Charlotte Mason Exams Q and A

"I should have liked to be asked to say what I know. 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."
~Winston Churchill 


Charlotte Mason Exams are an opportunity for children to display their knowledge. Even more important than that, Exams are an opportunity for children to share their thoughts and to engage in the process of digesting the sustenance of ideas in the community of their home and family. I adore the beauty of Exam Week in our homeschool, and I love to share Mason's brilliant design for this "display of knowledge". However, I also know that Exam Week can seem daunting, and is often a concept hard for moms to wrap their minds around. I have learned that the best way to truly understand Exams and to navigate what works best for your family to implement this flexible, but pointed, practice is to just do Exams. As we attempt to just take a breath and dive in, we begin to see that Exams are really an extension of what we do throughout our terms and that the logistics of it all don't entirely matter. The practice of Exams is flexible, because it is really just a narration of the term's narrations. It is simply a sharing of what is known and what is thought and what is loved. As we do exams, we begin to fully understand them.

But, it does help us to have some basic understanding of how we can set ourselves up for success. To that end, I will do my best to succinctly answer some basic Exams questions. I am not attempting to share every bit of what Exams hold and bring in these answers, because that truly is best discovered through the actual carrying out of the practice of Exam Week. I, instead, hope this helps equip you with some basic pegs upon which to hang your preparation and the platform on which to plant your feet for your "diving in".

What exactly are Exams?

Exams are a narration of all narrations. Exams give a student a chance to narrate an entire term's worth of reading in a particular book or study in a particular subject, building upon the narrations already given over the term. Exams are a display of all that is known, rather than a determination of what is not known. Finally, exams are the culmination of the work of digesting and assimilating the ideas that have been being consumed.

What do Exams accomplish?

There are three primary categories of benefit from Exams:
The Mother, The Child, and Planning

Exams benefit the mother by: 
1. Revealing fault in books. If a book is living, it should often not be abandoned simply because it is hard. It is good to learn to do hard things. However, often exams reveal to us that a book isn't as living as we deemed it to be, or that its material isn't as relevant to our child as we hoped. Exams shouldn't be a test of books, per se, but they can sometimes show us that a better book can be chosen. 
 2. Revealing areas we've abandoned or ignored. Sometimes, when writing an Exam question, a mother will be challenged to reflect upon material covered in a particular subject, and will realize that this is due to missing lessons in this subject throughout the term, or simply forgetting to pay heed to a certain area of homeschool. Other times, a mother will write an exam question, and a student's answer will reveal that they have a passion and an affinity for a subject, but that our schedules haven't given them much to work with. These are very good things to realize, as we can only do better when we know better. Homeschooling is a continual act of redirecting and pivoting and returning to our course, and Exams allow us to do so.
3. Illuminating areas that can be worked on. Things like poor posture, inability to make eye conduct, struggle to form full sentences, extreme shyness, etc are often clearly reveal during Exam Week, and might be missed otherwise. Again, this is a gift to us. These are skills that might not be on our "lesson plans", but that when revealed to us, give us the opportunity to work on with our children.

Exams benefit the child by: 
1. Culminates. All of the work and effort of a term culminates during Exam week, when a child is free to choose between ideas to apply those his mind needs most to the areas of his heart and life where they belong. 
2. Display of Knowledge. Exam Week reveals to a child exactly how much they know about a subject or how much they can do or how much progress they have made. This is easily lost in the day-to-day effort of lessons, but is put upon display and enjoyed (rightly so) during Exams. 
3. Possession of Knowledge. Exam Week allows a child to make knowledge their own. They are free and equipped to take possession of it and to assimilate it and apply it as they see fit. 
4. Encourages Listening and Builds Narration Skills. When a child knows that the opportunity will be given to display all that they know, they will begin to value this opportunity enough to improve their narrations and to listen carefully to and honor the material being provided to them so that they have ideas to share during Exam Week. 
5. Relations. During Exam Week, relations are often formed between subjects and books and ideas that have yet to be formed during the term and wouldn't be formed otherwise. This is the part I find most fun!

Exams benefit the planning process by:
1. Revealing passions. 
2. Revealing weaknesses.
3. Revealing strengths.
A mother uses all of this knowledge to plan her next term. You are given the gift of insight during Exam Week, and that insight is valuable as you build a schedule and a book list that applies directly and uniquely to your born persons.

What exactly do we do during Exam Week? 
During Exam Week, you ask for Narrations, Recitations, and Work that displays all that was studied during the Term.

For each subject, you ask a question or assign a task that looks much like the work of the term. If a subject involves reading and narrating a book, then you ask for a narration of the material that was read. If a subject involves sharing orally, like Recitation, then you ask for a Recitation. If a subject involves calculation, like math, then you ask for a calculation that displays the skills worked on during the term. If a subject involves creative work, like drawing, then you ask for creative work. If a subject involves playing music or singing or folding paper or sewing a stitch..... Then you ask for music played or singing or folded paper or stitches sewed.

We make Exam Week far too complicated in our anxious minds. It is truly just an opportunity to narrate what has been narrated, to display what has been learned, to show that skills have been built.

For each subject, ask an open-ended question (just like you would ask for a Narration during your term) that applies to the material that was covered.... or ask for the completion of a project or song or recited piece of poetry, or whatever applies.

A few tips:
1. Provide a variety of questions. For one subject, ask "What do you know about_____", and for another, instruct "Tell me all about_______."  Variety is always good. 
2. Set your child up for success. Ask your child about things they showed interest in, or worked hard at, or acted out, or gave good narrations in. Remember, this isn't a chance to find out what they do not know (you should know that already), but rather a chance to let them show what they do know...and to make connections that they haven't yet made. 
3. Carry out exams much like you would your school week, alternating between subjects and asking about as many questions for each subject as you have lessons in that subject. Note: This isn't a hard and fast "rule". You can ask 3 Picture Study questions, and you ask 1 math question. You know your child. You know your term. You know your current reality during this moment in your homeschool. Just have the framework of "1 question per lesson in our week", and then mold your exams to fit your home and your child and your homeschool. 

What does it take to consider Exams "passed"?

There is no way to fail a Charlotte Mason Exam and there is no way to pass one. Some questions will go well, and some will not. Your child either connected with material presented and digested its ideas, or they didn't. If they did, celebrate that. If they didn't, then use that knowledge for your next term.

Tip: Let go of your expectations for Exam Week. These Exams are for your child's benefit, and they will benefit from being asked to narrate and display their knowledge. There is no "passing grade" on such a benefit. Just like with everything else in a living education, you must trust the process and you must be in it for the long haul. Exams, like everything else about a Charlotte Mason education, are a long game. So, don't expect what you shouldn't and then be upset when it isn't "achieved". Instead, trust the process and know that it doesn't have to look like anything right now for it to be worthy in the long run.


How do I come up with Exam questions?

A couple of tips: 
1. Take notes during your Term of the materials and ideas that your child engages with. 
2. Read the Exam questions of others. I have several posts here on the site where I share our Exam questions, and there are examples of other here , here, here and various other places on the web. Reading the questions of others will give insight into what makes a good exam question. 
3. Have a list of questions that can apply to any subject and can be used over and over. Here is a list to get you started: 

1. Give me one example of....
2. Tell me what you know about....
3. Tell me about your favorite....
4. Reenact a scene from....
5. Recreate a.....
6. Design a......
7. Draw something that shows....
8. Describe....
9. What have you noticed about....
10. Choose ________ or __________ to tell me about. 
11. What was your favorite scene..... 
12. What would you do differently than.....
13. How would you feel if.....
14. What does this quote mean to you....
15. Tell me the story of....
16. What do you think about.....
17. What do you admire about.... 
18. Show me....
19. Recite.... 
20. Choose your favorite ___________ and tell me why you love it. 

What types of Exams can we use? 

Exam questions can be in many formats, such as: 

Written, Drawn, Typed, Oral, Artwork, Displayed, Recited, Performed, Composed, Acted Out, Sung, Calculated, Handiwork, Sung, Discussed 

How do I prepare for Exams? 

I have discussed how I prepare for Exams in detail in a video in the Delightfully Feasting Facebook Community .  I believe that the visual display and applicability to my actual Exam Week gives far better insight into how I prepare for Exams and how might best work for you to prepare for them than I can give you here. I would recommend making time to watch that video.
Here is a summary of my steps for Exam prep: 

1. Write Exam Questions
I take a spiral notebook, label it for the current term and write questions for each subject at the top of each page in the notebook. (1 question per page). 
2. Prepare Exam Notebook 
I then start back at the beginning of the notebook and check each question for further preparation needed. Some examples of this are:
*Gluing a map in for a Mapping question
*Gluing sheet music in for a Musicianship question
*Writing in a Copywork line or passage to be copied. 
*Drawing in a table or chart for questions that will ask for one to be filled in.
The goal is for the Exam Notebook to contain all that it possibly can for Exams. If it can be glued or written directly into the notebook, it is.
3. Prepare Exam Clipboard
I then grab a clipboard for each child, fill it with blank paper to be used to drawing or for extra room for answers that won't fit in the notebook, and then add anything that isn't being glued into the notebook. For example:
*A map too large to fit in the notebook
*Doublesided papers that will need to be accessed on both sides. 
*Dry erase maps, solfa charts, cursive charts, etc. 
4. Gather Materials for Exam Bucket 
Lastly, I grab a bucket to be designated for Exam Week, and I fill it with the Exam Notebook, Exam Clipboard, basic supplies (pencils, colored pencils, dry erase marker, etc), and any books that will need to be referenced or available during Exams. Most books that we have read are not needed, since I am simply asking for a narration of what is known. But, some examples of books that are needed are: 
*Poetry book for the question: "Choose your favorite poem that we read to tell me about".
*Hymn book for the question: "Copy your favorite line from one of this term's hymns."
*Nature book for the question: "Copy images of leaf shapes and tell me about them."

Other materials that need to go in the bucket can be: 
1. Nature Journals, for questions such as:
"Go outside and observe _____ and make a journal entry about it." 
2. Project Materials
Such as, Solar System model for completing as a Science Exam. 
3. Handicraft Supplies, for Handicraft projects to be done as an Exam.
4. Art Supplies, for Art projects to be done as an Exam.

If I can share one thing about Exams, it would be the beauty of being given a glimpse into the workings of your child's mind and the work being done in their hearts through the pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Exams are an important aspect of Mason's educational philosophy and they are a practice that is worth our time and our effort, but they aren't complicated and they don't need to be feared. They should be treated with respect, but they shouldn't be feared. Exams are an extension of all that you are already doing in a Charlotte Mason homeschool, and you are already equipped to carry them out. 

Exams will show you all that your child knows about, but what is so much more valuable and important is that they will show you all that your child is beginning to care about. Mason says: 

"The question is not, 'how much does the youth know?' when he has finished his education- but how much does he care? Infact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet? And therefore how full is the life he has before him." All that your child cares about will be displayed to you during Exam Week. And that is an invaluable gift. Cherish it. Celebrate it. Enjoy it.
Narrate. Display. Celebrate. Discuss. Enjoy.... that's the heart of Exam Week.

For further study: 

Charlotte Mason Help: Examinations
Simply Charlotte Mason: End of Term Exams

Volume 3 appendices. Mason provides examples of her Exam questions and student answers.

May all your days be spent....Delightfully Feasting <3

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