Is the first lesson of each section really hard?
I've been finding it really difficult to get through the first lesson of each section recently. For example, ten or more tries before I get a pass.
I've been wondering if the Duolingo algorithm is even paying attention to my flailing or will it only adjust once I pass a lesson?
I was reading the Duolingo blog, and it states, "Every time you finish a Duolingo lesson, translation, test, or practice session, you provide valuable data about what you know and what you’re struggling with. Our system uses this info to plan future lessons and select translation tasks specifically for your skills and needs. "
Does "finish a Duolingo lesson" mean that you had to pass or is it including failed attempts? Because in my experience, it doesn't seem to be adjusting for failed attempts. And if it's not, maybe it should.
One explanation I could think of is that you might need time to get used to a new grammatical concept. It might seem that the later lessons are easier, but it could actually be that your understanding of the grammar is improving.
Maybe you need to modify a little your approach. Instead of doing the lesson ten times, try to keep notes the first time, for every error you make, then check a grammar book, or an online source like http://french.about.com/ or http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/French and try to find why your answers were marked as wrong. After that, the second time should be easier, and you will be able to pass the first lesson of each section faster.