Students should have been able to 'cope with' exam, according to researchers at Cambridge University Press.

Over 12,000 French students have signed a petition about an "incomprehensible" English baccalaureate exam. Many of the complaints focused on the use of the expression 'cope with', which was used in a question about Ian McEwan's novel Atonement.

Some expressed concern that the expression is not very common, and many students felt that it was simply too difficult.

In order to settle the argument, researchers at Cambridge University Press have looked into the term using the Cambridge English Corpus, a multi-billion word collection of English texts.

Their findings show that 'cope with' is not uncommon in the English language, contrary to claims made by some students. It appears 18.5 times per million words in the Cambridge English Corpus. (For context, 'hello' only appears 16.1 times per million words). 'Cope with' is used twice as frequently in written English compared to spoken English. It is also three times as common in British as in American English. It might be a harder term to pick up if you're learning English via American TV programmes and films, or by moving to the US, but that shouldn't be a problem for students learning to write essays in a classroom.

The Cambridge English Corpus can also be used to look specifically at writing from people learning English, at a range of different proficiency levels. Interestingly, 'cope with' appears 31 times per million words in this collection of writing, so learners of English are actually even more likely to use it than proficient users of the language.

Commenting on the petition, teacher Carol Just wrote: “This word ‘to cope’ is unusually hard to translate into French, and the English notion is difficult to understand even for experienced adult learners because there is no real equivalent in the French language and in the French mind.” However, the team in Cambridge have found that 'cope with' is used more frequently by French speaking students than by students from almost any other country, so some of them at least have managed to get their head around it.

Cambridge University Press are looking for people from all language backgrounds to get involved in their research – send an email to corpus@cambridge.org to find out more.

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Their findings show that 'cope with' is not uncommon in the English language, contrary to claims made by some students. I
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