portion of the AP French Language and Culture exam. The official statement can be found here.
There are no formal prerequisites for the AP French Language and Culture course, however most students who take it are in their fourth year of high school-level French study. Native speakers or students with exceptional exposure to the French language may take a different course of study leading to the AP French Language and Culture course, or might completely self-study for the exam.
The AP French Language and Culture exam is one of the longer exams, clocking in at three hours and comprised of two sections. The first section takes one hour and 35 minutes to complete, contains 65 multiple-choice questions, and accounts for 50% of your total score. In this section, you will spend 40 minutes completing 30 multiple-choice questions based on printed texts and another 55 minutes completing 35 multiple-choice questions based on audio or combination audio and print texts.
The second section of the exam takes approximately one hour and 25 minutes, contains four tasks, and accounts for the remaining 50% of your score. During the first part, you will complete two writing tasks in 70 minutes. During the second part, you will listen and respond orally to prompts, taking approximately 15 minutes.
In 2016, students generally did quite well on the AP French Language and Culture exam. Of all test-takers, 76.3% received a score of three or higher (typically considered passing), including 73.5% of standard group students (excluding native or heritage speakers). Only 17.6% of all students received the top score of five, while less than 5% scored a one on the exam.
Keep in mind, credit and advanced standing based on AP scores varies widely from school to school. Regulations regarding which APs qualify for course credits or advanced placement at specific colleges and universities can be found here.
A full course description that can help to guide your studying and understanding of the knowledge required for the test can be found in the College Board course description.
Read on for tips for preparing for the exam.
Step 1: Assess Your Skills
Before you can make a solid study plan, you’ll need to get a good idea of your starting point. To learn more about the importance of formative assessments and how you can use one to get your studying off on the right foot, check out the CollegeVine article What Is a Formative Assessment and Why Should I Use One to Study?
Take a practice test to assess your initial knowledge of the material. Although the College Board does not provide a complete practice test, you can find sample questions with scoring explanations included in the course description. Additionally, there are practice exam questions available online here. You may also find practice or diagnostic exams in many of the commercial study guides.
Step 2: Study the theory
In the case of the AP French Language and Culture exam, you will need to master the six themes of foreign language and culture study. These are:
- Beauty and Aesthetics
- Contemporary Life
- Families and Communities
- Global Challenges
- Personal and Public Identities
- Science and Technology
To really devote yourself to this study, you should endeavor to immerse yourself as much as possible in the French language and culture. You should listen to, speak, and read French as much as you can. You can find interesting young adult books in French, watch Youtube videos in French, or listen to French podcasts. You might also find comic books, news, or websites in French. Try to find engaging sources of information presented in French and use them as much as possible. You will be amazed by how much your own listening, spoken language, and written French will improve simply from exposing yourself to the language as much as possible.
You can also prepare for the exam by reviewing the College Board’s Exam Practice Tips and by previewing the exam’s sample audio files. If you need help with reinforcing grammar, the Pearson’s textbook Une fois pour toutes is an especially good choice.
For a more specific idea of where to focus your studying, you may consider using a commercial study guide. Because the AP French Language and Culture course has not been updated in over five years, many study materials are available. Barron’s AP French Language and Culture with MP3 CD provides a very comprehensive guide to the exam content including two full-length practice exams with all questions answered and explained, along with an MP3 CD containing exemplary conversations and oral presentations. Barron’s is the top-rated choice for AP French Language and Culture studying. Another solid option is the AP® French Language & Culture All Access w/Audio: Book + Online + Mobile which receives good reviews for the volume of practice material it includes, but some users note that it contains some typos and should be used only in conjunction with other study materials to reinforce existing skills.
In addition, there are tons of study resources available online, including many from AP teachers who have posted comprehensive outlines and study guides. One course syllabus contains content outlines and links to study resources. Another collection of study materials is available here.
Another new, fun way to study is to use one of the recently developed apps for AP exams. These range in price from free to $4.99, but they provide a fun and easy way to quiz yourself. The FluentU app has a free version with basic video content that is highly rated for foreign language acquisition, but watch out for in-app purchases. The “Plus” version can set you back between $30 and $240.
Step 3: Practice Multiple-Choice Questions
Once you have your theory down, test it out by practicing multiple-choice questions. You can find these in most study guides or through online searches. You could also try taking the multiple-choice section of another practice exam.
The College Board Course Description includes many practice multiple choice questions along with explanations of their answers. As you go through these, try to keep track of which areas are still tripping you up, and go back over this theory again. Focus on understanding what each question is asking and keep a running list of any vocabulary that is still unfamiliar.
Step 4: Practice Free Response Questions
Your preparations for the free response section of the AP French Language and Culture exam will differ from the preparations you’re probably used to for other free-response sections of AP exams. Although you’ll still need to practice some writing responses, you’ll also need to practice your listening skills and oral responses.
Regardless, you should begin your preparations for the free-response section by brushing up on your vocabulary and grammar. Make sure you have a solid selection of verbs to fall back on in both conversational and formal tones, and practice using them in multiple contexts. Although you won’t officially be scored on your grammar, you’ll still need to be able to communicate effectively, so make sure you can get your point across.
As far as the specific writing skills you should focus on, you will tackle two forms of written communication on the free-response section. One prompt will ask you to demonstrate your interpersonal writing through a sample email reply, which should take you about 15 minutes. The second writing prompt will ask you to demonstrate your presentational writing in the form of a persuasive essay, for which you’ll have 55 minutes total. During that time, you’ll spend about 15 minutes reviewing materials and the remaining 40 minutes writing.
Your best preparation for the written prompts is simple: repeated practice prompts. You can find tons of past exam prompts dating back to 2012 on the College Board’s AP French Language and Culture Exam homepage. While you’re there, also check out the Student Performance Q&A links which give you insights from the Chief Reader of the AP Exam who compiles feedback from members of the reading leadership to describe how students performed on the FRQs, summarizes typical student errors, and addresses specific concepts and content with which students have struggled the most that particular year.
The second portion of the free-response section will ask for you to record spoken responses. The first section of these, referred to as the Interpersonal Speaking portion, will contain five conversational prompts and you’ll have 20 seconds for each response. The next section, Presentational Speaking, will ask you to make a cultural comparison. You will be given the prompt and four minutes to prepare, before giving a two-minute spoken response.
This oral portion of the free-response is perhaps the hardest to prepare for, since it can be difficult to gauge your own speaking abilities. One suggested practice method is to record your own sample answers using the past exam prompts, and then replay them for yourself after you’ve reviewed the scoring criteria. You might also team up with a classmate to compare responses and offer each other some constructive criticism. Another less direct method of preparation is simply to make sure you are hearing and speaking as much French as possible on a daily basis.
Step 5: Take another practice test
As you did at the very beginning of your studying, take a practice test to evaluate your progress. You should see a steady progression of knowledge you’ve accumulated, and it’s likely that you will see patterns identifying which areas have improved the most and which areas still need improvement.
If you have time, repeat each of the steps above to incrementally increase your score.
Step 6: Exam day specifics
In 2017, the AP French Language and Culture Exam will be administered on Tuesday, May 9 at 12 PM.
For complete registration instructions, check out CollegeVine’s How to Register for AP Exams (Even If You Didn’t Take the Class).
For information about what to bring to the exam, see CollegeVine’s What Should I Bring to My AP Exam (And What Should I Definitely Leave at Home)?
If you feel like you still need more help or you are not sure that you can do it on your own, look no further. For personalized AP tutoring, check out the CollegeVine Academic Tutoring Program, where students who are intimately familiar with the exam can help you ace it too, just like they did.
For more about APs, check out these CollegeVine posts
- Can AP Tests Actually Save You Thousands of Dollars?
- Should I Take AP/IB/Honors Classes?
- How to Choose Which AP Courses and Exams to Take
- What If My School Doesn’t Offer AP or IB Courses?
- Are All APs Created Equal in Admissions?
- AP Exam Scores: All Your Questions Answered