The French classes prépas system includes, during the first two years of undergraduate (post-baccalaureate) education, a series of regular oral exams, known as colles. Basically: every week during your first two years, you have two oral exams, each lasting one hour, with one teacher examining two or three students, each using a blackboard. A science student would typically have math and chemistry on week A, then physics and another topic (engineering, foreign language, …) on week B. This system prepares students for national competitive exams after their second year, which includes both written and oral components.

Now, whenever I have to explain that system to a foreign colleague, I have to do it from the start (as above) because I do not know any other similar system they might know (especially, I don't know of any equivalent or similar system in the US). Is there one?

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    That sounds nothing like any system that I know of in the US. But I'm not sure that "no" constitutes an answer, hence posting as a comment... – David Z Jan 11 '13 at 19:40
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    And it must be noted that this is a minority system (13.3% of the "bac général" students are going in "classes prépas", and 1.4% of the "bac technologique" students). – Sylvain Peyronnet Jan 11 '13 at 20:01
  • I also haven't heard about anything like this. The closest thing I've heard of are the comprehensive exams in fields like chemistry in graduate schools as part of the qualification procedures. But those exams are all still chemistry, not a mixture of different disciplines. – aeismail Jan 11 '13 at 23:58
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    In Poland usually there are two final (i.e. end of the semester) exams for each subject - one written, and one oral. – Piotr Migdal Jan 20 '13 at 12:37

The correct answer to this question is either yes or no. To answer yes one would simply need to provide a single example of another country with an oral exam system similar to the French system. To answer no we would need confirmation that no other country uses a similar system. To start the alphabetical list:

  • United Kingdom: Undergraduate students at the top universities tend to begin their studies immediately following their A-Level examinations which do not have a substantial oral component.
  • United States of America: Undergraduate students at the top universities tend to begin their studies immediately following their high school/secondary education. Admission is based upon performance throughout high school and standardize test neither of which have a substantial oral component.
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    I think that the question was on the undergraduate studies, not on the admission procedure (unless I misread). I'm willing to contribute, but first I need to know if we are writing about the same thing. – Piotr Migdal Jan 30 '13 at 16:57
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    I agree with @PiotrMigdal, it is interesting to know that if other universities take oral exams for their current students or just using paper exams! – Googlebot Jun 3 '13 at 10:10

I'm from Serbia and study at the Faculty of Philosophy. Almost all exams are oral, except for some that require you write a paper on a topic of your choice. We also have a few courses that require tests, that you have to pass so you can take an oral exam. This system is used for all humanities studies and other social studies as far as I am aware of.

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  • If it is in Serbia, it must be popular in the Eastern Europe. – Googlebot Jun 3 '13 at 10:11

There may be oral exams in others country but as far as I know there is nothing like "colles", colles aren't "exams", they are trainings for the oral part of a national competition.

The reason is simple: the classe prépa / Grande Ecole system is unique to france. The main reason to go to "classe prépa" is not to learn but to go to the best "grande ecole".

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