First, a confession: we do not tend to do every exam question. In fact, last term we did only a few questions each, and the term before that (aka the-term-that-shall-not-be-named) we didn’t even do exams. However, we are improving. My goal this term is to have each child answer at least half of the term’s exam questions. Now that that’s off my chest, what are exams?
Charlotte Mason Style Exams
To start with, they are to be pleasant:
They appear to enjoy doing this; indeed, the examinations which come at the end of each term are a pleasure; the only difficulty is that small children want to go on ‘telling.’ Their words are taken down literally. — Volume 3
Second, they follow the normal school schedule, meaning subject types are altered, giving the mind a rest:
The examination lasts a week, and to write the whole of their work would be fatiguing at this stage. The plan followed is, that the examination in each subject shall be done in the time for that subject on the time-table. — Volume 3
Lastly, the student starts in form I ( approximately ages 6-8) by dictating their answers to the parent or teacher. But by form III (around age 12) they are expected to write all of their answers themselves, with form II (9-11 years old) being a time of transition.
Preparing the Exams
We follow the Ambleside Online schedules fairly closely. But we do have differences with it. Most are options, for example, my youngest son read about Shakespeare this term, but not Queen Elizabeth. My middle son is reading Hillyer’s A Child’s Geography of the World this year, and we will save Halliburton for year 6. Other changes are generally minor: I didn’t have the energy to assign Wild Animals I Have Known in term 1, so my middle son will read it in term 3. I chose to skip Age of Chivalry for my eldest (don’t throw tomatoes, I tried including it). I also let my children choose their own Bible reading.
The first thing I did was copy their exams into Evernote. Then I read through each child’s exams, and removed anything we didn’t cover. If I had changed the schedule of a book, I went to the term it was scheduled in to grab an exam question. (And now you see, as I did, it really is easier to stick to the schedule.) I looked at some of the Bible questions, and finally just popped in the generic “Describe one character you read about in your Bible this term.” for each of my older boys.
While I was doing this I slightly shortened the exams. I knocked each section down to two questions for my year 3 and year 5 students (except math), and I limited my year 7 son’s exams to 2-3 questions per section. I knew we wouldn’t get to all the questions, and I wanted to set us up to succeed. Speaking of math, I made sure my kids had actually covered the concepts in their math section.
I’ve changed two things from the last time we did exams. First, this time I gave them copies of the exam in advance (based on a thread on the AO forums). Second, last time I had each child answer their questions in front of the video camera, intending to transcribe them “soon”. Well, soon never arrived, so this term I am typing as they speak. My 8yo, in year 3, seems to like seeing the words pop up on the computer screen. (Note: I am typing their answers straight into Evernote.)
I began the week having my older sons (11 and 12) write one answer per day, and dictate two answers to me. On the second day of exams I noticed my 11yo patiently waiting for me to type his response. I realized he could type his response as well as I could, so I gave him the keyboard. On day three I let the older boys choose a question they wanted to answer, and then emailed that question to them. They simply hit “reply” and typed their answers. My 12yo actually wrote two paragraphs! (This is huge! Celebrate!)
A Sample of my Year 3 Student’s Exams
2. What do you know about Tookhees the wood mouse? or Tell what you know about otters. [Note: he dictated this to me. I reminded him of the name, Keeonekh.]
Otters are good fishers. And there’s this name about them (Keeonekh). When there is ice they just slide belly first off of the ice and barely make a ripple when they hit the water. When they catch a fish, which would usually be small, they would just go on the ice and to one of the ice caverns and eat their fish. Otters even pop up right into a beaver house and go into his hallway and eat his fish, making a mess. Of course the beaver would know the otter is eating fish because of the bones. and anyway they keep …
One time this boy was going along; he saw two beavers and one otter, and anyway one was young of the beavers and one was old. The otter just snatched down the young beaver and carried him down and killed him. Then he went to the big beaver but the big beaver would not go down since he know it would be his disadvantage. Anyway they fought and fought until the boy moved his canoe right between them and if the they didn’t more they would have been hit by the canoe.
A Sample of my Year 7 Student’s Exams
3. Tell me what you know about rust. [Note: this response was dictated to me. I tried to accurately portray his flow of thought as he spoke.]
Rust is caused from the oxygen in the air. The oxygen acts like a rotting log. When you touch it it’s warm and soft. It’s basically the same with rust. Rust is used up metal that changes and if you keep it in a vacuumed box it will not get rusty.
Gold never rusts because … nobody can explain but it never rusts. Copper does rusts but only a patina that you can wipe off. Iron and other metals rust. And depending on what kind of metals some rust faster some rust slower. It entirely depends on the metal.
And how they discovered it was a knife that was rusty in the garden. And their uncle told them how rust is caused.
A Sample of my Year 5 Student’s Exams
1. “He had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” Tell the story. [Note: he typed this response. And he is very opinionated, like his mother!]
God has taken Israel out of Egypt. Israel said, “Make us a God. Aaron” So Aaron replied, “Give to my all of your golden accessories”And they gave him them, and he made a golden calf (a stupid thing to make if you ask me) and everyone was happy, Everyone except Moses,
they were supposed to worship one god, Not a cow.
It is fun to watch them. And that’s all. Or, as my 11yo said after answering his geography question about various forms of land and water: “Land. Water. Case closed.”