ENS Radioastronomy Laboratory - LERMA UMR 8112

Education//Préparation à l'agrégation externe de sciences physiques

Last update 09-29-2009 02:03 pm / François Levrier

Back to topic Education

The French education system has quite a few specificities. After high-school, many students choose to follow the competitive courses known as "classes préparatoires", instead of going to college. If the programs are basically the same as the first two years of college, the rhythm of studies is quite more intense. As a result, students are better prepared for the competitions organized by the "Grandes Écoles", specialized schools delivering degrees after generally two to four years. Most of these schools deliver engineering degrees, but some, like the ENS, are meant to train scientists and teachers.

Another specificity of the French education system is the "agrégation". It is a nationwide competition organised to recruit teachers at the high-school level and for the "classes préparatoires". There are many of these competitions, in French, history, geography, most foreign languages, and of course physics. The "agrégation" in physics includes some chemistry, and conversely the "agrégation" in chemistry includes some physics.

The competition is made of a written part and an oral part. The written part takes place around april and is made up of two "compositions" and one "problème". The "compositions", one in physics, one in chemistry, test students on subjects they are bound to have seen during their training, while the "problème" treats questions which are beyond the usual scope of the competition, to assess the candidate's ability to face a new problem, to propose models and interpretations.

The oral part takes place around June and July, and is reserved for students who have passed the written part. It is made up of two "leçons" and one "montage". The "leçons", one in physics, one in chemistry, put the candidate in their future position of having to teach class on a well-defined subject, at a given level (usually high-school for chemistry and "classes préparatoires" for physics). The "montage" is the last, often dreaded, test: the candidate has to present and perform physics experiments illustrating a given subject, such as optical spectroscopy, fluid dynamics, physical constants, semiconductor devices, etc...

I am presently employed by the ENS, as an "agrégé préparateur'', which means that I teach general physics to students preparing for the "agrégation" in physics. More precisely, I am in charge of training them in statistical physics and thermodynamics. My main activity however, is to supervise practical courses where students perform classical experiments in the various fields of physics. These sessions are essential if they wish to be successful in the "montage".