is an informal term used by French
students for classes préparatoires littéraires
, the two year cycle of classes taken after the baccalauréat
[which is taken at age 17-18] to prepare for the difficult entrance examination
to the École Normale Supérieure
. Only the better and more ambitious students take khâgne - approximately the top 10%. The course is intensive, with around 35 hours of tuition per week and a good deal of work on top of that, and can be very stressful for students. The examinations are difficult and competitive and it is common for students either to repeat the second year of classes or to fail altogether, in which case they usually obtain a Licence
or other qualification.
The classes involve elements of literature, history, philosophy, geography, languages and linguistics - a comprehensive humanities-based education, but students will normally specialise in one or two disciplines.
A disproportionate amount of resources are devoted to khâgne students as against the c.40% of Baccalaureat students who attend a standard university [Faculté]. Critics therefore see it as a feature of the elitism of the French higher education system, especially since the vast majority of successful candidates originate from successful middle-class families. Defenders see it as demonstrating an emphasis on quality.