I know, I know, long time, no text post. I haven’t really had anything France-related to write about, but a few weekends ago I took the Test d’Evaluation de Français (TEF), and since I only found one testimonial about it on the whole internet and I love reassuring/terrifying myself by reading about other peoples’ experiences with these sorts of things before I go through with them myself, I thought I would type one up. So: here’s some general info about the test, my personal experience, and the best links for practicing for the TEF (or similar exam) at the end. Voilà!
What: The TEF is a standardized test that measures your level of French. It’s really difficult to quantify how good you are at a foreign language (if you’ve made it this far, you probably share my desire to stab anyone who asks “are you fluent?” WHAT DOES THAT MEAN AUGH) a great way to get an impartial ranking of your abilities. You’re scored in three compulsory areas (reading comprehension, listening comprehension, grammar/structures/vocabulary) and two optional portions (speaking and writing). Scores are based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: A1/A2/B1/B2/C1/C2 (beginner, elementary, intermediate, upper intermediate, advanced, mastery).
Who: Anyone who’s not a native French speaker can take the test.
Why: The scores from the TEF can be used any time you need to prove your language ability: for work, to apply into grad school (both American and French programs), if you want to get citizenship in a francophone country (there’s a special version of the test for this), if you’ve always wondered how you stack up against all other speakers of French in the world…I personally took it because some of the American grad schools I’m looking at ask for it (or an equivalent test), and all the French programs do.
Where: The TEF is offered around the world, usually through organizations like the Alliance Française or a university. I took it at the New York City FIAF (French Institute - Alliance Française. So. Many. Acronyms.).
When: Each test center is different (I guess?). At the location where I took the test, the TEF is offered six times a year.
How: Registration and payment is through the testing center. At the FIAF, this meant emailing a two-page registration form and paying $200 by credit card (it would have been $360 if I had chosen to take the speaking and writing portions also).
My path to the TEF was a little convoluted. I originally started thinking about taking a standardized test right when I got back from France in May. Once I started looking into grad programs more over the summer, I realized it was a necessity and signed up with the FIAF to take the Test de Connaisance du Français…which you’ll notice is the TCF, and not the TEF. The TCF is almost exactly the same as the TEF, although the format of the questions is slightly different. I registered without a problem, bought a review book, studied diligently…and then received an email a week and a half before my test, saying that not enough people had registered, so they couldn’t run the TCF. They could, however, run the TEF. Frustrating that I had been preparing for a different test all fall, but not the end of the world.
I went down to the city the night before, got up early and made it to the FIAF with some time to spare. I signed in at the reception desk and made my way up to the classroom where my test was being held with the two other people who had registered. When we arrived, we found the proctor and two IT guys dealing with miles of wires and three laptops - they hadn’t yet installed the computers we’d be using to take the test. (There’s also a paper version, but I was happy that we got to take the e-TEF - I always make mistakes when I have to transfer my answers to a scantron sheet.)
Luckily, it didn’t take long for them to get everything set up. Once we began the test, each of us was able to move at our own pace. There was an introductory instruction page, and then the reading comprehension (50 questions, 60 minutes), listening comprehension (60 questions, 40 minutes, done with headphones), and grammar/structures (40 questions, 30 minutes). We got five minute breaks between each section.
All in all, the test was mostly what I was expecting. I found the reading comprehension to be the easiest section. The grammar/structures portion was trickier, but also probably the easiest to prepare for (I’m looking at you, passé composé agreement…). The listening comprehension was the hardest (especially after being back in the States for six months). As well as doing general prep (reading something in French every day, watching the news or youtube videos to work on listening, studying specific grammar points), I also bought this guy, which I would recommend. Although it unfortunately doesn’t come with the audio tracks, it still gives a great overview of the questions types (some of which are kind of weird), and well as two complete practice tests.
Another nice bonus from taking the e-TEF is that you get your (unofficial) scores as soon as you finish. That’s the case normally, anyway - our proctor decided to take the test herself when we were already halfway through ours, so when I finished, she was in the middle of the test and couldn’t exit it to look at my scores. OI. She did email me later that afternoon though, and I was really pleased with how I did, so I guess the stress was worth it.
Here, have some useful links!
The TEF participants’ booklet: http://www.francais.ccip.fr/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/05/manuel-candidat-TEF-mai2012.pdf
Free streaming news (as well as articles and individual videos): http://www.france24.com/fr/
TCF practice exams – useful for both studying and to gauge your level: http://www.tv5.org/cms/chaine-francophone/enseigner-apprendre-francais/TCF-FLE/p-6817-Accueil-TCF.htm
Practice distinguishing between similar vowel sounds with many, many minimal pair exercises (great practice for the last section of the listening portion!): http://phonetique.free.fr/indexphonvoy.htm
Hands-down the best place to go online to practice your French. Aggregates exercises from all over the internet; search by grammar point or type of activity: http://www.lepointdufle.net/