The commentary – two fatal mistakes you must not make, part 2

This is the second part of the article on the commentary of the épreuve orale. If you haven't read the first part already, follow this link.


Step 1: identify the key debate. As you read the news, you need to read with a view to synthesising your material on each topic (the environment, Brexit, Trumpism, gender inequality): you need to gain a sense of the general outline of the debate on each of the main issues: what are the enjeux? what do experts (journalists, academics, politicians) actually debate when they discuss these subjects? You will find that these key debates change very little over time – true, the Brexit and coronavirus situations are evolving quite rapidly, but the fundamental debate in each of these areas remains the same.

Identifying the general outline of these debates might be quite hard at first, but it is vital (and we’re going to show you how to do it below). Having a general outline will ensure that your notes on each subject have coherence. Otherwise, you will simply have a disconnected collection of facts and figures, and it will be very difficult to use those facts effectively in a colle or le jour J. By contrast, if you see the general direction of the debate, your connaissances will have a fil conducteur running through them, which will make them easier to mobilise in a coherent commentary (and an examiner at HEC once said to me “coherence is everything.”)

So what might this general outline – this synthesis – of a debate look like? If we take the example of the environment, the debate on this topic, like many others, has remained fairly constant in recent years. Broadly, the general outline of that debate goes something like this:

The climate emergency is getting worse and worse, something which is exacerbated by the fact that few politicians are prepared to commit to the large-scale action which is, according to scientists, essential if we are to stop or reverse global warming; however, there is some hope in the numerous local measures being taken around the globe, but it is debatable whether these small-scale measures are enough to compensate for widespread political inaction.

You will see that this synthesis contains four sub-parts:

  • Part 1: The worsening problem

  • Part 2: Political inaction

  • Part 3: Small-scale measures

  • Part 4: Are small-scale measures enough?

As we said, it will take some work to develop a similar synthesis of the debate for the other subjects in Anglophone actualité, but as soon as you start to read the news, you will begin to form a sense of how articles contrast with or complement each other, and that will give you a sense of the shape of the debate. The good thing is that, because (as said) these debates don’t change very often, the work of reading and synthesising that you do early in prépa will still be valid at the end of your two years.

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