French Department

Degree Requirements

See the Academic Catalog for French major requirements.

All French majors must also meet divisional and college requirements. Download the French Major Planner from the Office of the Registrar.

French Qualifying Exam

The French qualifying exam consists of a three-part written exam and an oral exam, all based on a primary literary text chosen in coordination with the French department. The three parts of the written exam are:

  1. a close reading of a passage, selected by the French department, from the primary literary text
  2. an analysis of a critical source treating the primary literary text (the student is expected to summarize, characterize, and engage with the theoretical argument)
  3. a short essay in response to one of two questions about the primary literary text

Following submission of the written exam, there will be an oral examination of 45 minutes, in French, during which the student and the members of the French department will discuss the written exam.

Students will have one week to complete the three written parts of the exam, all of which are to be in French.  The exam questions will be given to the student during the 10th week of classes in the spring semester (or in August in the case of students studying abroad in their junior year).

The junior qualifying exam is designed to assess the student’s progress toward the goals of both the literature and language programs: 1) the ability to read, write, speak, and understand French; 2) a capacity for literary analysis; 3) a capacity to formulate and carry out a research project independently. The student’s essay and oral performance are discussed by the faculty immediately after the oral exam and evaluated with respect to language ability, general literary and theoretical aptitude, and knowledge of literary history.

Criteria for success

A successful qualifying exam will contain the following: a careful close reading of a French literary text; the successful incorporation of secondary sources into the analysis of a text; an argument that provides a unified approach to that analysis; evidence of an awareness of the methods of literary analysis, including formal analysis; an ability to discuss and refine one’s ideas in an oral examination; excellent written and spoken French.

Qualifying Exam Schedule

End of week 1 of spring semester (or April for students abroad):

Each student gives the chair of the French department the name of two works of literature that he or she would like to work on for the qualifying exam. These works may be among those studied in courses at Reed or abroad. The student should also feel free to indicate to the department what aspects of the works interest him or her.

The department will choose one of the works for the exam and will inform the student of this choice within one week. Part 1 of the exam will be a close reading of a passage, selected by the French department, from this text. The student will not know until the time of the exam which passage the department has selected.

During this time, students may read critical studies of the work that they will be analyzing for the exam, but their preparation should be principally devoted to the primary text.

Week 8 (or early August for students abroad):

In week 8 of the semester, the department will tell the student what secondary source he or she will be required to analyze in part 2 of the exam. The student should read that secondary source thoroughly prior to writing the exam.

Weeks 10-11 (or August for students abroad):

The student picks up the written qualifying exam. The completed exam will be due TBD at noon (or the first week of classes if returning from abroad) and should be submitted to department's faculty administrative coordinator, in Vollum 320.

Each of the three sections of the exam requires a five-page essay response (in 12 point Times New Roman font, double-spaced) written in French. Additional secondary sources may be cited but are not necessary.

Final week of the semester (prior to the start of classes for students returning from abroad)

The final step of the qualifying exam will be an oral exam with the French department, in French, where the student’s written exam will be discussed.


All Reed seniors write a year-long senior thesis that serves as the culmination of their French major. This is an excellent opportunity to develop one’s own research idea into an extensive, well-researched, and well-planned project. Students meet one-on-one weekly with a French faculty member and write the thesis over the course of the year. Most students ultimately write a document between 60 and 80 pages. Because the thesis is designed first and foremost to demonstrate the student’s literary-critical and theoretical skills, most students write in English, although they must work from texts in the original French. At the end of the year, there is a 1.5-hour oral examination with four faculty members where the student has a chance to discuss the thesis and defend its arguments. The thesis oral examination is conducted in English.

Thesis advisers are assigned in the first week of senior year. However, please contact the chair of the French department in the spring semester of the junior year for help in planning for the thesis year.

Criteria for success

A successful thesis will demonstrate the student’s ability to conduct independent research, formulate an interesting thesis topic, and pursue this investigation in a methodologically sound fashion. The thesis will be evaluated according to whether it: is well written; provides a clear frame of analysis; displays a high level of conversance with the methods and terminology distinctive to literary analysis and/or literary theory and/or literary history; and makes intelligent use of pertinent secondary sources. The oral examination will be evaluated according to whether it provides evidence of the student’s ability to explain the nature of their project and the logic underlying the structure of the written manuscript and reflects the student’s ability to respond to a variety of broader questions about the significance of the research for the wider field under consideration.