Thursday, January 7, 2010

Making Your Own Essay Tests

In spite of the fact that several Christian publishers have produced amazing textbooks, especially in upper level science and history classes, I’ve never been a fan of their tests. Too many questions are fill-in-the-blank or “multiple guess”. I found that my kids could fake their way through these tests without being able to articulate what they had learned. Or they could memorize enough facts for an hour or so but promptly forget it.

So I switched. I kept the textbooks, but made my own essay tests. For instance, after we studied Abraham Lincoln, I gave them the essay question something like this: Tell all you know about the life and work of Abraham Lincoln. You must include the topics of his early life, his campaign for presidency, his role in the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, the significance of his Gettysburg Address, and his death.

I figured if my kids could articulate all those details, they’d absorbed enough about the life of President Lincoln to pass a rigorous test.

In science, I might write an essay question like this: Explain Newton’s Three Laws of Motion and give an example of each.  Or perhaps something like this: Explain Keepler’s Three Laws of Planetary Motion. 

If students can articulate essay questions such as these, they are much more likely to remember what they have learned.

If you asked my children at the time if they liked essay tests, they would have told you “no”.  However, my daughter came to appreciate such tests, and when she was in college, she preferred essay tests and always scored her highest grades on them.

How do you grade such tests? I would read their essays and place a check mark on each correct detail that they mentioned. If they got something mixed up, I placed a small minus mark there.  I decided how many check marks they should have for a 100 and then deducted the minus marks.

Don’t feel bound by the tests publishers give you. There are many other ways to test you children. Some of your own ways may be better.

Have you ever made your own tests for your children? Please share your ideas in the comments section.

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