La grammaire essentielle pour les épreuves d’anglais au concours : what you really need to know

What grammar do you actually need for the épreuves d’anglais in the concours? Most prépa students that I meet have spent their time learning the wrong type of English. A lot of them use grammar books which claim to be aimed at prépa students, but which in fact are no different from the books used by bac or university students. But prépa is different from both the bac and university – and indeed from “real life”. Never forget that the exercises you have to do in the concours are highly specialised, and that means that you need a specific boîte d’outils of grammatical structures, and you certainly don’t need everything you might find in a grammar book. So what is the right way to learn grammar for the concours?

Let’s look first at some wrong ways. There are three main tactics that I see students adopting. The first is relying on the grammar books I mentioned above. Now, a grammar book is a useful reference tool, but you need to use it intelligently, not indiscriminately. I once saw a student studying on his own, diligently working through his book from “A” (Adjectives) to “V” (Verb tenses), without any thought for what use any of it might be in prépa. I asked him why he was studying the future perfect continuous; where did he think he was going to need to say “will have been doing” in any of the exercises of his concours? He was – unsurprisingly – unable to tell me. In fact, you are almost never going to need the future perfect continuous anywhere in the concours except possibly in a thème, which means that it’s definitely not a priority! His time would have been better spent ensuring that he had thoroughly mastered the table of irregular verbs, which are unavoidable in the concours. At least then his commentary would not have been peppered with “this has showed” and “they have chose”!

The second tactic consists in hoping that the grammar you learnt for the bac will be enough to get you through the concours. It won’t. I very often ask students if they can tell me what we need “should” and “must” and the present continuous for in prépa, and I get answers such as “should is for giving advice”, “must is for giving orders”, “the present continuous is for talking about what I’m doing now.” Now, all three of these things are true but just think for a moment: who are you going to advise in the concours? Certainly not the examiners! Now imagine giving them an order – that is not likely to end well for you. And do you think the jury has any interest in being told that you are writing your essay now? These uses have

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