Monday, March 28, 2016

Wrapping Up Term 2 with Term Exams

Happy Easter!

Holy Week is always a busy week in our home, and this year perhaps even a little more so.  We have several things that we always do, such as spring cleaning, a big shopping run "down the hill" for groceries and other necessaries, a special dinner on Holy Thursday (based on this tea), and keeping a prayerful silence between noon and three on Good Friday.  This year I decided to also add our Term 2 exams to the week, which worked better than I had hoped.

I wanted to share a little with you about how I use the term exams and how I use them to gradually and incrementally improve our homeschool.  In our term exams, I use some of the questions from Ambleside Online, some blank maps, a few Calculadder worksheets, and a few questions I come up with myself based on books I'm using that are not part of Ambleside Online.  The boys answer all their questions orally, and Emma types all her answers.

I should note that after the Term 1 exams I wanted to focus more heavily on mapwork with Nathan and Gregory, and I wanted to also help Gregory be more attentive to his readings where he was doing the reading himself.  I'm pleased to see that both of these areas improved quite a bit.

In Term 1 I was trying to do mapwork fairly casually, having the kids find locations in our readings and point them out before or after a reading.  I also had them label a few locations we came across in maps in their binders.  I found that they retained almost nothing from these practices, however, and started doing map drills with them instead.  Nathan, in Y2, had written labels that he was placing on a map, and Gregory, in Y4 was doing this as well as copying the labels onto a blank map.  I had them do this 3-4 times a week and they showed a remarkable improvement over the course of the term.

To try and help Gregory with his readings, I made a point of discussing what a slow and careful reading meant several times during the term, and I encouraged him to try and recall more of the names of places and people during his narrations.  I know there's more I could be doing with him, such as having him summarize what he read last week before starting and writing up names of places or people before his readings, but I'm not quite that organized (yet!).  But even still, he showed a definite improvement by the end of his second term.

Emma, in Y8, mainly needed to improve in her mapwork.  This was a mixed success though, as I asked her to continue using TapQuiz Maps as well as work on successively labeling a map with the Shires in England.  I think this ended up being too tedious a task (there are over 70 of them!) and it was not a great success.  After her Term 2 exam it was clear that Europe still needs a lot of work, so I'm going to have her work on that instead.  Her writing is delightful though, and I'm very pleased with how that is developing.

The Term 2 exams continued to highlight something I had noticed in the Term 1 exams, namely that the boys have not mastered all the basic math facts.  I tested this in both term exams by giving them a Calculadder worksheet that they had not used before and gave them five minutes to fill out as much as they could.  The results were revealing, to say the least.  This year I've been using the math wrap-ups to have the kids practice their math facts, but I don't think it is really helping them make much progress on their memorization.  I've used XtraMath in the past, but I've found that this has led to a lack of diligence and quite a bit of staring blankly at the computer, neither of which are habits I'd like to encourage!  I'm considering having them work though the Calculadder program (as much as I hate all that paper!!) but it was an effective tool for my daughter years ago.

Another area I'm not entirely pleased with the exam results is religion with the boys.  The kids do well when narrating the Bible stories and Saint stories we read, and they narrate them well on the exams too.  But they don't recall much of the catechism that we've been reading, or at least not much of the details.  I can't really blame them, the Baltimore Catechism doesn't exactly have much in the way of narrative quality!  I think I need to consider further what the purpose of using something like a Catechism is - is it for familiarity, or is it for memorization?  And if it is for memorization, then I should treat it like memory work, and repeat accordingly.  If it is for familiarity, then I should narrow in on what exactly they should be familiar with, and focus on those aspects more fully and more richly than the Baltimore Catechism provides.

I hope this little glimpse into our term exams and my analysis is helpful.  I'm still fairly new to term exams (this is only our second year doing them - and last year I only did Term 1 and Term 3) but I've found them an excellent practice not only for implementing incremental improvement, but also for helping all of us see how much we are learning, growing and developing over the course of the year.


  1. Thanks for this post, Amber. When exam time rolls around at our house, I always hesitate about doing them at all. We have been doing exams for 2 years now, but I have heard of some CM/AO moms who don't give exams, saying it's "textbook-ish". And there are other moms who do them faithfully.
    A couple of my kids get stressed at exam time. That's the part I don't like about them. The good part is as you said..they help us see how much we are learning and growing. :)

    1. I felt like the exams were too textbook-ish at first too, but in reading CM's School Education volume a couple years ago I decided I needed to give it a try. The kids aren't always enthusiastic about them, but I try to make exam days half days so they at least feel like a bit of a rest. I also don't do as many questions as suggested on the AO site which helps too.

    2. That's the way we do it, Amber: exam days are 1/2 days. And I don't do all the questions either. Most of them, but not every single one.