TCF stands for a lot of things, according to the dictionary of acronyms: Treating Customers Fairly, The Citizens’ Foundation, Totally Chlorine Free, Tax Control Framework, Twentieth-Century Fox, Tai Chai Fundamentals, Total Cash Flow and Track Circuit Failure, not forgetting Thousand Cubic Feet and also Trillion Cubic Feet – which is unfortunate as you wouldn’t really want to get these last two muddled up.

However, the TCF which concerns me is the Test de Connaisance du Français. But the confusion isn’t completely over as this test comes in various formats. There’s the TCF à l’acquistion de la nationalité française, TCF ANF, which is the one I’m interested in. Then there’s the TCF pour la démande d’admission préalable – TCF DAP for short. Non-Francophone students wishing to take a Bachelor’s degree or higher, or go to Architectural School, must take and pass this exam. Another TCF variant is the TCF Québec which you need to have firmly tucked under your belt if you wish to emigrate to French-speaking Canada.

The TCFs vary in what they require you to do. For the ANF version, the least demanding, thank goodness, you have to do an oral comprehension test, answering 29 questions in 30 minutes. This you take alongside other candidates. There’s also a speaking test that lasts 12 minutes, and is on an individual basis. Overall you need to achieve level B1, pre-intermediate, in order to pass which equates to gaining between 300-399 marks out of a total of 699. The language levels are graded A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2, in rising order of competence. It’s kind of counter-intuitive to my mind as usually A denotes the highest grade, but this is France after all.

The TCF oral comprehension is a one-size-fits-all type of exam. It doesn’t come in different versions reflecting those various levels. There’s just the one. Thus questions start at the A1 level and become increasingly harder, so that all but the toughest fall by the wayside en route. However, since the questions are multiple-choice it’s worth having a stab in the dark at the fiendishly hard ones as there’s a 25% chance of getting the right answer! I don’t know, as yet, but I imagine and sincerely hope the speaking test is more flexible. I’ve no doubt the experienced examiners can pinpoint within a few sentences your level of competence and will, hopefully, tailor the test to that.

The other TCFs (DAP and Québec) incorporate a written comprehension and an ominously named maîtrise des structures de la langue – mastery of language structures. And if that’s not enough, then there are also two optional TCF tests you can ask to do to help bump up your score, namely a written expression exam and an oral expression exam.

I’m revising hard and, depending on how the most recent session went, oscillating between calm, quiet confidence and gibbering, crushing despair. All I need to do is scrape less than half marks to pass. I’m hoping that O-level French from 1978 and surviving in this country for 13 years without too many faux pas, mixed in with a good dollop of misplaced optimism, will get me through!

Public domain picture from 3021668 © Nuno Filipe Castro Monteiro