What thoughts or feelings does that word bring out in you?
A clock ticking? Sweaty palms? A mind that goes completely blank as soon as it’s time to start?
Anxiety? That’s the last thing you want to bring into your kids’ lives these days, isn’t it?
Tests can be nerve wracking. But some aren’t. It depends on the type of test you’re giving your kids.
The truth is, tests come in all shapes and sizes, and they serve different purposes. Tests are an important part of your family's homeschool experience. They show you how to evaluate your kids’ work. They tell you how well your kids are learning.
Never assume they’ve “got it.” You’ve got to test them to make sure they do.
Let’s talk about three types of tests you’ll find in your homeschool curriculum, what they look like, and what to do when your kids are struggling with them.
How to Evaluate Your Kids Work: Three Types of Tests
In the professional teaching world, tests are also called assessments. If you see the word “assessment” in the curriculum you’re homeschooling with, that means test.
1) Pre-tests or Pre-assessments. This is a test to see what kids know about a subject before you begin a new unit. The pre-assessment shows you how to evaluate what your kids already know.
K-12 curricula are generally structured to revisit the same topics within their subjects (i.e. math, science, history, language arts) over the years and build learning on those topics. With each revisit, the curriculum builds on what it’s already taught in the past and goes into more depth and complexity on that topic.
If your kids have forgotten what they’ve learned in the past, and your curriculum moves forward as if they haven’t, your kids will struggle. That’s where a pre-assessment will help you.
The pre-assessment tells you what your kids remember. It tells you if they need to review what they’ve learned in the past. That way, when they begin a new unit that builds on what they’ve already learned, they’ll have the best chance of success.
Sometimes the pre-assessment will tell you that the kids don’t need to review anything. That works! But if they do, take the time to do some review. For example, in my classroom teaching days, the first few weeks of school after summer break were spent reteaching what the kids forgot over the summer.
In my Essay Rockstar courses, the first assignment is always a pre-assessment to see if a new student can write a paragraph. Because if they can’t, they won’t be ready to succeed in an Essay Rockstar course. It’ll be a bad experience for everyone involved.
2) Formative tests or formative assessments. This type of test checks to see how well your kids understand the material as they move through a new unit. This test shows you how to evaluate how well your kids are learning new information.
You don’t want to wait weeks and weeks until the end of the unit to test, only to realize that they didn’t understand something important near the beginning of it, do you? Then you have to go back and possibly reteach the whole thing!
That’s no fun!
Formative tests/ assessments prevent a situation like that from happening. They’re a type of little test that checks for understanding. I recommend doing a formative assessment with your kids every day or as close to that as possible.
A daily formative assessment or test should only take a few minutes to complete, and it can take any shape. It can be a classwork assignment, or a short quiz. It can take form of a game or be done with an application like Quizlet.
Sometimes it may be appropriate to give a longer quiz for which they need to study in advance. That’s ok too. Use your good judgement.
A formative assessment can also reveal a simple misunderstanding. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve discovered that my students didn’t know the correct meaning of a word in a lesson, and it’s thrown off their entire understanding of a new concept. Regular formative assessments will catch those small but important issues.
Finally, a formative assessment will also tell you if your kids are ready to move on to the next part of their curriculum. If they’re not ready, stop and take time to practice and reinforce learning of a new skill, concept, or information.
That’s the beauty of homeschooling!! You set your own schedule. You have the time to work with your kids one on one and teach them what they need to know and be able to do.
3) Summative tests or assessments. This a cumulative test at the end of a unit. This shows you how to evaluate how much your kids have learned.
This is the type of test that stresses everyone out. It’s what I referred to at the beginning of this post. It’s often a combination of different types of questions like multiple choice and true/false questions, combined with short answer questions or a longer essay-type answer.
Summative tests assess multiple things at once: skills, factual knowledge, the ability to stay cool under pressure, you name it.
And they tend to be timed. UGH.
Those end of the semester cumulative exams in high school are such a bummer. In high school, classwork, homework assignments and quizzes as well as summative unit tests are averaged into your kid’s overall grade. But in college, that’s not the case.
In college, it’s usually only a few papers and the end of the semester exam that make up the entire semester grade. Professors at the college level don’t give pre-assessments and don’t often give formative assessments during the semester. At that age, kids are expected to take responsibility for their own learning. They’re expected to check for their own understanding and pursue help when they need it.
It’s daunting, but it can be done. After all, your kids will be adults by then.
Summative tests or assessments have value. They show you what your kids have learned during a unit of study. They tell you if the kids have grasped the overall concepts and how well they’ve learned to apply them to different situations.
Not all summative tests or assessments are timed tests. They can take the form of a project, a written paper, or a portfolio of different sorts of work.
All the same, a lot of summative tests or assessments are timed tests.
How do you get your kids ready to deal with timed tests?
First, you don’t sacrifice the integrity of the test.
Say your kids are asked to take a unit test that demonstrates they’ve memorized a number of facts. If you make it an open book test where they don’t have to demonstrate that they’ve memorized those facts, then the integrity of the test is sacrificed. You’ve turned the test into a practice or review exercise, a kind of formative assessment.
Kids need to be held responsible for demonstrating what they’ve learned. They need to learn how to apply what they’ve learned in a variety of situations. Rigor isn’t bad. Avoiding rigor diminishes the quality of their education.
Retest, retest, retest.
If at first your kids don’t succeed on a test, then retest. Here’s how.
Review the answers they got wrong with them. Instruct them go write down why they got that answer wrong, and then have them write the correct answer out. Then they study again and take the test again. Repeat this process until you your kids get a result you both like. Do this in all subjects as needed.
This retesting process serves two purposes. First, your kids learn the material well. Second, they practice and develop confidence with test taking. Eventually, they’ll get tired of the retesting process and study thoroughly to get the grade they want on the first try. By the time they’re in high school, tests won’t be scary anymore.
When are open book tests ok?
Open book or open note tests are valid, as long as they measure how well your kids have met their learning goals. Open book tests make test taking feel less stressful for your kids.
To be honest, open book tests can be as or more difficult than closed book tests. They tend to ask critical thinking questions that require thoughtful answers. Writers of open book tests expect their students to have a strong grasp of the material and only need to refer to their notes to clarify details in their answers. Open note test questions are quite different from closed book test questons.
Remember that tests aren’t a punishment. They show you how to evaluate your kid’s work. It’s the main way you can confirm that they understand the material. Test taking (and handling the pressure that goes along with it) is an important skill that your kids need to learn. Going about testing in a thoughtful way builds confidence for the future.
What are your experiences with tests in your homeschool? Please share! I promise not to give you a test on your testing.