What a Placement Test Can Teach You

Many American foreign language students find themselves facing a placement test as they transition from High School to College.


This causes many to discontinue studying their High School language, and instead opting for starting a new language. I recently took a practice French placement test from the University of Wisconsin:


The process taught me a lot about the difference between knowing how to speak a language, and knowing how to take grammar exams in a language. Many popular Internet linguists complain that they had been held back during their language learning, and felt defeated in school, because of the poor grades they received on tests.

Others make the point that although you may be able to speak a language with the locals, you are simply parroting the local dialects and must realize that impressing locals does not mean that you possess the proper language skills required to satisfy the high-level grammar and literacy of many professional careers.

If you wish to be employed in a job that requires a foreign language proficiency, you will often be formally tested, and to do well, you must know the rules of that language’s grammar. There are test sites that are designed to help you couple the grammar you should know, with being able to identify them on standardized language tests. Below is one such site for French that I found very interesting:


The first month’s worth of tests are free, and then you pay a subscription to continue. This is a great strategy for improving your test taking, because although you may have great language skills, you’re really being tested on both your language and test taking skills when you sit down for a DILF, DELF, DALF, and other standardized proficiency tests.



With this in mind, I created a strategy for taking proficiency tests in French, and I’m going to begin with the linked French Practice Exam from the University of Wisconsin. To follow along, please print and take the exam….then we’ll continue.

Okay, you’ve taken the test, and you’ve probably already looked at the last page’s answer key. Let’s review the first 25 questions, which test grammar, and why those answers are correct.

Note: Questions 26 – 53 test vocabulary and reading comprehension. Your goal may be to keep track of the grammar areas tested, using practice tests as a guideline, and the types of questions that are given in that tested area.

1. X: Qu’est-ce que tu as trouvé au marché?
Y: Pas grand-chose. Mais j’ai quand même acheté _____

a. des
b. les
c. de
d. _____

What did you find in the market?
Not much. But I still bought ____ tomatoes

This question tests your understanding of the French concept of “some”.

The plural indefinite article, des, is used when referring to more than a single entity. It is not used, however, when general statements are made about a group – statements that are meant to refer to all the entities that make up that group.

Other examples:

Je vois des blattes partout.
I see cockroaches everywhere.

Mon ami vend des fleurs dans le metro.
My friend sells flowers in the subway.

Des oiseaux mangent le fruit de ces arbres.
Birds eat the fruit of these trees.

Des passants ont vu l’accident.
People who were passing by saw the accident.

The answer is A.

2. Le mari de Madame Duhamel est architecte, et elle travaille régulièrement avec _____.

a. les
b. lui
c. eux
d. elle

The husband of Madame Duhamel is an architect, and she works regularly with ____.

This question is a test of the words “le mari”, which is husband, whom Madame Duhamel works with regularly. She therefore works with him, or “lui”.

The answer is B.

3. Moi, l’autre soir, je n’ai pas pu rentrer chez moi parce que _____ de prendre mes clés.

a. j’oublie
b. j’oubliais
c. j’aurais oublié
d. j’avais oublié

I, the other evening, I could not go home because _____ take my keys.

The question is looking to see if you can enter the correct version of the past tense of the verb, forgot (oblier).

We are looking for the past perfect, or pluperfect, because that tense is used to indicate an action in the past that occurred before another action in the past. The latter can be either mentioned in the same sentence or implied. In this question, it is mentioned.

I could not go home (because I had forgotten to take my keys)

Other examples:

Il n’avait pas mangé (avant de faire ses devoirs).
He hadn’t eaten (before doing his homework).

J’étais déjà sorti (quand tu as téléphoné).
I had already left (when you called).

The answer is D.

4. Bien souvent, on dort mal quand on a _____ mangé.

a. très beaucoup
b. trop beaucoup
c. trop
d. très trop

Often, one sleeps badly when one has had too much to eat

This question is looking to see if you know that “trop” has a negative connotation.

très = a lot/very much, and the word can be an adjective or adverb.
beaucoup = a great number, and is usually found with “de”. It can also be used as an adverb (J’aime beaucoup les voitures).
trop = too much, and has a negative connotation

Other examples:

Il fait très froid = It is very cold
Il fait trop froid = It is too cold
Ce thé est très chaud = That tea is very hot
Ce thé est trop chaud = That tea is too hot

The answer is C.

5. _____ n’est pas toujours agréable.

a. De voyager
b. Voyager
c. Voyage
d. En voyageant

To travel is not always pleasant

voyage = travel
en voyageant = traveling
de voyager = traveling

We’re looking for a verb.

The answer is B.

6. Avec le fromage, ça serait bien de boire _____ bon petit verre _____ vin rouge.

a. de …. de
b. un …. de
c. le …. du
d. de …. du

With cheese, it would be nice to drink ___ good small glass ___ red wine.

a good small glass of red wine.

This tests to see if you overuse the “de” and place it in both blanks, confusing the use with the application found in the first question, where it was applied to indicate “some”.

The answer is B.

7. Il a plu _____ tout le week-end.

a. depuis
b. pendant
c. pour
d. sur

It had rained —— all weekend

depuis = since (preposition or adverb)
pendant = during (preposition)
pour = for (preposition)
sur = on (preposition)

This question tests your knowledge of prepositions, specifically the first three, and which one is used for an action that occurred uninterrupted in the past….hence the use of the word “tout”.

The French prepositions depuis, pendant, and—far less commonly—pour each express the duration of an event a little differently, with the result that many English speakers mix up depuis and pendant and overuse pour.

Depuis means “since” or “for.” It is used with a French verb in the present tense to talk about an action that began in the past and continues in the present. Depuis can also indicate something that was occurring in the past when it was interrupted by some other action. In French, this is stated with the imparfait plus passé composé; in English, the past perfect progressive plus simple past.

Pendant means “for” and refers to the entire duration of an action in the past or future, with no relation to the present.

Pour can express the duration of an event only in the future.

The answer is B.

8. Ce matin, mon réveil n’a pas sonné et _____ me dépêcher pour arriver à l’heure au bureau.

a. je doive
b. je dois
c. j’ai dû
d. j’aurai dû

This morning my alarm did not sound and ______ to hurry to arive on time at the office.

This question tests your grasp of the verb “devoir” and using the past tense. In this case, the only choice that is a pst tense is the Passé Composé found in choice “c”.

je dois is the present tense
j’aurai dû is the future tense (will have)
je doive is the subjunctive present tense

The answer is C.

9. X: Comment est-ce que tu as trouvé _____?
Y: A dire vrai, je n’y ai pas assisté.

a. la lecture
b. la conférence
c. le projet
d. l’équipe

How did you find the _____? To tell the truth, I did not attend.

This was a confusing question and I do not know what makes B a better answer than A and C. The D answer makes little sense since l’equipe means “team”.

The answer is B.

10. X: Bonjour, Monsieur. Vous avez des abricots?
Y: Non, Madame. Je regrette. Je n’ai pas _____ abricots.

a. d’
b. les
c. des
d. ______

The preposition de tends to be very difficult for French students, even at advanced levels. Trying to figure out whether to use de, du, de la, or des can be a real challenge and why you see so many questions related to de on tests.

When you wish to use the partitive article for an unknown quantity, you have a choice between:

du (masculine, contraction of de + le) and de la (feminine), and des (plural)

When you have more than one countable thing, use des (like some, in Eng)

In a negative construction, the singular and plural change to de (not any), and that’s what we have in this case.

Because de precedes a vowel, it is d’.

The answer is A.

11. Tu devrais _____ voir un médecin.

a. aller
b. que tu ailles

You should go to see a doctor.

Only two choices, giving you a 50/50 chance. The use of que indicates a subjunctive clause, and that does not apply here, so we can rule out “b”. Test takers may not like having two infinitives in succession but there’s nothing wrong with the sentence construction.

The answer is A.

12. Tu m’as acheté le pantalon noir, _____ il soit trop cher.

a. parce que
b. pour que
c. bien que
d. pendant que

You bought me black pants, _____ it’s too expensive.

This question tests your knowledge of prepositions:

parce que = because
pour que = for (that)
bien que = although
pendant que = while

The only choice that sounds right is “c”.

The answer is C.

13. Puisqu’il fait beau, je voudrais _____ une promenade.

a. fais
b. de faire
c. faire
d. fait

Since the weather is good, I would _____ a walk.

This question tests your knowledge of the Present Infinitive tense of Faire (to do/make), and in this case, it is used in an idiomatic expression. The question can be confusing because you see the conditional “voudrais”.

The answer is C.

14. X. Qui est cet homme avec les grosses lunettes noires?
Y: _____ un médecin.

a. C’est
b. Il est

Who is the man with the large black sunglasses?
_______ is a doctor.

The recognition of when to use c’est and when to use Il est
will always show up in a test, so you have to know when to use which. They can mean things like this is, that is, it is, they are, and even he/she is.

When pluraized, c’est becomes ce sont and il est becomes elle est, ils sont, or elles sont.

c’est – used to describe a situation, modified adverb, modified noun, proper name and stressed pronoun.

il est – used to describe a person, unmodified adverb, unmodified noun and prepositional phrase.

In this case, we are looking to see if the sentence describes a person (doctor) or a situation (person with black sunglasses). Since it is the latter, we go with C’est, not Il est.

Another example:

An unmodified (Il est) vs. modified (c’est) noun.

Il est advocat (He’s a lawyer) vs. Who’s that….C’est un avocat (He’s a lawyer)

Another example:

Elle est actrice – She is an actress
C’est une bonne actrice – She is a good actress

This is a very tricky question, and is sometimes structured with an unmodified adverb (Il est tard – It is late) or a modified adverb (C’est tard – It is too late).

The answer is A.

15. Picasso est un peintre _____ nous admirons beaucoup.

a. que
b. à qui
c. quel
d. _____

Picasso is a painter ___ we admired a lot.

Qui and que are the most often confused relative pronouns, probably because one of the first things French students learn is that qui means “who” and que means “that” or “what.”

In fact, this is not always the case. The choice between qui and que as a relative pronoun has nothing to do with the meaning in English, and everything to do with how the word is used; that is, what part of the sentence it is replacing.

Que replaces the direct object

Qui replaces the subject and indirect object

In this case, we admire the direct object, Picasso.

The answer is A.

16. N’oubliez pas de fermer les fenêtres _____ sortir.

a. avant
b. avant de
c. avant à
d. avant que

Remember to close the windows ______ going out.

This appears to be simply “before” or “avant” but there is a trick to this question because of the verb ‘”sortir”.


The answer is B.

17. Je regrette _____ votre livre et je vais vous en acheter un autre.

a. que j’as perdu
b. que je perde
c. de perdre
d. d’avoir perdu

I’m sorry I lost your book and I’ll buy another one

Choice “a” makes no sense, since it should be j’ai perdu.
Choice “b” looks like the right choice…but the verb is in the present tense.
Choice “d” has the correct tense, but looks incorrect to the English eye because of the d’ preceding avoir.

The answer is D.

18. Cet hôtel et _____ que nous avons choisi se trouvent loin du centre ville.

a. celle-là
b. ceux-ci
c. ce
d. celui

This hotel and _____ that we chose are far from downtown.

So we are looking for the correct “that/this one”

This is a test of your knowledge of demonstrative pronouns, which have to agree in number and gender with the noun they qualify.

Celui, celle, ceux, celles (‘this one’ or ‘that one’ in the singular; ‘these,’ ‘those’ or ‘the ones’ in the plural) are demonstrative pronouns. They replace a specific noun, which has been mentioned or is obvious from context, in order to avoid repeating it. They agree in gender and number with the nouns they replace

Choice “c” is a demonstrative adjective (masculine – ce, cet, ces), not pronoun, so we can rule that one out immediately.

Demonstrative pronouns may also have an element of distance to contend with, which are clarified by the addition of –ci and -là
which is seen by the matrix below.

Mas. sing. Fem. sing. Masc. pl. Fem. pl. Meaning
Proximity celui-ci celle-ci ceux-ci ceux-la this / these one(s)
Distance celui-là celle-là ceux-là celles-là that / those one(s)

Because the possessive pronoun is far from downtown, the most logical answer is celui-là or celle-là…but the following word, “que” negates the distance element, making the only choices that work, either celle (fem) or celui (masc).

The answer is D.

19. Réflection d’un touriste: _____ Bordeaux les enfants parlent français!

a. à
b. aux
c. en
d. dans

Reflection of a tourist: _____ Bordeaux children speak French!

We are simply looking for the correct “in” word to use but you are alerted to the location used, Bordeaux, and know that different countries, cities, islands and regions take certain articles. All four choices could be correct given that criteria, but the use does not follow “living in”, “going to”, or “coming from”.

We are only looking for the right version of “in”.

Generally speaking, “à” means to, at, or in.

En can mean “in” or “to” when followed directly by a noun that doesn’t need an article

Dans means “in” a location when followed by an article plus noun.

Since there are no articles in the sentence for Bordeaux, the use of à to describe a manner, style or characteristic is the best answer.

The answer is A.

20. Ah, voilà les papiers de la voiture! _____ , s’il te plaît.

a. Me les donne
b. Donne-moi-les
c. Donne-les-moi
d. Donne les à moi

Ah, there’s the car’s papers! Give them to me, please.

To effectively use French object pronouns, you need to understand what they mean and where they go in the sentence. In the affirmative imperative, direct-object pronouns (like reflexive pronouns) follow the verb and are attached to it with hyphens; in addition…me changes to moi and te changes to toi.

The answer is C.

21. X: À qui est ce cahier?
Y: Il est _____.

a. à moi
b. de moi
c. mien
d. mon

To whom is this book?
This book belongs to whom?

It is _____ (mine).

The choice comes down to “a” and “c”.

“à moi” is emphatic and focuses on ownership.

“Il est le mien” also means “It’s mine”, but focuses on the object. The choice is also missing the “le”.

The answer is A.

22. _____ habillé mon petit frère avant de l’emmener en promenade.

a. Je vais
b. Je fais
c. J’ai
d. J’allais

I dressed my little brother before taking him for a walk

This is the simplest question in a long time, but you may be so rattled by the diffficulty of preceding questions that this “gimme” question gets overthought.

You know it’s past tense because of the “avant – before” qualifier in the sentence.

Habillé is past participle, so what is the pronoun and helping verb? I had = j’ai

The answer is C.

23. X: Tu sais que Monique va bientôt recevoir son diplôme?
Y: Que le temps passe vite!

a. Il n’y a pas de quoi.
b. Ne t’en fais pas.
c. Je n’en sais rien.
d. Oh là là!

You know Monique is about the graduate (is going to receive her diploma)
How time flies!

The next reply is:

Your welcome
Don’t worry
I do not know
Oh my!

This is a strange question, and I can justify both B and D.

The answer is D.

24. X: Je viens de gagner 100.000 € à la loterie.
Y: _______ Tu as de la chance.

a. Sans blague!
b. Quel dommage!
c. Moi non plus!
d. C’est pas grave!

I just won 100,000 Euros in the lottery
_____ You have luck

No kidding!
What a pity!
Me neither!
It’s okay! (No problem)

No kidding! would be the most logical answer.

The answer is A.

25. X: J’ai eu 20/20 à l’examen!
Y: Quelle bonne note!

a. Bof!
b. Comme tu veux.
c. Chapeau!
d. Ça ne me dit rien!

I got 20/20 on the exam
What a good score!

As you like!
That tell’s me nothing!

Chapeau is such a strange reply, that I would think it’s the equivalent of “Hat’s off” in English, and is the only logical reply.

The answer is C.

The rest of the exam is reading comprehension, and tests the breadth of your french vocabulary.

If you wish to see how well your listening skills have improved, why not visit this page:


and consider using your Downloadthemall! application.


2 thoughts on “What a Placement Test Can Teach You

  1. David Burnett July 12, 2015 / 11:24 am

    Well I started out really well with the first half of the test you posted, then it went awry. To be honest I have focused very little on studying grammar but more on vocabulary and tuning my ear to understand people when they are speaking French, so it figures. My thoughts are if I can understand people talking then I can pick up correct grammar passively through listening. Then I can go back through the grammar book and correct anything I might have missed.

    Like on many of the about.com grammar tests I proudly get a “Oh la, la tu devrais etudier”.

    • Toussaint July 12, 2015 / 12:07 pm

      That test was very tricky, and I thought it was a good exercise for my blog readers because so many of them are students that take exams for job placements. I believe I’ll post a few more like it, and then see if I can’t come up with a test prep system, of some sort. A decade ago, I took the Project Management Certification test, and everyone kept saying…a lot of people don’t pass it on the first try, and that sounded so strange. Of course, I did pass it on the first try, and that’s because I studied in such a way that I would. I even helped two of my friends pass it on the first try, years later (cause I saved my notes).

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