Why Do I Give Examinations?

I have been asked a few times why I give examinations. Don't I already know my children's strengths and weaknesses as a mother who teaches them daily? Aren't exams just a creation of the public school system to help evaluate most efficiently large numbers of children?

All of these are good questions and I asked those same questions myself several years back. In fact, it was because those questions went largely unanswered that I chose not to give Charlotte Mason style examinations. But after careful research and contemplation, I decided to try giving them to the children one year. I was not disappointed and we have continued to have simple examinations in our home twice a year.

So, what changed my mind?

Reason #1
My children enjoy them! Everything that comes to your mind when you hear the word TEST or EXAM must be erased. Because even though Miss Mason used the word 'exams,' they didn't look anything like today's version. CM style exams were non stressful events where children got to show what they learned, NOT what they hadn't learned. Winston Churchill once said,

“I should have liked to be asked to say what I knew. They always tried to ask what I did not know. When I would have willingly displayed my knowledge, they sought to expose my ignorance. This sort of treatment had only one result: I did not do well in examinations.”

In the Charlotte Mason method, end of term exams consist of one or two questions on each book that was read during the 12 week term. Last minute review isn't necessary. Indeed, no studying at all is required. Children who narrated during the term know the material. There is simply NO pressure, enabling the experience to be positive for mother and child.

I learned so much more about each of my children's progress after hearing their answers. If they couldn't remember much, I was able to narrow the problem down to either a) the book was not 'living' enough or b) my child was just not ready for it, or c) I didn't require enough weekly narration from the book during the term. If they really connected with the book, their answers were often detailed and enthusiastic.

I noticed particular language weaknesses that I did not pick up on during the term. For example, one of my children was able to retell certain events but it was obvious she didn't pay much attention to the names of people and places. I was able to point this out to her and we work on it together the following term.

The exams give the children an opportunity to review what they have learned one more time, cementing it deeply in their mind while processing it more thoroughly. I am able to clear up any misunderstandings as well.

Realizing that they will have one more occasion at the end of the term to display their new found knowledge, they pay closer attention to their studies.

Preparation is minimal. The questions are easy to come up with because they are open-ended. I usually just pick a couple questions for each book, making sure they are not too vague but ask about a particular time in the character's life or major event that they read about. There is no ONE right answer. At the same time, these examinations are deceptively intensive.

Exams are leisurely events that are not time intensive.
'They last for one week, and the subjects are not all done in one lump three hours for arithmetic, two for history, or whatever it is, but in the usual time set for that subject on the time-table. Thus you might have forty-five minutes history on Wednesday and forty on Friday.

All of these reasons made me a believer in giving examinations to my children. While certainly not necessary, I feel that the both the children and myself have benefited greatly from them.

Here is a link to some further helpful information about examinations, Miss Mason's way.

and here are some sample examinations from Miss Mason's day:

one step at a time...