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IB French B: A Complete Guide

IB French B: A Complete Guide

10 min Read|April 12 2024
|Written by:

Charles Whitehouse


Navigating the educational world of the International Baccalaureate (IB) can be a challenging prospect, but for those considering studying French B as a part of their diploma, this article provides a comprehensive guide to the IB French B course. This globally recognised qualification delves into all aspects of French language and culture, preparing you to interact effectively in a variety of contexts. Whether you're a novice in French or have a background in the language, the course is tailored to accommodate your proficiency level. From understanding the syllabus to preparing for exams and exploring potential career opportunities, this guide has you covered. Let's journey through the exciting and culturally enriching world of IB French B.

Why study IB French B?

Embarking on the IB French B journey might seem a daunting task, but it offers numerous advantages. It's more than just learning a new language; it's an opportunity to broaden your horizons and deepen your understanding of a rich and vibrant culture.

According to a 2019 study conducted by The British Council, French is the second most necessary language for the UK's future, marking its importance in the global economy. Not only does it enhance your career prospects, but it also fosters critical thinking and cognitive skills. A report published in The Guardian states that bilingualism can improve cognitive abilities unrelated to language, such interactive skills such as problem-solving skills and enhancing concentration.

From an academic standpoint, leading universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, recognise the rigour and breadth of the IB French B course. It equips students with transferable skills that are invaluable at university level, as emphasised by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

In the words of Nelson Mandela, "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart." So, studying IB French B offers a pathway to connect with millions of hearts around the globe.

Is IB French B hard?

The complexity of IB French B is subjective and depends largely on your previous exposure to the French language and your commitment to the course. However, by and large, students find the course manageable with consistent efforts and the right strategies. French B is generally considered moderate in difficulty compared to other IB subjects, with students rating it a 3 on a difficulty scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the hardest).

The course is designed to cater to both beginners and intermediate French speakers, focusing not only on language comprehension but also on the cultural understanding of French-speaking regions. This holistic approach may seem intimidating at first but is rewarding in the long run.

Another point to consider is the workload. An IB diploma requires students to juggle various subjects and complete assessments. It's essential to balance your time and energy efficiently to succeed in all areas, including French B.

In November 2021, IB French B HL exam's mean grade was 5.58, while the IB French B SL exam's mean grade was 5.67. Additionally,the IBO reports that in November 2021, 28.8% of students who took the IB French B HL exam received the top score of 7. For the IB French B SL exam, 24.8% of students received a score of 7.

In conclusion, while IB French B presents its challenges, it is achievable with dedication, good time management, and effective learning strategies. Be prepared for an immersive language learning experience that extends beyond textbook knowledge.

IB French B SL & HL grade distributions in 2021

IB French B SL & HL grade distributions in 2021

The IB French B syllabus

The IB French B syllabus is a comprehensive curriculum designed to cultivate students' linguistic skills whilst also providing them with a deeper conceptual understanding of francophone cultures. The course is divided into separate sections with two main parts: Language skills and Themes.

The Language Skills component focusses on building four critical areas of language acquisition: Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. Students are trained to read and comprehend texts of various genres, write effectively in different styles, listen to spoken French from various sources and articulate their ideas clearly in the French language.

The Themes component is where culture comes into play. The syllabus covers five key themes: Identities, Experiences, Human Ingenuity, Social Organisation, and Sharing the Planet. Each theme encourages students to explore various aspects of francophone societies and social interaction, understand different viewpoints and enhance their global-mindedness.

A unique feature of the IB French B syllabus is the incorporation of authentic materials such as articles, films, interviews, and literary works, which provides students with real-life language contexts. This has been praised by language teaching experts, including Jack Richards, who highlighted the importance of using authentic materials in language classrooms in his book, 'Key Issues in Language Teaching'.

In essence, the IB French B syllabus is comprehensive and multi-faceted, aiming to not just teach a language, but to also foster an appreciation of the rich tapestry of francophone cultures.

Have a look at our comprehensive set of IB Study Notes and IB Practice Questions, developed by expert IB teachers and examiners!

IB French B vs A-Level French

Comparing the IB French B with the A-Level French reveals distinctive aspects of both, enabling students to choose what aligns best with their learning preferences and goals.

The A-Level French course, as outlined by AQA, primarily focuses on language, culture, and society of France and French-speaking countries. It also includes a literature and film study, which deepens cultural understanding.

On the other hand, IB French B adopts a more holistic approach, incorporating both language acquisition skills, cultural exploration, and global themes. The latter is a unique aspect of IB, promoting international-mindedness. It also offers flexibility in terms of language proficiency levels - Standard Level (SL) and Higher Level (HL), catering to different student abilities.

In terms of exam performance, 23.4% of IB French B HL students achieved a score of 7/7, compared to 12.9% of A-Level French students achieving the top grade of an A*.

Both A-Level and IB French B are highly regarded qualifications, and both can open doors to university studies and future careers. The choice between them should depend on the individual's learning style, objectives, and the rest of their academic profile.

What level of French B should you choose in the IB?

Choosing the appropriate level for your IB French B course, either Standard Level (SL) or Higher Level (HL), depends on your previous language experience, academic goals, and interest in French.

The Standard Level course is suitable for students who have some background in French but may not feel entirely confident in their fluency. It covers fundamental language skills and themes, providing a solid foundation for future language learning. The SL course requires 150 hours of teaching time.

The Higher Level course is designed for students who already have a significant level of proficiency in French. It delves deeper into language nuances, literature, and thematic exploration, demanding a higher level of oral and written expression. It requires 240 teaching hours, offering more in-depth study.

In terms of university admissions, both levels are widely recognised. However, if you're considering studying French at university or a course that requires strong language skills, the HL course could provide an advantage.

In a study by the International Baccalaureate Organization, HL students reported feeling more prepared for university-level coursework than their SL counterparts.

Choosing the right level should involve an evaluation of your language abilities, aspirations, and overall IB subject combination. Discuss with your teachers and guidance counsellors to make an informed decision. Remember, the goal is to challenge yourself, but also to enjoy the learning journey.

Number of IB French B SL & HL candidates and mean grades in 2021

Understanding the IB French B grading system

The IB French B grading system operates on a scale from 1 to 7, with 7 being the highest. A combination of both internal and external assessments are used to determine the final grade.

For the external assessment, which makes up 70-75% of the final score, students are evaluated on their receptive skills (understanding of written and spoken French). This includes a reading comprehension paper (25%), listening comprehension paper (25%), and a written assignment based on the themes studied (20% for HL, 25% for SL).

The internal assessment, accounting for 25-30% of the final score, assesses productive skills (speaking and writing). For HL, this includes an individual oral based on a literary extract (20%) and an interactive oral activity (10%). For SL, it includes an individual oral based on a visual stimulus (30%).

In addition to the numerical score, a final grade from A (excellent) to E (elementary) is assigned for the overall Diploma based on the Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge performance.

Understanding the grading system is critical for focusing your revision efforts and achieving the desired outcomes. Remember, each assessment component contributes to your final score, so give equal attention to all of them.

IB French B exam format

The IB French B exam is designed to evaluate your command of the French language across various skills and contexts. It comprises of different papers for SL and HL students, each carefully constructed to assess specific competencies.

For Standard Level (SL) students, Paper 1 (1 hour 30 minutes) consists of four text-handling exercises. Paper 2 (1 hour 20 minutes) involves writing one piece of text, choosing from five options. The options may include writing an article, a blog post, an interview, etc.

For Higher Level (HL) students, Paper 1 (1 hour 30 minutes) contains three separate text-handling exercises. Paper 2 (1 hour 20 minutes) includes two writing tasks – one task chosen from five options, similar to SL, and a second task where students write a 250-word creative text based on a literary extract.

The Internal Assessment, a critical part of the IB French B course, is based on oral components. For both SL and HL, it involves individual and interactive orals.

The format requires students to engage in diverse text types, promoting a comprehensive understanding of the language. Familiarity with the exam structure and question types is a key step in your revision process. Make sure to practise extensively with past papers and sample questions to ace the exam.

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What is a good IB French B score?

The answer to "What is a good IB French B score?" is subjective and depends on your personal goals, university requirements, and overall performance in the IB Diploma.

In the context of the 1-7 grading scale of the IB, a score of 4 is generally considered "satisfactory," while a score of 7 is deemed "excellent."

However, a score of 5 or above in your language B subject is often highly regarded by universities, particularly if you are considering further language study or courses with a language requirement. A study from the University of Durham found that students who scored 5 or above in their second language in the IB programme demonstrated strong language competency at university.

Moreover, the IB Diploma's overall passing score is 24 out of a maximum of 45 points, including points for Theory of Knowledge and the Extended Essay. However, to be considered competitive for top universities, students typically aim for 36 points and above.

Remember, while aiming for a high score is important, the real value of studying IB French B lies in the language proficiency and intercultural understanding you gain, which will be an asset throughout your life.

How to revise and get a 7 in IB French B?

Achieving a top score of 7 in IB French B requires effective revision strategies, regular practice, and a comprehensive understanding of the exam requirements. Here are some expert-recommended tips to guide you.

Consistent Language Exposure: Many languages teachers and speakers emphasise the importance of frequent and consistent exposure to the target language. Regularly read French articles, watch French films, listen to French music, and engage with the language in your everyday life.

Practice Past Papers: Familiarise yourself with the exam format by working through past papers. This not only improves your timing but also helps identify areas of weakness.

Get help from a tutor: If you're struggling with a particular topic, it's a good idea to get help from an IB French B tutor. A tutor can provide one-on-one support and guidance, and help you to overcome any areas of difficulty.

Use Online Tools: Digital resources such as Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, or FluentU can complement your learning and help enhance your vocabulary and comprehension skills.

Interactive Orals: These play a crucial role in your internal assessment. Regularly practice speaking French and aim for fluency and accuracy.

Seek Feedback: Be proactive in getting feedback on your written and oral work from your teacher or French tutor. Feedback is one of the most effective ways to improve learning.

Revision Timetable: Create a structured revision plan. Regular, spaced out studying is more effective than cramming..

Remember, scoring a 7 in IB French B isn't just about rote learning, but developing a deep understanding of the language and culture. Bonne chance!

Overview of IB French B Internal Assessment

The IB French B Internal Assessment (IA) accounts for 25-30% of your final grade and focuses on developing and assessing your oral communication skills.

The IA comprises two parts: the Individual Oral (IO) and the Interactive Oral Activity (IOA). Both are conducted and recorded by your teacher before being sent to the IB for external moderation.

The Individual Oral for both Standard Level (SL) and Higher Level (HL) involves a 10-minute presentation and discussion with the teacher. For SL, this is based on a visual stimulus linked to one of the themes of the syllabus. For HL, the IO is based on an extract from a work of literature.

The Interactive Oral Activity, done in class under teacher supervision, aims to have students develop an intercultural understanding. It may be in any format – a debate, interview, role play, or presentation.

We asked a successful IB student, Sophie Grange, who scored 7 in IB French B about how she prepared for the assessment:

"In preparation for the IB French B Internal Assessment, what worked for me was continuous practice and immersion in the language. Don't just rely on your classroom lessons, explore French in everyday contexts. Watch French films, read French books, and converse in French as much as possible. For the specific assessment, start your preparation early, choose your themes carefully, and make sure to understand what the examiners are looking for. Constant practice, immersion and understanding the assessment objectives will guide your way to success.".

Top resources for IB French B preparation

As you navigate through the intricacies of the IB French B course, effective resources can significantly bolster your understanding and performance. Here are some top recommendations.

Online Resources: Websites like Quizlet offer a vast range of French vocabulary flashcards. FrenchPod101 provides podcasts for listening practice.

Private Tutors: Private tutors can provide one-on-one support for students who need extra help with understanding difficult concepts or preparing for exams. Many tutoring services like TutorChase specialise in IB tutors and offer personalised study plans and feedback.

Past Papers: These are indispensable for exam prep. They provide insight into the exam format and types of questions asked.

Duolingo: This free language learning app offers gamified lessons that can help enhance your vocabulary and grammar.

FluentU: FluentU uses French videos, movie trailers, music videos, and inspiring talks to immerse you in the language.

Language Exchange Platforms: Websites like Tandem can connect you with native French speakers for language exchange.

French News: Websites like Le Monde offer authentic exposure to the language and current affairs in French-speaking regions.

Remember, the best resources are the ones that suit your learning style and engage your interest. Don't be afraid to experiment and find what works best for you.

Exploring career opportunities with IB French B

Mastering a second language like French significantly broadens your career prospects. In our increasingly globalised world, bilingualism and multicultural understanding of other cultures are highly valued by employers across sectors.

International Organisations: French is one of the official languages of the United Nations, European Union, and many other international organisations. Careers in international relations, diplomacy, or humanitarian work often require proficiency in multiple languages.

Teaching and Academia: You could pursue research in French literature, history, or culture. An advanced understanding of French can open opportunities in teaching, either at secondary school or higher education levels and help you become any of the following:

Business: Companies with a global presence or partnerships with French companies often seek employees with French language skills. This can lead to roles in management, marketing, sales, and more.

Tourism and Hospitality: Hotels, airlines, and travel agencies often require French speakers to cater to the millions of Francophone tourists worldwide.

Translation and Interpretation: These fields are obvious choices for language graduates, with demand in sectors like law, medicine, and entertainment.

Ultimately, studying IB French B not only equips you with a strong foundation in the language but also promotes intercultural understanding, both of which are great assets in today's globalised world.


In conclusion, embarking on the IB French B journey can be an enriching and rewarding experience. Beyond gaining a deep understanding of the French language and culture, the course equips you with vital skills that can open doors to a myriad of career opportunities. From appreciating the value of this course, understanding its complexities, to practical tips for achieving a top score, this guide serves as a comprehensive resource for any student considering IB French B. Regardless of the challenge you face, remember, consistent preparation and a keen interest in the language are your strongest allies in this endeavour. Bonne chance!


What textbooks are recommended for IB French B?

While many textbooks can supplement your learning, two publications often come highly recommended. Firstly, the "French B for the IB Diploma" by Pearson offers a comprehensive resource that aligns perfectly with the current syllabus, covering all the core and optional themes. It includes vocabulary lists, grammar explanations, practice exercises, and sample exam papers. Another excellent resource is the "French B Course Book" published by Oxford University Press. It not only covers the course's thematic content, but also provides targeted support for the Internal Assessment and plenty of guidance for tackling the different types of texts and tasks encountered in the exams. Both these textbooks are available in print and digital formats.

How many hours of study are needed per week for IB French B?

The time commitment required for IB French B can vary significantly depending on your current level of French, your target grade, and how quickly you tend to learn new languages. However, as a rough guide, you might aim to dedicate around 3-5 hours per week for independent study, on top of your regular French classes. This time can be spent reviewing vocabulary and grammar, practising skills such as listening and speaking, working on assignments, or preparing for assessments. Of course, quality of study often matters more than quantity, so focus on effective study strategies like active recall and spaced repetition.

Can a beginner opt for IB French B?

IB French B is designed for students who have already had some previous experience of studying French. This could be a couple of years of study in middle school, for example. It aims to develop a range of intercultural skills alongside language proficiency, and the syllabus covers a broad range of topics from social issues to literature, requiring students to engage with complex texts and ideas. If you're an absolute beginner with no prior experience in French, you might find the course quite challenging. IB offers ‘ab initio’ courses in several languages, including French, which are designed for beginners.

What are the main components of the IB French B internal assessment?

The Internal Assessment (IA) for IB French B is an oral exam that comprises two parts. The first part is a presentation and discussion based on a visual stimulus related to one of the themes studied in class, and the second part is a conversation on one or two additional themes. This IA is intended to assess your ability to communicate effectively in spoken French, demonstrating a range of language, including complex structures, and the ability to interact and respond appropriately. Preparation for the IA typically involves a lot of practice speaking French and familiarising yourself with the course themes.

What are the differences between IB French B SL and HL?

While both Standard Level (SL) and Higher Level (HL) French B courses share a common core syllabus, there are some key differences. HL students study two additional literary works in detail, which are not part of the SL course. Furthermore, the external assessments for HL are more demanding: the Paper 1 text-handling exercises involve a wider variety of text types and are marked out of a higher total, and Paper 2 requires students to write two written tasks rather than one. This means that the HL course requires a greater depth of study and a higher level of proficiency in French.

How does the IB French B oral exam work?

The oral exam, which forms the Internal Assessment component of IB French B, involves two parts. First, there is a presentation and guided conversation based on a visual stimulus. This visual is related to a theme you've studied, and you'll be expected to describe the image, present your ideas related to the theme, and engage in a discussion with the teacher. The second part is a conversation based on an additional theme or themes. You'll be expected to demonstrate your ability to discuss and analyse these themes in French, showing a good range of vocabulary and grammatical structures.

Is there a word limit for IB French B written assignments?

Yes, there are word limits for the written assignments in IB French B. For the Standard Level (SL), the written task must be between 250-400 words, excluding the rationale and the bibliography. For the Higher Level (HL), the written assignment has a word limit of 450-600 words, excluding the reflective statement and the bibliography. It's crucial to adhere to these limits, as tasks that are under or over the word limit can be penalised.

Can I switch levels in IB French B during the course?

The possibility of switching between Standard Level (SL) and Higher Level (HL) in any IB subject, including French B, largely depends on the policies of individual schools and also on the timing. Many schools allow students to switch levels during the first year of the Diploma Programme, but it may be challenging to do so in the second year when the syllabi diverge more significantly, and HL students cover additional topics and skills. It's important to discuss this with your French teacher and the IB coordinator at your school to understand what's possible.

How much does the IA contribute to the final IB French B grade?

The Internal Assessment (IA) in IB French B, which is the oral exam, contributes a significant portion of your final grade. For the Standard Level (SL), the IA counts for 25% of the final mark. For the Higher Level (HL), it represents 20% of the overall grade. These proportions highlight the importance of the IA, so dedicated practice and preparation are crucial to perform well in this component of the course.

How can I improve my listening skills for IB French B?

Improving listening skills requires regular practice. It's beneficial to listen to a variety of French-language sources, such as radio broadcasts, podcasts, news reports, and TV shows. Resources like France Culture, RFI Savoirs, and TV5Monde offer audio content on a wide range of topics. Try to listen to something in French every day, even if it's only for a few minutes. You can also use language-learning platforms like FluentU or Lingvist, which provide listening exercises tailored to your level. Over time, you'll become more accustomed to the speed and rhythm of spoken French, and you'll notice a significant improvement in your understanding.

What is the role of the CAS in the IB French B program?

The Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) requirement is a fundamental part of the IB Diploma Programme, but it doesn't directly relate to specific subjects like French B. CAS encourages students to engage in creative activities, physical exercise, and community service, promoting personal growth, self-management, collaboration, and awareness of local and global issues. While CAS experiences don't contribute to your French B grade, you could choose activities that complement your language learning. For instance, you could organise a French film club (Creativity), participate in a French-speaking sports team (Activity), or volunteer for a charity that supports French-speaking communities (Service).

Is it possible to do a bilingual diploma with French B?

Yes, the IB offers a bilingual diploma for students who meet specific requirements. To qualify, you need to take two languages from the Language A: Literature or Language A: Language and Literature subject groups, and one must be in a different language from the other. So, if you're studying French A alongside another Language A, you would be eligible for the bilingual diploma. However, studying French B alone would not make you eligible, as this course falls under Language B, designed for students with some background in the language.

What are some useful resources for IB French B revision?

Beyond your textbook and course materials, there are many resources available for revision. Websites like Quizlet offer flashcards for vocabulary practice, and ExamSnap provides past papers for examination practice. You can also utilise language learning apps like Duolingo and Memrise for additional vocabulary and grammar practice. In addition, YouTube channels such as "Français avec Pierre" offer free French lessons and tips for improving your fluency and comprehension.

How is the written assignment evaluated in IB French B?

The written assignment in IB French B is assessed using specific criteria, which vary slightly between SL and HL. Generally, examiners evaluate the task based on the relevance and clarity of the task response, understanding of the text or texts and their context, organisation and development, language, and register and format. It's crucial to familiarise yourself with these criteria and understand what's expected in each area to maximise your performance in this part of the assessment.

Is there a specific format for the oral examination in IB French B?

Yes, the oral examination in IB French B follows a specific format. It's conducted in two parts: a presentation based on a visual stimulus and a follow-up discussion, then a general conversation on additional themes. The visual stimulus presentation lasts 3-4 minutes at SL and 4-5 minutes at HL. The discussion of the stimulus lasts another 3-4 minutes at SL and 4-5 minutes at HL. Finally, the conversation on additional themes lasts 8-10 minutes at both levels. Remember, the examiner will be assessing your communicative skills, pronunciation, and fluency, as well as your grammatical accuracy, range, and control.

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Professional tutor and Cambridge University researcher

Charles Whitehouse

Written by: Charles Whitehouse

Oxford University - Masters Biochemistry

Charles scored 45/45 on the International Baccalaureate and has six years' experience tutoring IB and IGCSE students and advising them with their university applications. He studied a double integrated Masters at Magdalen College Oxford and has worked as a research scientist and strategy consultant.

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