Now that you know what awaits you in the various CAPES épreuves, you might be wondering….but how in the world will I learn to do all of that ?! It certainly seems like an insurmountable amount of information to assimilate, but it’s doable with a little organization and strategy. Read on for a few tips, things that worked for me, and some helpful resources !
Where do I begin ?
Whether you are preparing via a university course or on your own, your number one tool and first stop to understanding the concours are the RAPPORTS DU JURY ! After every exam session, the members of the jury write an extensive and detailed report, giving answer keys to the actual test papers given during the session, and often explaining in more or less detail what they were looking for in each exam, what methodology/format to use, and frequently made mistakes for future candidates to avoid. Reading these reports (multiple times !!!) can give you clues as to what is expected of you in each épreuve. You can download the rapports on DevenirEnseignant or on the SAES website. At the time of writing this post, the report from 2022 (the first session with the new reformed épreuves) has not yet been published. I would expect to wait a few months before it comes out.
After the Rapports du Jury in usefulness and officialness come the SUJETS ZERO ET ANNALES. The sujets zéro are sample test papers that are published whenever there is a modification made in one of the exams. They show you concretely what a test paper could look like. The annales are past test papers that were given to candidates in previous sessions. Reading through these is very helpful to see the official wording of the exams and get a sense of what they look like, and can also be used to organize your own practice tests. Both are available on DevenirEnseignant and the SAES website.
It makes sense to start preparing the écrits first, since they will determine whether or not you go on to the oraux. Besides, the skills and knowledge you will need for the écrits are 100% transferrable to the oraux once you get there.
HELP, I need a structured study plan
If you do not have a Masters degree (a necessary criteria of enrollment in the concours) and are looking for an intensive study course, the Master MEEF could be an interesting option. It has the advantage of being designed specifically for the concours, and will also give you a fair amount of practical experience student teaching in French classrooms before sitting the exams. The biggest disadvantage is that it lasts 2 years, so if you already have a Masters degree, you may want to look at different options that will get you to the finish line faster.
There are a few non-degree granting prep courses available. The first and most well-known is online through the CNED. Their program generally has mixed reviews, with some candidates saying that the feedback isn’t always sufficient or the course materials are only marginally helpful, while others have found it a useful and positive experience. The biggest advantage is that it forces you to have some amount of structure, provides certain resources, and most importantly organizes timed and graded practice tests so you can have feedback from a professor about your work. Eileen studied via the CNED back in 2011 and sums up her impressions in this post.
Other than the CNED I am not very familiar with other prep courses : Collège Sevingé, which is generally very well reviewed but €€€, offers a hybrid prep course, and Bordeaux University offers a D.U. (diplôme universitaire). A Google search shows some other private prep classes, but I unfortunately don’t have any further information about these.
Thanks, but I prefer to study on my own
If you’re sick of sitting in a classroom, or you have a job and don’t have time for a full-time preparation course, don’t fear ! It IS completely possible to sit and pass the concours while studying completely independently as a candidat libre. If you take this route, it is important to be organized, make yourself a clear study plan and actually stick to it. While being anglophone can get you by on some of the épreuves, the CAPES is definitely not something you can just waltz into and expect perfect scores.
There’s a lot you can do to tip the scales in your favor though. There are numerous CAPES d’anglais groups on Facebook where candidates form study groups, share practice tests and study guides, among loads of other useful exchanges. There is also an entire market for CAPES test prep books, with editions for every aspect of the exam, from translation to pedagogy to linguistics, which can give you additional insight and practice exercises.
Study strategies that worked for me
Make a plan
In my opinion, the knowledge needed for the CAPES can be broken down into 6 broad categories :
- Literature, History, and Culture
- Linguistics and Phonology
- Translation and Vocabulary
- School Programmes and Institutional frameworks
- Didactics and Pedagogy (i.e. language teaching skills)
- Methodology and Testing skills
One plan could be to work by category, alternating each week or every few days. Another option is to attack the concours épreuve by épreuve, studying first for the épreuve écrite disciplinaire, then the EEDA, then the two orals.
Whether you are on your own or preparing with a course, you’ll have to figure out your own study calendar. For those in the MEEF, this will probably be dictated in part by your class assignments and exams. For others, this could look like studying Linguistics on Monday/Tuesday, Translation on Wednesday, and School programmes on Thursday… You have to find the rhythm that suits your needs and target the categories or épreuves that you feel the least strong in.
Make the most of your resources
Whether you are working from your professors’ lessons or a CAPES prep book, it’s important to find ways to make the information stick !
STRATEGY No. 1 : Fiche everything !!! Une fiche is like the more verbose French version of a flashcard. They are so common that there’s even a verb : ficher, or the act of synthesizing information and writing it on a card, as in “Je vais ficher chapitre 3 du bouquin de linguistique demain.”
But there’s a reason they are so common : it works ! I truly made fiches for EVERYTHING : vocabulary lists for translation, linguistics terms, the themes of the CAPES programme, recaps of historical or cultural eras like the Civil Rights Movement, Irish immigration, or the Industrial Revolution, ideas for student projects, ideas for class activities…and more !
The beauty of the fiche is that it can take any form you want : a mind map, a chart, a list, Cornell notes…the options are endless. Whether typed or handwritten, the act of making the fiches themselves was helpful because it forced me to synthesize and organize the essential information in a way that made sense for my brain. There was also a visual element, with different layouts and colors, which aided visual memorization. Once the fiches were done, I read and re-read them before every practice test… It really helped me understand and retain the information more durably.
You can find fiches online, or trade them with a study buddy, but I strongly believe making them your own — even if that just looks like copying it down in your own handwriting and with your own color code — is worth taking the time to do.
STRATEGY No. 2 : Post-its ! Similar to fiches, but smaller and more targeted, I used this strategy for specific definitions or concepts I needed to have at my fingertips, like teaching jargon or school programme basics. I simply wrote it on a sticky note, and stuck it on my wall just above by desk. I must have had a dozen or more. All year while working (or watching Netflix…) at my desk, I could reference these sticky notes, and eventually I learned the definitions just by dint of seeing them every single day. I also did this with recurrent mistakes I made in French writing, or new expressions I wanted to use. Seeing the reminder every day helped me retain and correct it much quicker.
STRATEGY No. 3 : Make use of online tools There are so many great online interactive tools, and one of their greatest advantages is that you can carry them everywhere you go in your pocket ! Apps like Quizlet, Kahoot, or Quizziz are great ways to quiz yourself on definitions or concepts, working your memory retrieval, and having fun ! (High school students also LOVE them 😉)
I’m low-key panicking about how much French is on this exam…
I hear you !! You’re trying to get recruited as an ENGLISH teacher, so why the heck are so many of the épreuves in French ?! The reality is that day to day, I really do speak a lot of French at school, with colleagues, admin, parents, and yes, with my students too. So while it is important to have a pretty solid level of basic French, there are several things you can do to improve and feel confident in your French going into the concours.
FIRST TIP : Practice with other people. The more you can practice WITH other people, the better you will get. Take note of expressions or structures you hear/read in their work and try to incorporate them in your own. Be sure to tell your study partner what kind of feedback you want in return…I recommend against asking them to write down every single error you make and maybe just focus on a few egregious or recurrent ones, so as to not feel demotivated or overwhelmed.
SECOND TIP : Come up with a script. Many of the épreuves have similarities in structure or content that you can use to your advantage. Find a basic “formula” to use for all your introductions so you don’t waste time wondering how to get started. Make a list of “stock phrases” and practice using them ! For example, I had a simple script that I had basically memorized to introduce a séquence / unit plan which not only helped me remember all the elements to include, but also not get tripped up over saying it in French. This is particularly helpful when it comes to all the teaching and linguistics jargon. Once you have a couple different formulas for using them, you’ll be able to pepper those key words easily throughout your exams without a problem !
THIRD TIP : Anticipate the jury’s questions and make sure you have a response to the most common ones. If you are preparing in a MEEF you will regularly train with a jury of your professors and can get used to the questions they ask that way. If not, you’ll have to be more creative in figuring this out. I made this list when I was a student; you can also connect with MEEF students or people who have already taken the concours (via social media for example) to get more ideas.
FOURTH TIP : Accept that your French won’t be perfect and that’s ok. The jury are all anglophiles and will probably find your accent and accidental mistakes more /charming than not.
Do you have a suggested bibliography ?
Why yes I do, thanks for asking ! All of these books I either used myself, or come recommended by other students/CAPES candidates. They contain information about the épreuves and some also have practice tests with answer keys.
You certainly don’t need ALL of them; I suggest waiting a little while to see where you really need the most practice / help before purchasing. HOT TIP : Often you can find these books second-hand on sites like Vinted, or via CAPES facebook groups resold by former candidates !
Literature, History, and Culture
A Cultural Guide, Françoise Grellet
A Literary Guide, Françoise Grellet
Tbh, Wikipedia and YouTube for basic recaps of historical eras…
Linguistics and Phonology
Réussir le commentaire grammatical de textes du CAPES, Lepaire et Rotgé
L’Entraînement à la réflexion linguistique pour le concours du CAPES d’anglais, Pennec et Delorme
Grammaire explicative de l’anglais, Huart, Larreya, Mathiot, Rivière
La Phonologie de l’anglais, Pascal Bouvet
A Pronunciation Guide, Larreya et Schottman
Translation and Vocabulary
Initiation à la Version, Françoise Grellet
Le Mot et l’Idée 2
School Programmes and Institutional frameworks
Methodology and Test skills
Collection of books on the different épreuves by Éditions Ellipses
Didactics and Pedagogy (i.e. language teaching skills)
Enseigner l’anglais, Perrot et Julié
La didactique au CAPES d’anglais, Pineda
Réussir l’épreuve écrite disciplinaire appliquée, Pascal Bouvet
One final resource that I think is often overlooked are student textbooks !! After all, these are the materials that will be at your disposition once you are actually teaching students and there are dozens of them ! They are made by Education Nationale teachers and inspectors in line with the official programmes, and can be really interesting to observe how units are constructed, get ideas for themes or activities, understand how grammar points are introduced, and see how comprehension and expression strategies are presented to students.
The student book is a valuable resource, made even more interesting if you can get your hands on the workbook/cahier d’activités and the Guide Pedagogique or Teacher’s Book that accompany it. The latter in particular is often a gold mine of teaching tips and detailed explanations that can help you better understand the construction of a séquence, and give ideas for projects and evaluations.
Le Livre Scolaire is a publisher that puts all of its textbooks and materials freely on their website. Only a few documents are exclusive for people who make an account with an official Education Nationale email. Belin Education is another editor who reserves their materials for those with a teacher account, however, I believe they don’t restrict the teacher accounts to official EN email addresses. You may even be able to find some textbooks at the library, and definitely at the library of the INSPE or language fac closest to you.
To Finish :
Let’s end this monstrously long post with a little FAQ of questions I’ve been asked in the past :
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART ABOUT THE CONCOURS ?
For me, one of the hardest things was time management, in my preparations, but especially during the actual exams. Doing multiple timed practice tests was really the only way to get used to this and figure out a rhythm.
Learning French educational/linguistics jargon was a bit of a learning curve, as was learning basic French writing methodology. Essays have different codes in France than what I was used to, so playing catch up on things like how to write une problématique or how to construct un plan détaillé, took extra effort.
Not having a lot of experience in French schools made the transition into actually teaching even more of a challenge. I had to learn from scratch really really basic things like school discipline, student schedules and expectations, or even how the cantine works. This would also be relevant for the épreuve d’entretien, because it is difficult to propose a solution to a problem on bullying or indiscipline without knowing the basic procedures and support staff within a French school.
Finally, the sheer amount of baseline cultural/literary knowledge you are expected to have felt at times insurmountable. The test papers can cover any English-speaking country and any historical era. I really had to brush up my basic knowledge of UK history, government, etc as well as learn a lot of new things about South Africa, India, Ireland and more (This is where the fiches came in handy 😉). Flipping through school textbooks can also be helpful to see some of the most common themes that could be considered “essential” to know, especially in relation to the themes on the programme of the écrits.
IS BEING ANGLOPHONE AN ADVANTAGE OR A DISADVANTAGE ?
It’s a bit of both. Speaking English is obviously an advantage for the English parts of the concours. You’ll be able to write faster, and pick up nuances in the documents more easily. As someone who grew up in an anglophone country, there is a certain innate knowledge of historical events or famous figures that can be a big help.
On the other hand, simply being a native English-speaker is not a free pass to getting the CAPES. You still need to show mastery of the language, literature, and a variety of anglophone cultures. And let’s be honest, given the reduction of English in the new reformed épreuves, it’s more than essential to have a decent mastery of the French language as well. It seems clear that the ball is in the francophones’ court for much of the exam. Discovering the French education system, learning French exam methodology, perfecting writing skills and translating into French… all of this is an extra learning curve for non-native speakers.
I hope this was helpful for all the prospective CAPES / CAFEP candidates out there. My aim was not to scare you away, or make the concours seem like a terrifying and strenuous mountain to climb. It sort of is (lol) but it’s one that is definitely attainable with a lot of motivation and a little bit of luck. ❂
SURPRISE ! A little BONUS for everyone who has read this far : Here’s a google drive with many of the fiches I made while preparing for the CAPES in 2019 ! The épreuves have changed slightly since then, but the information is still valid. Even if the content doesn’t correspond with your needs, may it inspire your own beautiful fiche creations !!