Monday, November 11, 2013

Something New to Us This Year: Exams

Last month, we completed Ambleside Online Year 1, Term 2 and conducted an exam for the first time.   I opted not to do any exams at the end of Term 1 because we were still transitioning, and I admit I was a little scared about how they would go.   I was really pleased with the results for this first exam, however, so I thought I’d share a bit about how we did it.
As you will see when you read the exam questions below,  the idea behind a Charlotte Mason style exam isn’t necessarily to get a “score” or to try to get the child to regurgitate a certain number of facts.  There is no review and no preparation before the exam is given, nor does the child see the questions ahead of time.   Instead the focus is on what the child knows.   Our exam was given almost entirely orally, so in many ways it was really a casual conversation.  Other aspects of the “exam” were not given formally at examination time, but I did make note of the progress we’ve made in such subjects as math, French, memory work, etc.   In the end, we have a nice record of what we studied and the progress that was made this past term. An exam can also help us determine what things are going well for us, and what areas are not going well so we can consider changing our approach over the coming term.
My examination questions were based on the exam questions provided at Ambleside Online, although I added to and changed some of them to cover more definitively what we’ve been doing since we’ve made some minor changes to the Year 1 reading list.  It also reflects that my Year 1 student is older (8 and not 6, and therefore more advanced in most of the skill subjects than a Year 1 student in their first formal year of school.)  Here are the exam questions that I ended up using:
AO Year 1, Term 2 Exam for Michelle (age 8) – administered October 28, 2013
Describe progress through math program and topics covered.  Attach most recent exam.
Language Arts
Write three sentences, one to show the correct use of “to”, one of “too” and one of “two”.
Write from dictation: Tom went canoeing on a smooth western lake.
Attach one writing sample from this term.
Provide a list of independent reading completed
Memory Work
Make a list of memory work completed this term.
Tell your favorite scene from Dangerous Journey, or about your favorite Shakespeare play.
Tell the story of Grace Darling.
Tell how the Giant’s Dance was brought to England, or how Arthur became king.
Tell about Gregory and the Pretty Children.
Tell some of the interesting things you learned about the Arctic or Antarctic this term.   Would you want to live there? Why or why not?
Look at a blank map with mom.  Tell the name of each continent (7) and each ocean (5).
Tell how you might tell direction from looking at the sky.
Natural History and General Science
Tell everything you can remember about your favorite nature discovery this term.
What is the most interesting African animal that you read about this term?  Tell why it was interesting.
Tell why a black object will get warmer than a white object.
Picture Study
Describe your favorite picture from this term’s picture study.  What did you like about it?
Show a sewing project and a drawing project to someone outside your family.
Describe progress in The Learnables French program.
And here are a few samples of answers that were given.  With the exception of language arts and the items that I simply noted progress in, the exam was given orally, so this is a transcription of the answers she gave.
History: Tell about Gregory and the Pretty Children.
A man named Gregory was walking through the marketplace when he saw some children.  When he saw the chains about their necks, he figured out they were slaves to be sold.  So he made up his mind to buy them and teach them about Jesus.  He wanted to go out and teach the rest of the people of Britain but the people loved Gregory so much that they wouldn’t let him.  So he sent Augustine (not the same one as in the Augustine book).  The first time, they ran home.  But they set out again and the next time they reached England.
Tales: Tell the story of Grace Darling.
She was a brave girl.  When they saw some people drowning trying to keep above water, she wanted to save them.  But her father said that the waves were too strong, but she wanted to try at least.  So they tried and they succeeded and they brought them to their lighthouse where they were cared for and let them go to their homes after the storm stopped.
Natural History: Tell everything you can remember about your favorite nature discovery this term.
Two banana trees sprouted.  The younger ones look like they are growing pretty well.  They are bigger than they were before.  We also saw some Madagascar periwinkles.  They are almost pink in the middle.  I also found a quartz rock.
Handicrafts: Show a sewing project and a drawing project to someone outside your family.
A recent drawing project – I am pleased to see how she is developing an eye for perspective, and also used some of the ideas about overlapping we had talked about recently as we have worked through Drawing with Children.
Two recent sewing projects – a wallet and a potholder.   Both of these were taken from ideas in the book Sewing School, which I can highly recommend.   She’s done 4 or 5 projects from this book completely on her own now, with very minimal help from me.
Language Arts: Attach one writing sample completed this term.
Here is a notebook page from this past term – this is basically a very simple written narration of a portion of “The Unknown Land” from Parables from Nature.
Overall, I was pleased with the results.  Her narration skills are really blossoming!!   I was interested to see that the questions she gave less-detailed answers too were nearly all substitute books I had brought in which makes me think they just aren’t as good as the AO selections, and perhaps I should just stick with AO as it is written! J  Based on the results of this exam, I am looking to change a bit my approach to geography and French, and add in some extra practice with money for math.   But overall, I got the sense from these exams that we are making good progress and are generally on the right track!
Do you do exams in your home?  I’d love to see how you do them too!


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Jen. Our youngest daughter began yr1 in August and although our olders do the exams, I was wondering about doing exams with her at such a young age. You have given me the encouragement to go for it! :)
    Thank you!

  2. Loved reading about your exams--thank you for sharing!

  3. I'm glad it was helpful. I admit I was nervous about doing exams with a younger child too, but I found that it was helpful and illuminating, as well as it being nice to have a bit more of a record of what we've done to show my hubby and grandparents (and place in her portfolio). I do really like the CM emphasis on sharing what you know, rather than focusing on being able to spit out a certain number of facts (and woe is you if you can't remember them all!) Perhaps that's part of what makes this type of exam appropriate for younger children too.