Preview: Exams are an important evaluation tool in your home educator toolkit. Learn why you should use homeschool exams and how to implement them.
My children do not look forward to our end-of-term homeschool exams. Regardless of your age, the word “exam” probably evokes fear and trepidation.
I have not always scheduled end-of-term homeschool examinations in our homeschool. I did not know what questions to ask or how to schedule and conduct an exam week. It was simply overwhelming.
But after realizing the importance of homeschool exams, I committed to using them in our homeschool. That doesn’t mean I always get it right.
- Some years our exams cover every subject.
- Some years we only have exams for a few subjects.
- Some years we don’t have exams at all.
The point is that I use them as a tool instead of a master. Each year requires a slightly different approach depending on our goals and needs.
In this article, you will learn why you should use homeschool exams and how to implement them.
How Your Children Benefit From Homeschool Exams
1. Evaluates student learning
One way to evaluate what your student learns is through narration. Homeschool exams are an extension of this type of assessment. Through term exams, you will know what your child learned and what ideas were important to him.
2. Confirms long-term retention
One of our goals for homeschooling is for our children to read to learn and not simply pass a test. They should be able to express the main ideas of a passage from a single reading.
Recalling the ideas they read and narrated allows them to broaden their understanding and connect with other ideas as they learn. They should remember the main ideas past the initial reading to connect those ideas with other readings in the future.
3. Enhances assessment
Every student will connect with a reading a little differently because of varying life experiences and level of maturity. Evaluating my children’s knowledge and understanding enables me to assess their strengths and weaknesses and adjust future lesson plans accordingly.
4. Prepares your child for the real world
The real world rarely has multiple-choice, true/false, or fill-in-the-blank questions as part of our daily lives. Instead, we have to evaluate situations, come to our own conclusions, communicate those ideas to others. Essay-style homeschool exams allow our children to communicate the conclusions and connections they made over the past term or year and are excellent preparation for college and life in general.
How to Implement Essay-Style Homeschool Exams
How do you implement essay-style homeschool exams if you don’t use a boxed curriculum? Doesn’t it take too much time to write examination questions? It is actually not as intimidating as it sounds. Here are the steps I follow when planning and implementing our homeschool exams.
1. Schedule term examinations
I allow a full week for homeschool exams each term when planning my school year. No review time is necessary as I want to assess what my student has learned, not ask her to learn specific material for an exam.
2. Have realistic expectations
The first time we implemented end-of-term homeschool exams, I thought we would have extra time during the week for personal pursuits. (Translation—I planned to tackle other personal projects that week as well.)
This was not the case! Exams are different than our normal school work, but they still require the same amount of time. Once I had realistic expectations, exam weeks went much smoother.
3. Compose homeschool exam questions
Good questions are open-ended and allow you to evaluate what your student has learned. Think of essay-type questions.
As you phrase questions, make them specific enough to provide your student with enough context to provide a full narration but open-ended enough to allow him to demonstrate the ideas that most impacted him.
Instead of focusing on dates, focus on ideas, people, and events. While students need to understand when historical events happened, it is more important to understand the main ideas and themes.
I include questions that cover each subject and field trips we took. My goal is to have a total of 20-25 questions, depending on the difficulty of the questions.
After composing exam questions, I discuss them with my children and plan which questions will be oral, written, or project-based. We try to have three to five projects each exam period. The remaining questions will be oral or written narrations. The breakout depends on the age and ability of the child.
Sometimes I accept a project previously completed during the term as part of the exams if it is a good sample of my student’s work over the course of the term. An example would be a diary written from the perspective of a character in a book.
You can learn more about homeschool assessment, narration, and essay-style exams in The Homeschool Roadmap.
4. Record exam answers
When my children are in grades one through three, their exam questions are completed through projects and oral narrations. Sometimes they narrate orally, and I do not record their answers. Other times, they dictate their answer to me as I type or record their answer into a voice recorder.
Children in grades four and older complete projects as well as oral and written narrations. At the end of the week, I print all written narrations (dictated, typed, or hand-written) and pictures of projects to place in each student’s school portfolio.
5. Evaluate responses
As my students narrate or later reviewing the narrations, I evaluate what my children learned and note their strengths and weaknesses. I assess whether changes in teaching methodology, development of better study habits, or changes in the curriculum are needed. During this time, I also complete term evaluations.