Have you just passed the first curve of -er verbs?
Are you trudging through the heavily-wooded subjunctive?
It can be hard to place exactly where you are in the enchanted forest of your French language journey.
Luckily, French proficiency tests are the landmark you’re looking for.
They can help you pinpoint your location and how to take your French to the next level.
Today we’re going to look at some quality French proficiency tests anyone can access and use to test their level of French.
You’ll also learn about official French exams, such as the DELF, that can certify your French proficiency for school, work or even immigrating to France!
What Exactly Are French Proficiency Tests?
Unofficial language proficiency tests can be taken for free through various websites. After you complete the test, the website will tell you approximately how advanced your French skills are. You’ll have a better idea of where you are and how to improve. Furthermore, knowing what your current level is will give you more incentive to get yourself to the nest level.
Official proficiency tests, depending on the type, can help you in your job, allow you to attend a university in France or prove you have the language skills necessary for French citizenship.
What Is the CEFR and What Does It Have to Do with Proficiency?
Most websites, whether in the context of a proficiency test or as part of organizing their language resources, use the CEFR (Common European Framework of References for Languages), which divides language acquisition into six levels: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2.
A is considered beginner. Level A1 means you can understand some basic words and phrases. At the A2 level, you’re able to take part in basic conversations, especially those about familiar areas, such as describing your daily routine.
B is considered intermediate. A B1 learner can comprehend the main idea of most authentic sources, such as a news clip or a short story. Level B2 denotes the ability to grasp in detail most sources; you can confidently visit a French-speaking country.
C is considered advanced. C1 is fluent; you can comfortably live in a Francophone country. C2 is native-speaker level, meaning that you not only know how to use the language virtually flawlessly, but you also have an understanding of the language’s cultural nuances that only comes from living long-term in a Francophone country.
Test Your French! Unofficial and Official Proficiency Tests for All
Unofficial Proficiency Tests
There are many websites that will offer free French proficiency tests. Here, I’ll share nine that I find helpful. Always remember to take these tests with a grain of salt. Online proficiency tests can be immensely helpful. Keep in mind, however, their limitations. For instance, since these tests are graded automatically by computer, they rarely test speaking or writing, instead asking predominantly multiple-choice and matching questions.
There’s a level of subjectivity in the simple fact that no 30-40 question test can adequately cover the vocabulary, grammar, syntax and nuances of an entire language. You might find certain tests easier or more difficult than others simply based on what they include in their questions. I took some of these tests on the same day and got a wide range of results. So don’t panic if you get a lower score than you think you should. At the same time, don’t get too ahead of yourself if you score higher than you expected. To get a more accurate idea, try taking at least two tests.
The ESL Language Programs Abroad test consists of 40 multiple-choice questions that test various grammar-based concepts, such as verb tenses and direct/indirect objects. At the end of the test, you’ll be told what your CEFR level is, and you’ll get to see what questions you answered incorrectly and why.
The RFI Savoirs test is a bit different from most online proficiency tests in that you first choose a CEFR level, and you’ll take the test appropriate for that level. At the end of the test, your score will determine whether the level you chose was accurate. If you score much lower, you’ll be directed to the test for the next level down, and if you score much higher, you’ll be directed to the test for the next level up. This system makes the results more precise, but potentially more work if you have to take multiple tests before you find what your level really is.
Since this test is through Radio France Internationale (French International Radio), it includes listening comprehension, meaning you’ll listen to a brief audio clip and answer questions about what you heard.
The Eurocentres WebCAT test uses a computer adaptive system, meaning that the test will begin with an easy question. If you answer incorrectly, it will give you an easier question, and if you answer correctly, you’ll be given a more challenging question. The computer will continue to give you questions based on your previous answers until it detects a pattern, at which point the test will end and you’ll be given a CEFR level. This particular test is a bit more difficult than some, because many questions are fill-in-the-blank as opposed to multiple choice.
The Oxford House Barcelona test is 43 multiple-choice questions that become progressively more difficult as the test continues. At the end of the test, you’ll be given a CEFR result and you can see which questions you got wrong, as well as what the correct responses are.
The Cactus Language test is 40 multiple-choice questions on various areas of grammar. At the end, you’ll get a CEFR level, as well as a detailed description of what that level means. However, you’re not able to see what answers you got incorrect or why. Although they ask for contact information, it’s not required in order to take the test and receive results.
Transparent Language’s test is made up of four parts. The first two parts are 15 questions each and are fill-in-the-blank grammar questions. The third part is 10 vocabulary questions and the fourth is 10 reading comprehension questions. What I love about this test is the variety of questions and the fact that they include reading comprehension.
Two disadvantages of this one are that they don’t give CEFR results (instead your result will simply say “beginner,” “intermediate” or “advanced,” along with your percentage) and they don’t show correct answers.
LingQ’s French proficiency test is similar to the Eurocentre’s WebCAT system. The test begins by asking simple questions and only takes you to the next level once you’ve answered enough questions at the beginner level, and so on. They do appear to use CEFR levels, but they don’t actually use A1, A2, etc., instead calling them “Beginner 1,” “Beginner 2,” “Intermediate 1,” “Intermediate 2,” “Advanced 1” and “Advanced 2.” In addition, you know right away after you answer a question whether you were correct or not.
The EF (Education First) test consists of 12 multiple-choice questions (two of which have several parts). Each question is either fill-in-the-blank or you’ll be given a phrase and choose the most appropriate response from four options. You’re tested on grammar, word usage and basic reading comprehension.
At the end of the test, you’re given a generic CEFR level (“beginner” or “intermediate,” as opposed to A1, A2, etc.), along with a detailed explanation of what that level means and how to move closer to fluency.
You’re required to fill in information such as your name and an email address. So far, they haven’t sent me an inordinate mass of emails, but if you wish, you can always unsubscribe down the road. Thanks to EF’s thorough description of what your level means, this test is still worth it.
ToLearnFrench’s French proficiency test is a bit more difficult and involved than most, since it’s all fill-in. There are a total of 18 parts, each with several exercises. Every part tests a certain area of grammar and language (everything from definite articles to advanced verb tenses) and is listed in order of difficulty.
On this test, you’re given neither a CEFR level nor a more generic designation such as “beginner” or “intermediate.” Instead, you’re merely given how many points you got and how that compares to others who have taken the test.
Nevertheless, one major advantage with this test is you see what you got right, what you got wrong and what the correct answer is.
Another plus is that each question comes with a link to the page on their site where you can learn about the concept tested in the question. For instance, if you struggle with French homophones such as la (the) and là (there), you can go here to review the difference. All the lessons are free, but they’re in French, making this site and test more suitable for learners who have at least some French reading skills.
I’ve Taken an (Unofficial) Proficiency Test…Now What?
Once you’ve determined your CEFR level, make sure you understand what that level denotes. Look at this table and carefully read the full description for your level. If there are any areas in your level that you think you have not fully achieved, focus on them. For example, if your level is B1, but you’re not confident you can “write letters describing experiences and impressions,” you should practice writing in French. Once you believe you’ve perfected all the skills of your current level, take a look at the next level up and start working on mastering those guidelines.
Unfortunately, many proficiency tests don’t show you what questions you got wrong. If the one you took does, then you should certainly take advantage of that. See if there’s a pattern in what you answered incorrectly (Were you wrong on several verb tense questions? Did you struggle with understanding vocabulary in the sentences?) and review those areas.
Even if your test didn’t specifically show you areas you need to work on, think back to the questions and ask yourself if there was any particular type of question you found most difficult. Were you most puzzled by direct/indirect objects? Did you find listening comprehension questions the hardest?
Whatever you need to review, practice is the only way to take your French to the next level. Many good French learning sites organize practice activities by CEFR level, so check out places such as RFI Savoirs or TV5 MONDE to find activities organized accordingly.
LingQ is another site that doesn’t just provide proficiency testing but also a full language learning app that includes access to a learner community and vocab tracking. It makes it easy for you to take part in language exchanges to improve your speaking or have your writing corrected by native speakers.
FluentU can give you all-around practice in reading and listening to French and adjusts to your personal learning level by recommending content based on the vocabulary you’ve learned. FluentU takes real-world videos—like commercials, news, vlogs, movie trailers, music videos and more—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
Official Proficiency Tests
Official French proficiency exams are organized by CIEP, Centre internationale d’études pedagogues (International Center of Educational Studies), and are accredited by the French Ministry of Education. Cost, availability and function varies greatly from test to test, so we’ll deal with each test separately.
DELF stands for Diplôme d’études en langue française (Diploma of French Language Studies). Like the RFI Savoirs Proficiency Test, for the DELF, you’ll first choose a level and then take the test corresponding to that level. The DELF offers tests for B1 and B2. If you, for instance, take the B1 DELF and pass the test, you’ll be certified for that CEFR level. However, if you don’t pass that test, you will not receive any certification, so make sure you are confident of your level before you put out the money to get this certification.
Pricing and availability is determined by individual testing centers, but to give you an idea, the Alliance Française (French Alliance) of New York charges $140 for DELF B1 and $170 for DELF B2. To find an authorized test center near you, search here. The B1 test takes about two hours and fifteen minutes, while the B2 test takes about three and a half hours. Both types have written and oral portions. The DELF is helpful if you want to work in France or if your field or company does business in French.
DALF stands for Diplôme approfondi de langue française (Diploma in Advanced French). It’s in the same family as the DELF. The main difference is that the DALF tests CEFR levels C1 and C2, making it a more advanced exam.
Since the DALF is more advanced, it’s more expensive and takes longer than the DELF. The C1 and C2 test each last about five and a half hours. Using the Alliance Française of New York as an example, either test costs $220. Find authorized test centers here.
The DALF is helpful if you want to attend a French university, because if you’ve passed the DALF (either C1 or C2), then you can be placed in the same classes as native French speakers. To prepare for the DELF or DALF, check out Bonjour de France’s practice exercises.
TCF stands for Test de connaissance du français (Test of Knowledge of French). The most immediate difference between TCF and the DELF or DALF is that there’s only one test for all levels. Everyone takes the same test, and the results come in the form of CEFR level. TCF may also be used for business, academic or personal reasons. If you’re not sure whether to take the TCF or the DELF/DALF, keep in mind that while DELF/DALF certificates are valid for life, TCF results are only valid for two years.
The TCF consists of 76 multiple-choice questions, along with optional writing and oral components. Depending on what you’re using the TCF for, you may be required to take all components. (For instance, some French universities require you take the full test.) If you’re taking it for more generic purposes, then you can choose based on what you think you’ll do your best on. If you’re a star at writing in French and think it will improve your score, then go for it. If not, then maybe you should opt out.
The required portion (multiple-choice questions that test grammar, reading comprehension and listening comprehension) lasts about an hour and a half and costs (with the Alliance Française of New York—every test center sets its own prices) $200-$215. The full test (multiple choice, writing and speaking) lasts a little over two and a half hours and costs $350-$385. To find an authorized test center for the TCF, search here. To prepare for the TCF, check out the guide officiel (official guide).
The TCF ANF (accès à la nationalité française) is the test you must pass at the B1 level or higher in order to become a French citizen. It has listening comprehension and oral expression parts and lasts less than an hour. The Alliance Française of New York charges $200-$215.
Keep in mind that the TCF ANF counts only for French citizenship and does not qualify for French university requirements. Furthermore, if you’ve passed the DELF or DALF, you’re exempt from this exam. To find authorized test centers, search here.
Whether you want to make a career shift, study in France or just get an idea of where your French skills stand, taking a test (or a few) can be immensely helpful.
Take a look at these tests and discover what will help you round the next curve in your French journey!
Rachel Larsen is a lifelong francophile and freelance writer who dreams of living in France one day. She’s currently a student at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.
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