French 103: How I know I’m top of the class

Rob Garrett’s French class final exam.
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When the teacher gave my French exam back I felt a flood of relief. In the top right corner, a small scrawled, green pen declared a score of 28/35.

Not quite the stratospheric 39/40 success of my last test, but this wasn't playtime anymore — Unit 102 is time to separate the casual and confused from the serious and intent.

Having arrived at class early, there was just one other student in the room. After handing her paper over the teacher confided in us conspiratorially, “ah, you two were the best, actually”. And winked.

I looked across the room at my linguistic rival. Her head was down, analysing the paper conscientiously. She hadn’t heard. But the challenge was on.

Other students started to filter into the room, meeting their results with a similar mixture of relief and disbelief.

But I didn’t forget. I needed to find out, to be sure — who got the higher mark? Her, or me?


It was a week later that I made my discovery. Having passed the test comfortably, I returned to face the next module, unit 103. Walking into the room I was confronted by an alien terrain. Several classmates from 102 had burnt out, and there was a sea of new, unfamiliar faces starring back at me. I was late, and there was just one spare seat. And it was right next to my rival.

She smiled at the sight of a familiar face. Time to strike up a conversation ...

No need. Within moments of me sitting down she pulled out her test paper to scrutinise further. I crane my head for a look ...

“I can’t believe I got 27, I didn’t study at all,” she announces loudly.

Bingo. That’s how I know I’m top of the class.

Well, I was. That class anyway. This 103 stuff is well scary ...

Rob Garratt is studying beginners's French at Alliance Française Dubai, a non-profit language and cultural institution established in 1982, which teaches French to more than 2,500 students every year. Find out more at