Tips and Tricks for Leaving Cert French Comprehensions

The comprehensions are worth the most marks at Leaving Cert level- 30%.

The comprehensions are often considered the most difficult area of the paper. Unlike the written section where you are given a choice between questions to complete, both of the comprehensions are compulsory.

To make matters worse, one of the comprehensions is written in an often difficult journalistic, literary style.

Quoi faire?


The clé to success in the comprehensions is vocabulary knowledge. Vocabulary knowledge is a constant effort and cannot be done overnight.  Invest in a copy dedicated to vocabulary (if you haven’t already) and follow the below advice!

  1. Build up basic vocabulary

If your French vocabulary knowledge isn’t very advanced yet (and don’t worry if it isn’t), or if you are only in fifth year it is essential to build up basic vocabulary before you jump straight into the more specific vocabulary from more advanced pieces. This can be done by doing Leaving Cert ordinary level papers every weekend for a while in order to build up basic vocabulary. For example, learning “se rendre compte” (meaning “to realise”)  which constantly appears on the Ordinary Level papers is much more likely to appear on a Higher Level paper than the “one off” vocabulary like “oser” (meaning “to dare”).

  1. Do not learn every single word!

Depending on the textbook you use (we use “Montages Toujours” which definitely has comprehensions of the required Higher Level standard), you might find that your comprehensions range from easy to very challenging. You should hopefully have some of the very challenging standard! Remember that you do not have to understand every single word in the comprehension, and you therefore do not have to learn every word in the comprehension. Your teacher will most likely pick out key vocabulary from each comprehension to be learned. If your teacher doesn’t do this I would advise simply picking out the vocabulary that is required in the answer and learning it. With Leaving Cert comprehensions I only really concentrate on the vocabulary that the answer requires as the students already have plenty of vocabulary acquired from the textbook.


  1. Learning the vocabulary

As I have mentioned above, a vocabulary copy is essential. When it comes to actually learning the vocabulary, remember that you only need to be able to recognise this vocabulary- you will not actually be using it in your written. Therefore, only learn these from French à English. I would advise setting aside around ten minutes a day for vocabulary learning. It is really really important to keep learning the vocabulary that you have already revised already to ensure that you actually remember it. For example, my fifth year students get a weekly vocabulary test on all of the vocabulary that they have learned to date- rather than simply the vocabulary list that they received last week. This is relatively challenging for the students but has paid off when studying reading comprehensions- many of the words that they have learned appear year after year. Therefore, whenever you receive new vocabulary ensure that you study that as well as the vocabulary at the beginning of your copy. After doing this, move onto the vocabulary in the middle of your copy (that you may have studied a week ago) in a few days time. Constant exposure to the words will ensure that they eventually sink in.

  1. Read the English question first!

The English question gives you a much needed hint to the content of the comprehension. When completing the English question remember to complete it in English but quote in French to back up your answers!

  1. Be prepared for the grammar question.

A grammar question will appear on each comprehension. All you need for this is here.

  1. Learn your pronouns!

Pronouns can also appear on the grammar question above, but are also essential in writing your own answers in the comprehension. Find these here.

  1. Practise writing out answers in your own words

Being able to manipulate answers (for example by changing the “I” in the comprehension to a “he” in your answer) is really doable with practise. Keep practising these with past papers.


Bonne chance!



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