A lot of children don’t test well. In fact, there are so many kids who get test anxiety that there is an organization devoted to studying the problem, The American Association of Test Anxiety. On their website, they write,
“About 16-20% of students have high test anxiety, making this the most prevalent scholastic impairment in our schools today. Another 18% are troubled by moderately-high test anxiety.”
Fortunately, as homeschoolers, we have ways to test our kids that can bypass test anxiety, and at the same time, get better accuracy on what kids know than what traditional tests might reveal. If you have a student that has test anxiety, or, if you just want alternative ways to test your child that go beyond the norm, consider these:
13 Non-Traditional Ways to Test Your Child
- Choose 10 of the key words from the material you’re evaluating and have a Socratic conversation with the child using those words. In Socratic dialogue you assume the position of a person who knows nothing about the topic, and you let the student assume the position as the expert. During your conversation, note the ease, accuracy, and confidence level that the child has while discussing the topic with you. Remember though, that this is an evaluation of the knowledge she has gained, so be careful to not give any answers away. It’s okay to guide her right up to the knowledge you’re looking for but let her supply the specifics.
- Have the student stand in front of your family, a circle of friends, or the home school group, and give an oral presentation on their topic. Tell her ahead of time that people are going to see her as the expert on his topic, so she’d better know her stuff, because she will need to take questions from the audience.
- Have the student teach the material to their friend, and then have the friend teach something to your child. This friendly exchange applies enough gentle pressure to your child to get her to study hard, but it motivates her even more if a successful “teaching session” can turn into a sleepover later on.
- Have your student do an experiment or task that he has read about, and have him give you the step-by-step explanations for why he is doing it that way and not some other way. Ask thoughtful questions to get her thinking “out of the box,” but not questions that are silly, which might indicate that you’re not taking him seriously. For example, “would the volcano still erupt if you didn’t use vinegar in the experiment? Why not?”
- Give her a diagram and have her label it, and then verbally explain to you how everything works, such as a diagram of a heart, or the way the water cycle works.
- Take an oral presentation to another level: have your child do a 3-D demonstration on her topic that appeals to all five senses. Make sure she has a sample to hand out when it’s time to talk about the sense of taste!
- Looking at the primary objectives from the lesson materials, have your child create a folder on the topic and devote a page (or more, as needed) to each objective. When it’s time to turn it in, look at the folder together and have conversations with her. Give prompts such as, “without reading this word for word, how would you sum up this page for me?” and, “tell me about one thing you learned in this part that really surprised you.”
- Have your child identify cause and effect systems and behaviors that were covered in her materials. Ask her if she can identify cause-and-effect situations in her own life.
- Identify arguments for or against a position that she read about in his text materials and see if she can offer proofs to support it. Next, to pique her critical thinking, see if she can guess how a person with the opposite point of view might argue for their position. Explain that even if we don’t agree with someone, it’s takes skill to be able to anticipate what someone might say so that we can give logical answers to their arguments, instead of just emotional ones.
- Do some role play with characters from a story or a historical figure. She could also create a play in which she is the “star” of the story. This can be as elaborate as you like.
- Play a game, like Jeopardy, where you ask questions you’ve selected from the materials, with the grand prize (for say, 8/10 answers correct, etc.) being something the child gets to choose: a get out of class certificate, redeemable any day she wants, a certificate for a day off from chores, a coupon to choose a movie, a chance to be the “wardrobe master” and choose what everyone gets to wear the next day (girls love this), or they get to choose a meal, who gets to push the shopping cart, etc.
- Have the student explain a topic on three levels: 1. so easy a little child could understand it, 2. mid-level, and 3, at the child's own working academic level, and, for bonus points, “college words,” or, advanced information about the topic that is beyond what’s required at his grade level.
- Give a handout at the beginning of the course and ask the child to fill-in or label everything she can on the paper. Explain that this is not a test. You might say, “this is to let me know what you know about this so I know where to start.” At the end of the study, give her the same paper and have her fill it out again, and then let her, with you, compare the two. Kids like seeing definite before and after measurements of their progress.
If your child doesn’t test well, she might really like to know that she’s in good company. She’ll also like knowing that you know she’s brilliant, and that you know 13 ways that you can prove it to the world.
Ever wonder what causes test anxiety? We’ll talk about that next time.