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    Examinations: What’s the Point?

    November 10, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    This is only our second time doing exams, but I am already seeing such good from it, that I want to commit to do it after every single term {barring extreme circumstances, of course}. I have been pondering what the various benefits of an examination might be, and this is what I have come up with {or remembered from my reading in Charlotte’s books} so far.

    An exam…

    • Encourages the student to pay attention. I already see a difference between this term and the previous term. The previous term was concluded with our first–ever–exam. Because we had never done one before, my son didn’t really know what to expect, and that is just fine. But this term I noticed that he mentioned exams a couple times. He obviously saw the exam as yet another reason to pay attention and remember what he learned. Because we do not study for exams, he knows that he will not get a second-chance at the information {well, he will, but it won’t be the same chance because we don’t repeat the exact same thing over and over, if that makes sense}.
    • Tells me if we are using the right curriculum. A living book contains contagious ideas. Generally, the ideas are captivating and easy to remember. I don’t want to say that all learning is easy, but in general, living books are interesting enough that they are a pleasure to narrate and to remember. If we ever had a book that resulted in consistently terrible narrations and exams, and he was still doing great in all other areas, I would conclude that the book was a bad fit and I needed to replace it with something better.
    • Tells me if I am doing a good job. This particular child learns in earnest. He really wants to know, and he tries very hard. {There was a day when this was not so, and praise God, he has been refined.} Because of this, if he did horribly on an exam, I would have to decide whether the problem was the book…or me. Did I rush through narrations because it was almost lunch time and we were behind? Did he ask questions that I answered poorly? All of that will show during exams. The exams will, in a sense, convict me of my crimes.
    • Offers a final chance to celebrate all we have learned. We try to make the oral examination night feel festive. Grandparents come over, we play fun music, eat a meal together, and so on. He receives compliments on a job well done. The day after, we make a celebratory dessert during school hours. I have been generally bad about marking time and recognizing moments worth celebrating. The end of the term is a natural place to stop and be grateful.
    • Lets me know if I will want to cover something again in the near future. We have only completed two of the three written exams, and it is already completely obvious that his cursive characters still need work. I’m not surprised, but it is nice to have it confirmed. If I discover other gaps, I will then have to decide if it is really worth going back or not.
    • Generally lets me know where we need improvement. Last year’s written exams revealed to me more than ever that my student needed grammar coaching and spelling lessons. The oral exams told me he needed to be trained to make eye contact when speaking to a group of people and to move with confidence even when nervous. Little things like this are revealed, even though grammar, spelling, and rhetorical skills aren’t the point of the test.
    • Reveals all sorts of things, really. Last year, I tried a written narration, even though I thought he was a bit young and I pretty much never required writing from him. I did it out of curiosity. On the first day, he could barely eke out three sentences, and I don’t think they had any periods or capital letters. But the last day, he was writing half a page {with very bad grammar}. What I learned was the marvelous power that lies in daily writing. It is amazing to me what an exam can teach me about teaching my children.
    • Gets the child comfortable with a more stressful situation. He gets a little nervous, I’ve noticed. I think that’s good for him. Although I don’t do all of my teaching with an aim to “prepare him for college,” tests are a fact of life. I want him to be able to take a test, or answer questions before a panel in an interview, with calm confidence. This is a step toward reaching that goal.

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  • Reply Mariana M. January 16, 2017 at 4:03 am

    Brandy, I’m so thankful for your blog(s)!!!! I’m about to start our first ever exam week today and, even though I had all the questions prepared and I was feeling really good about it, I needed a boost… a pat on my back to let me know it’s going to be ok!
    This post (that seems to be from the year my YR 1 son was born) was just what I needed!
    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences!
    Best regards,

  • Reply Ellen November 10, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    Very interesting. I wish I could come over to your house and talk Ambleside with you. Such a hard thing to get my brain around without seeing the books… If you’re ever in N.C. Sigh….

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