Chapter 1:

The French Test



This word alone is capable of sending shivers down one's spine. To really shock one to their very core. Despite this, I will continue writing, depicting the horrors of French GCSE. The four corners of Hell, French Speaking, Listening, Writing and Reading - Or should I say "Parler, Écouter, Écrire et lire."... Or something like that anyway. I don't actually know my French, I just used google translate for that. Much like 99% of us French students, because we havent understood a single word since that fateful day that something had possessed us to chose French GCSE, we've simply relied on Google Translate more than a newborn infant relies on it's very own parents.


That's a pretty awful word too. In addition, it is undeniably one of the worst days on the timetable, just behind Thursday. To add salt to the wound, some devil in disguise, some absolute rapscallion, decided that today would be the day of one of our most stress inducing, mentally degrading surprise French examinations of our lives.


We lined up outside the classroom with an already brewing sense of immense unease and dread. What we dreaded, of course, would be the jarring greeting - from the monster whom lurked inside - that goes something along the lines of: "Bonjour la classe! Bonjour, bonjour, bonjouuuur! Comment Ca va? Ca va bien?? Oui?!, Oui?! Oh la la!, il fait froid aujourd’hui! oh yes, do come in!"
These frightful words mark the start of an hour of your life you will never get back, in which utter useless nonsense is spewed at you without a break nor a chance to relax to help you build your vast and expanding French knowledge, so you can messily cough up a grade 3 at the end of year 11. 

Upon entering the classroom, we quickly realized something was up.  The tables had been separated and atop, laid only miscellaneous papers and sheets containing question and answer boxes. Swiftly, were able put the puzzle pieces together. This was a test.

The usual chit-chat you expect to hear right at the start of the lesson was swiftly smitten by the divine, unmatched power of 'exam conditions' - 'The silent killers', you could call them. This inevitably brought down an immense wave of pressure beating down upon us all. It felt as if we were being suffocated by the very test papers themselves. The deafening silence left us with only ourselves to freak out to and was only occasionally broken by the sound of the teacher calling the register, followed by the respective student to timidly replying "Oui, Madame."

What followed were test instructions. Of course there was what you'd expect like 'no talking or you'll get a detention', try your hardest... All that useless information that you've heard hundreds of times. But then, we were notified that the teacher and the teaching assistant will be calling students up in the middle of the reading and writing exam in order to do their speaking test. Now not only was there not enough time to get through all the students leading to some students having an unfairly shorter amount of time to do the reading and writing than others, this also added to the piercing mental pressure that was already as sharp as a knife.

The original idea was to do the listening test first but since the teacher was simply incapable of displaying text on the power point large enough to read (this text was needed so we knew what information was required in our answers), we jumped straight into reading and writing. 


5 minutes passed entailing only the sound of scribbling pens and the stares of everyone anxiously looking around at each other in confusion. 

This is when another inevitable disaster decided to strike.

"Ummm... Okay- Liam please?"

'Oh Liam, my boy. I'm so sorry it had to be you. Being the first in the register is cool and all, but not once has it ever played in your favour', I thought to myself. I glanced up at the poor kid. What I laid my eyes upon was a boy with a complexion so pale from fear he may as well have been a ghost, or perhaps the very piece of paper he had been writing on. He apprehensively stood; slowly turned to face the teacher whom wore a frightening, forced smile and made unnerving, prolonged eye contact. He took one trembling step towards the teacher before the teaching assistant decided to speak up herself.

"Lacey, If you'd like to come up now please"

Now the room contained a second petrified teen. 

There was a pause within the room which contained not a single murmur nor stroke of pen, just complete and utter, dead silence. Lacey and Liam panicked, mentally scrambling together what to do in this anxiety filled period of time. 

They glanced at each other fearfully for a moment, before giving each other the 'confidence nod' in which sparked a flicker of courage deep within the depths of their souls. This pushed them to begrudgingly stumble towards the teachers - mind you, it's not that they had gotten over their fear, it's only they were able to suppress it for long enough in order for them to make their merry way to the 'danger zone'.

In unison, they take their seats in front of their respective teachers with false grins, exchange heartfelt and sincere greetings (bonjour) and got to chit-chatting about their best friends and dream holidays.

What was advantageous about this was that, in the middle of our test, you could now hear the awkward babbling of clueless students trying to pronounce cinema in French (cinéma). This lead to a helpful distraction so just incase anyone was even coming close to formulating a French word in their giant noggin, it would be swiftly thwarted. In addition, it also lead to two students internally panicking because they knew they were next in the register, and of course, that's none other than Reece and I. The overpowering feeling of dread took no time to set in. We were next and we knew it. There was nothing we could do about it. This was the end of the road. There's no going back now, yet there is no longer a future for us either. The most rational thing to do in this situation was to simply let the ground swallow us up. While I meticulously planned the most efficient method of passing away, I sat motionless, much like a prune, awaiting the inevitable while the colour slowly washed from my face. Reece, on the other hand, seemed to have undergone this process much faster than I. His face was planted into his desk as if he had passed out, or lost the will to live, perhaps.

The next 7 minutes was both the longest and shortest 7 minutes of my life. That was when it finally happened. As if by script, Liam and Lacey got up to leave syncronised, and the teachers called upon Reece and I. 

I sat before the fearsome teacher whom was wearing heels in order to deceive people into believing that she was actually taller than 4" 11. To start some conversation, she asks me a simple question.
"I'm so sorry, could you repeat that?"
"Oui, bfhrbsuohefbajvusdfuqwopasdhvbnnsamhfvrygywteiohahsda?",
'What in God's name did she just say to me?' I thought to myself, attempting to scramble together every last fluid ounce of French knowledge my peanut-brain could recall. She stared at me blankly with her fiery, evil eyes before pointing at a piece of paper that read: 'tell me about yourself'. I stared back, even blanker than her. 'There's not much to say, I'm pretty boring' I thought to myself. Eventually, this evolved into some kind of staring contest while I struggled to think of a single redeeming quality about myself. Finally, I muttered (in French),
"My name is Joshua Smith. I'm 15 years old. My house is in the northeast section of my city, where all the villas are, and I am not married. I work as an employee for the TK Maxx department stores, and I get home every day by 8 PM at the latest. I don't smoke, but I occasionally drink. I'm in bed by 11PM, and make sure I get 8 hours of sleep, no matter what. After having a glass of warm milk and doing about twenty minutes of stretches before going to bed, I usually have no problems sleeping until morning."
Stunned, the teacher points to another question written on the sheet of paper that stated: 'Tell me about your friends and family', To which I replied, 
"I take care not to trouble myself with any enemies, that would cause me to lose sleep at night. That is how I deal with society, and I know that is what brings me happiness."
The teacher broke a sweat, no doubt from my impressive French ability, and not from the rage welling up within her as she listens to me expel a complete gobildy-goop, mish-mash, dumpster fire of a response. Hesitantly, she pointed to yet another question on the paper, this time reading: 'If you won the lottery, what would you do?'
Unfortunately by this point my brain had been reduced to little more than rubble. My short moment of ultimate Frenching ability was over. Yet somehow, I just had squeeze out this final response, whether I had it in me or not. 
"If I won the lottery...", I began "I would buy... A bigger glass."
"So that I could have a bigger glass of milk..."
"Oh I se..."
"Before I go to bed"
"Oh okay tha-"
"At 11PM"
"And sleep for 8 hours"
She stared. I stared back.
"Yes, I am done."
Staring, watching, glaring, leering, ogling. All things that were taking place after my closing statement. 
Swiftly, the teacher muttered ,(In English) "Well okay I think I've heard enough, if you could please go back down to your seat please."
"Oh, of course." 
I shakily stood with a false grin and made my way back to my chair. 
Once I had sat back down, I began to quiver, tremble, shudder, shake, and quake in my boots. Until now, I had never truly understood what it means to have my timbers shivered. If you asked me to summarize that experience in one word, I would ask for you to give me more words. Not only would I describe this as catastrophic, I would also argue it to be one of the most awkward interactions in my life. It left me truly paralyzed as I wept in my misfortune and remorse in my chair.

But there was no time to grieve. I had four paragraphs to write.

Naturally, the only rational response to this situation is to panic. 

As I glanced down at my test paper, I found it asked me for a paragraph per point, stating: 'What is your favourite holiday destination?', 'Where did you last go on holiday?', 'What is the importance of holidays?' and 'If you had the choice, where would you go on Holiday next?' Simple enough, I thought. The climax of this lesson had already far passed so I could take it slow and really take this time to wind down while I write my riveting paragraphs.

Well maybe I winded down a little bit too much because by the time I had finished my first paragraph, there was an eternity of five minutes left. "Well if my first paragraph took like 15 minutes... and I still have 3 more to write... Then I am completely f*cked." I calmly thought to myself. All I was physically able to squeeze out of my melting brain at this point was  completely throwing up 2 absolutely vile and disgustingly unreadable paragraphs. Not even the needed 3. I fell short of my astonishingly high expectations bestowed upon me by nightmarish teacher. I'm a failure. I'm the worst. What a catastrophe. 


Come Thursday, another fresh, brand spanking new French lesson begins. (Remember, Thursday is the worst day on the timetable.)
Today would be the day that we would do the best part of the test. Marking it. Just so you can pinpoint which area in which you performed slightly more atrocious than all the others. 

It kicked off on a good note as, as the teacher brought up the mark scheme she suddenly recalled that we missed half the test - The listening. Thus, we spent a brief half hour listening to people describe their preferred holidays and noting down the one-off word that we happened to understand. If you are unaware, the audio tracks tend to follow the following formula:

"Text book 4,
Page 89,
Exercise 2,
Section 3,
Question 7,
Part A.
Lisa and Jack are posting about their best and worst experiences on Holiday. Complete the table of information and answer in English. 
-Un. - [In French]
"Hello everyone, my name is Lisa. In my opinion, the best holiday would be a holiday away to somewhere cold and peaceful. However, I really like the hustle and bustle of famous, hot countries, in cold countries. Yesterday, I went on my best holiday ever a year ago. I went to Belgium because France is the 
country. Tuvalu was closed so we were forced to improve the air quality of Beijing. While The Western Sahara is debated land, I personally believe in antidisestablishmentarianism."
"Hello everyone, my name is Lisa. [The paragraph is repeated]"

Thankfully, this day decided to be particularly clammy, humid and sweaty. This means that we were fortunately sat there like prunes, slowly being poached in our own sweat while we listened to Jack tell us about how he was attacked by several EDL members in the Siberian wilderness.


After a lackluster listening performance, it was finally time to get marking.

To nobody's surprise, there was not a student in the room that was happy with their reading, speaking and listening mark.
However, this was not the main issue at hand. Turns out, in her infinite wisdom, the teacher handed half of the class the wrong writing test. I, sadly, was amongst this unlucky group. While our test was worth 20 marks and we were specifically instructed to write 80-90 words, the correct test was worth 28, and required 120-130 words. How should we get around this issue? Perhaps, mark the test on how the students were instructed and then just compare results based on percentages? 
Instead, our teacher acknowledged this issue, and decided to... Completely ignore it. Anyone who was specifically told to write 20 marks worth of work were marked as if they received the 28 marker. This is fair because anyone given the wrong test due to the teacher's own mistake wrote less work, and as a result received inferior marks for doing exactly as they were told. 

As a result of this, I was actually pleasantly surprised to find I had gotten 13/20 marks until the absolute bomb of logic and reason was dumped upon us, meaning I actually got less than half.


As this lesson drew to a close, we were informed upon about the homework. As usual, our teacher did not follow the school rule about having at least a week to do the homework, and so set us the task of improving our writing, even though there's no point because the way she marks our work.
See, instead of writing markings with helpful feedback over our work, she just does the work for us. This sounds helpful until she repeatedly asks us to improve our work after she... Already did. And this really begs the question, 'How are measly, underperforming year 10 students supposed to write better work than someone with a college degree?' That's a real tough cookie. 

Like usual, the lesson drew to a close 5 minutes after lunch had already started, only this is only because we had to literally open the door and exit in order to remind her that the lesson was already over.

I left with a new, positive outlook on life. This test truly turned my life upside down, in a good way. Not only was I extremely stressed the entire time, so was everyone else. Things like this just really bring me closer to people and I can't wait to do it again. It makes me feel accepted as I can relate with my fellow class members about how none of us have ever felt an inkling of joy since French GCSE day 1.