News, best practices and information sharing about the French BFI (bac français international) 

The French International Baccalaureate (BFI) versus the International Baccalaureate (IB)

by Catherine Boalch, University Counselor
American Section of the Lycée International de Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Created in 1970 in Geneva, the International Baccalaureate (IB) was originally envisioned as a French or English-language diploma. As such, it owes several of its key characteristics to French pedagogy, notably the inclusion of a mandatory philosophy course, Theory of Knowledge, and the breadth requirement that students take subjects from six disciplinary areas. A bilingual version of the IB was offered until the 1980s at several public schools in France, including the Lycée International of St. Germain en Laye, until it was replaced by the ‘Option International’ of the national French baccalaureate. Due to its fundamentally French character, the ‘OIB’ has never experienced the massive international expansion of the IB. It operates in roughly 300 schools and graduates 3,000 students per year, compared to 5,400 schools graduating 1 million students per year for the IB.

The new Baccalauréat Français International (BFI), which will deliver its first diplomas in 2024, blends the best practices of both programs and increases the weighting of the non-French curriculum, with the ambition of attracting more international students to the French baccalaureate.

Like the IB, the BFI demands both depth and breadth across the humanities, sciences, and social sciences, assessed through a combination of coursework and international exams. Both require students to pursue an extended individual research project, the Extended Essay for the IB and the ‘Global Issues’ oral presentation for the BFI, and both include philosophy. Both curricula are also notably challenging compared to many national programs, with students investing 40+ hours a week in their studies in and out of the classroom, leaving less time for extracurriculars.

Compared to the IB, the BFI has a heavier emphasis on literature, history-geography, and languages. All students must be bilingual, and many will study four languages simultaneously. The IB requires students to take a visual or performing art class and to engage in community service, which the BFI does not. The BFI places a heavy emphasis on students’ speaking skills as they pass five oral exams, which count for fully 30% of their final overall grade.

While not all schools offer all subjects, the chart below offers a general comparison of the BFI and IB.

Baccalaureat Français International (BFI) International Baccalaureate (IB)
Bilingual, trilingual, or quadrilingual versions offered in French and 16 languages/cultures. Offered primarily in English (88%), Spanish (11%), and French (1%) with native-level literature available in 55 languages
3000+ graduates per year 1 million graduates per year
Philosophy Theory of Knowledge
Global Issues: Assessed by oral presentation of independent research project on topic related to contemporary society of 2nd native language Extended Essay. Independent student research project assessed by essay.
Native-level literature class equivalent to Higher Level (300 class hours). Focus on close textual analysis, aesthetics, commentary. Assessed by oral exam, written exam of two essays. Native-level literature class, 240 class hours for Higher Level (HL), 150 hours for Standard Level (SL). Focus on close textual analysis, aesthetics, commentary. Assessed by written exam of two essays, oral activity and 3rd essay for HL.
Three specialties from 13 choices along arts, humanities, social sciences, science, and math. Two kept in the final year, equivalent to Higher Level (360 hours) with the 3rd equivalent to standard level (144 hours) May be taught 2/3 in French and 1/3 in a second language. Three Higher Level subjects chosen from 6 disciplinary areas: native language, foreign language, the arts (optional), mathematics, sciences, social studies (individual and society).
History-Geography: For most BFI students, taught 50% in French and 50% in the native language, equivalent to Higher Level (288 class hours). Assessed by oral exam and written exam of one essay and one document analysis. Written exam can be replaced by AP History. ‘Individuals and Societies’ Higher Level or Standard Level required course from among global politics, history, geography, economics, anthropology, philosophy, religion, business, psychology.
Foreign language: All students pursue one or two foreign languages on top of their bilingual or trilingual curriculum. Foreign language taught as Higher or Standard Level.
Mathematics Specialty in final two years equivalent to IB math analysis & approaches HL. Replacing specialty with ‘additional math’ elective in final year (3h/wk) equivalent to SL. Mathematics offered at four levels of difficulty and intensity: Applications and Interpretations HL or SL or Analysis and Approaches HL or SL.
Core curriculum including French literature, history-geography, general math-sciences, a foreign language, civics, physical education. Three Standard Level subjects chosen from six disciplinary areas: native language, foreign language, the arts (optional), mathematics, sciences, social studies (individual and society).
Visual Art, Music, Theater, Film available as options (3h/week) or specialties at selected schools Art, Music, Theater, Cinema, Dance available at standard or higher level at selected schools.
No equivalent Creativity, Activity, Service  (CAS) component

Sample BFI student program, with equivalencies to IB

As suggested by the list below, students in the BFI (34-38 per week) have significantly more class hours than in the IB.

BFI student, bilingual French-American IB student
English Literature    English Literature HL
History-Geography (in English and French) History or Geography HL
Mathematics specialty Mathematics Analysis and Approaches HL
Physics-Chemistry specialty Physics or Chemistry HL
French Literature (penultimate year) Literature SL
Economics-Sociology (penultimate year) Economics SL
Foreign Language (both years)    Foreign Language SL
Philosophy Theory of Knowledge
Global Issues Extended Essay
General Math-Sciences (2h/wk)  
Civics (0.5h/wk)  
2nd foreign language (optional)  
Expert or additional math (optional)  

Read More about the International Baccalaureate

The nonprofit educational organization Mission Laïque Française has a wealth of information about the international baccalaureate (IB). Click here for their web site.

click here for the FULL IB REPORT (PDF)

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BFI Key Facts & Dates

  • The OIB was phased out starting in September 2022. It has been fully replaced by the BFI.
  • Students graduating in 2024 will be the first class to receive the new BFI diploma.
  • The BFI name is more fitting: Instead of being called an ‘international option’ it is the French international baccalaureate.