The purpose of a test is to evaluate whether or not the students have mastered a skill, understand a topic, or retain specific knowledge. Paper tests are efficient in that they are relatively quick and easy to grade. I have nothing against paper tests. In fact, I use paper tests a good bit in my homeschool. Like I said, they are efficient. However, paper tests are not the only way to evaluate students. Not only do alternatives to paper tests exist, but many times, the alternatives to paper tests will be better at evaluating a student’s mastery than any paper test ever could.
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11 Alternatives to Paper Tests
- Mock Trials
- Character Speech
- Creative Writing
Labs, of course, work really well in science. However, the scientific method can be used outside of the science classroom like a Psychology experiment to delve deeper into history or a piece of literature. This is a fabulous way to cross the curriculum and blend subjects together with one another.
Similar to labs, Projects are a routine part of homeschooling. It seems like every other page in a homeschool curriculum has a project, but not all projects are created equal. In my humble opinion, not all projects are even worth doing so certainly not all projects are a suitable alternative to a paper test. However, there are some great projects out there that can tell you everything you need to know about your student’s mastery of a skill or concept.
Skits and Reenactments are excellent for history, literature, and scientific discoveries. The reason I listed these separately is because a skit doesn’t necessarily have to stick to the facts. Reenactments tend to be acting out a situation as closely to what actually happened as possible while skits can get more creative. For instance, I might ask my children to create a skit where Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, and Hitler are in the next season of “Survivor”. This would allow children to dig deep into who these men really are to come up with the best way to portray them as characters in this fictional skit.
Mock Trials can be a lot of fun. Ideally, several children would all take parts such as prosecutor, defense attorney, defendant, judge, jury, witnesses, and experts. However, one child could write the parts for family members and friends to read or parents could play multiple parts. Mock charges could be brought against any literary character, historical figure, or scientist. Parents might even consider charging their student will failure to adequately learn a given skill and challenge the child to present a solid argument that they, in fact, have more than adequately mastered the material.
Similar to mock trials, Debates can be staged between two students who are acting parts as literary figures, historical figures, or scientists. A teacher can easily gauge a child’s mastery by the arguments raised in a debate.
Character Speeches and Essays are also very similar. Character speeches are oral while essays are written. A character speech is simply a child giving a speech as a specific character or historical person. These speeches can be creative, or the child can recite an actual speech by that person. Essays can also vary wildly from basic regurgitation of facts to deep analysis of a situation to creativity. A creative spin on a character speech or essay might be to summarize Romeo and Juliet from a parent’s perspective. Romeo’s mother might summarize the play very differently.
Timelines are not a favorite method of mine for evaluation, but they certainly have a place. They are particularly useful for history studies that jump around in time. Sometimes multiple chapters in history might all have happened simultaneously. Timelines can drive that point home. Also, timelines showing music compositions, artists’ works, and literary works along with historical events can help students to get an even better understanding of the times that they are studying.
Creative Writing is an excellent way to assess understanding. You have to understand the outcomes of the Revolutionary War to write an story on “What if Britain won the Revolutionary War”. You have to understand how gravity works to write a story on “What if gravity didn’t exist”. You have to really understand battle strategy to write “What if the North and South traded generals during the Civil War”. I could never write that last essay, but a kid who’s really into battle strategies could write it brilliantly, and in the process tell you more about his understanding of the Civil War than any bubble test could ever show you.
Last on my list, but certainly not least, is Teaching. A terrific way to find out what a child knows about something is to have them teach it to you as if you didn’t understand it or to actually teach it to a family member who might not already know it. Even stuffed animals can serve as pupils for your budding teacher.
Want more? I found this fabulous post with 40 ideas. My favorite on the list is “Write a eulogy” and “Create a singing telegram”.