Travaux dirigés- even the French way to say “seminar” sounds terrifying. After my second week of seminars, I can tell you that they are quite scary, they do require a lot of work, and they do feel a bit like being back at school…
UK SEMINARS VS. FRENCH SEMINARS
- You are graded on participation in class. It depends on your teacher, but this can come about in many ways. My Contract teacher asks someone to give a presentation in front of the class each week. Whereas my Administrative teacher just prefers the students to answer if they know, like you would in the UK. Either way, it is about getting your voice heard, and making sure you can bank marks wherever you can!
- You get given these green cards to fill out your details, and a photo. It’s a card to record your marks. This was definitely a shock, as you wouldn’t see this at Warwick. It just goes to show how seriously participation is taken.
- Apparently they are horrible to students here. I’ve heard that they really want to make a fool out of you. Luckily I haven’t experienced this yet, but I do have this nasty feeling that it is on the horizon. Wish me luck! I’ll definitely need it, because 60% of the time I genuinely have no idea what is going on.
- The work is tough. I’d say the main difficulty is actually understanding the sense of the fiches. In fact, the reason your work will take you longer is mainly because you don’t understand what something means. It’s quite disheartening when a French student tells you they finish one fiche d’arrêt in about 15 minutes, whereas it takes me an hour to get anywhere near to finished.
1) BE PREPARED
Bit of an obvious one to start with, but you don’t want to be called on and have to give the embarrassing “je ne sais pas” line- especially as you are marked on participation! So how do you prepare? Well, you get given several cases, and you are asked to prepare fiche d’arrêts for all of them. The most we’ve had so far for one TD is 8, and the least has been 5. You really need to focus on the question de droit– this is what the teachers are really looking to make sure you know. In fact, we’ve never been asked about the facts- it’s always been about the question.
Even if your task sheet doesn’t say that you have to the fiches, do them anyway- you need to be able to follow the conversation in class and I think having the fiches in front of you is the easiest way to be able to do this.
Then, I’d say be prepared to discuss some of the lecture notes surrounding the topic, as there will be cases there that the teacher may ask you about. In this sense, it is quite like seminars in England. Answering these questions is a good way to get your voice heard- you won’t be wrong because your lecturer has already explained it!
Don’t do anything half-heartedly- you really need to put in the extra mile when preparing your seminars here. Also, you never know what they’ll collect in. Essentially, it has to be your best work, all of the time. In the long run, it is worth it- you’ll find revision easier later on.
2) LISTEN… CAREFULLY
Another obvious one, but let me tell you what happened to me when I decided to tune out in my first droit administratif seminar:
I thought my teacher was just talking about something the lecturer had discussed already (it sounded vaguely familiar) so I just stopped listening. Was I thinking about anything important? Probably not. Anyways, it turns out he wasn’t “just talking”, he was actually setting an additional dissertation that had to be handed in the next week, on top of all the seminar work that had been set.
So I turned up to the second seminar, blind-sided by the fact that he said he was going to call 5 names from the register to collect the essays from- can you imagine my face?! My heart hadn’t sunk like that for a while. Luckily, luckily, my name was not called. It was a good lesson for me though: never again will I not pay attention. And also, if I don’t understand, I’ll make sure to ask somebody in class. You’ll be very happy to know that I am fully aware that we have a commentaire d’arrêt to do for next week.
3) ASK YOUR TEACHER/CLASSMATES FOR HELP
Following on from the last point, if you aren’t sure about the work for the following week, you should just ask somebody. Be sure to ask someone in your own seminar, as different teachers set different things. It is really strange that additional essays are set each week, but this is another way of being graded, so you have to take it seriously. Here’s another horror story of mine to highlight the importance of speaking to others about the work:
In my second Contract seminar, the teacher came around collecting peoples commentaires- of course I had no clue that this was set, because he didn’t specify in the first seminar that a commentaire was due. (I was definitely listening throughout contract). It turns out that the other students knew (from last year) that you had to respond to a certain set of questions on the seminar sheets in the form of a commentaire, whereas I just thought you had to answer them in bullet points.
Luckily (again), my contract teacher was very understanding. Once I got past the embarrassment of showing him my one sheet of bullet points, in comparison to the 4 page commentaires he had just received, I admitted that I didn’t realise a commentaire was required, and he happily explained that it needed to be done each week.
There’s another reason to ask: things are done in a certain way in France, and they don’t really stop to explain things that have been expected from students since first year.
So, get used to hearing the phrase “comme l’année dernière” and then get used to saying “je suis Erasmus”, in order to get clued in on what the hell you’re supposed to be doing…