The summary – four simple questions to ask yourself

How should you do a summary (or résumé synthétique) of a text in the épreuve orale of the concours? In our experience, this is an exercise in which students lack any viable method, and so perform quite badly. However, though worth fewer marks than other parts of the épreuve orale, the summary is a crucial stage as it lays the foundations for what follows: if you miss the point of the text, your commentary will be hors sujet. The good news is that the examiners, in their rapports de jury, which they publish each year and which are freely available online, give clear instructions regarding what they want. Below, we’ll give you a méthode which meets the examiners’ criteria, and which consists in answering four simple questions.

Before you can answer these four questions, though, you need to answer a preliminary question, regarding the type of text that you have in front of you. With most students I meet, if they have any method at all for the summary, it is usually a one-size-fits-all method which they try to use regardless of the type of text they are given to study. But the texts that you could be given (all coming from British and American news websites) divide into two distinct types, and both require not just a different method, but also a whole series of different phrases for referring to and discussing the text. The first type of texts are news reports, whose emphasis is on the facts of a case; comment or analysis is not provided in these texts, and this is what distinguishes them from the second type of texts, which we could call comment texts or opinion texts or analyses, and, as the names suggest, these do offer interpretation of the news in some form or other. All reputable newspapers clearly indicate the difference between news and comment texts, typically putting the first type under the heading “News” and the second type under headings such as “Opinion”, “Comment” or “Analysis”.

This distinction between pure news reports on the one hand and comment pieces on the other is crucial for you because it means there is no single summary method that will work for both types of text (despite students’ – and some teachers’ – best efforts): you need two different methods – one for each type of text. Today the method we’re going to give you is intended only for news reports and not for opinion/comment or analysis texts (find the method for opinion texts here). Our reason for starting with news texts is that they are far more common across all the épreuves orales in various schools: at HEC more than half of the texts used are news reports, while the videos used by X resemble news reports in that they often lack an explicit opinion.

So how do you tell the difference between a news report and an opinion text? Remember that on the day of the épreuve, and perhaps in your colles in your prépa, you won’t see which part of the news website your text has been taken from – News or Comment – so you’ll need to be able to identify what type of text you have in front of you, in order to choose the correct summary method. The most reliable indicator of a news report is that the grammar in the title is somehow simplified and/or abbreviated. This title from the Daily Telegraph is a good example:

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