Well, I did it! After three months, 50+ hours at the auto-école, and 15+ hours spent doing practice tests at home, I passed my code exam this past Wednesday. Even immediately after taking the test and waiting for the results I wasn't sure I had succeeded.
I was asked to take the test at 8:15 in the morning and, because I had never been to the place before, I got up extra early just in case I got lost on the way. The previous evening I had a Mozart Requiem rehearsal until 11pm and by the time I got home, studied a bit and got into bed it was well after midnight, so the night was a short one. I woke up with dreams of code photos and questions to a Requiem soundtrack and it felt like my head was spinning. I did get a little lost on the way to the exam but I was still 20 minutes early. The extra time was used for revising my notes (I managed to fill a 50-page notebook during my studies). At 8:10am the doors opened and all the exam-takers filed into a waiting room. A representative from each auto-école was there to present our papers to the officer and then we proceeded to wait for an hour while he got set up. Once he was ready for us, he called us into the room, one at a time, and asked to see our ID and gave us the boîtier (keypad) with which to record our answers. Each person was asked to sit in specific chairs that were placed around the room. The exam started and my heart was pounding, but once I realized that the questions were easier - or at least more basic - than the ones I had seen during my studies, I started to relax. There were a few questions that I was unsure about but in the end I only got 1 out of 40 wrong (yes, it was a "can I pass this car?" question! I dared to say yes when the answer was no.).
I can't tell you how much of a relief washed over me once I found out I had passed. My need for a French licence is getting down to the wire and I absolutely needed to pass on Wednesday otherwise I would have had to wait for at least another 2 weeks to try again (and then wait for the driving test another 2 weeks minimum after that!). This means that I can proceed with my driving lessons as scheduled and take my practical exam on the 29th and (hopefully!) have my new licence for the beginning of November.
By the end of it all, this experience will cost me around €600 and almost 100 hours. I can't say it's not worth it because I have already learned a lot about driving in France. Even though I've been driving here without incident for 10 years, I still had questions and didn't understand certain intersections or road signs. In the end it's all about safety - even though I see people breaking code rules ALL the time - and safety is a good investment. Of course, this also makes me an even worse backseat driver than I already was!