In the French language, the term “coping” is not a familiar one, nor is there an easy translation for the word. However, the word turned up recently in a question on the French national exam to earn a high school degree. The 350,000+ students who took the test were very upset by the term’s appearance, and 12,000 of the students have shown their displeasure by signing a petition arguing that the question that used the term was “too difficult.” The petition was posted to a social media site known as and was intended to influence the Education Ministry.

The word appeared in a passage from the best-selling novel “Atonement” by Ian McEwan; the passage was in turn part of the exam. The English reading comprehension part of the exam is required to demonstrate an intermediate level of proficiency in two foreign languages.

After the English passage in which the word “cope” appeared, two questions about a character named Turner were asked: “What concerns him about the situation?” and “How is Turner coping with the situation?”

Students described the questions as “incomprehensible” and “impossible to answer,” while others felt that the petition to the Education Ministry made the students look foolish.

“This petition is bothering me. We had already insulted Victor Hugo last year during the French baccalaureate, so it bothers me to be part of this generation that is only complaining and looking like idiots,” stated one female student, referring to a controversy last year when students complained that a section asking them to analyze a Hugo poem, “Le Crépuscule,” was far too difficult.

Some experts defended the students by stating that the concept of “cope” is too advanced for high school students and that there is not real equivalent in the French language and French mind. Others blamed the French educational system, which was faulted for not giving students enough of a chance to develop fluency before taking the exam.

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