the alternative to paper and pencil testing

How to test your student’s knowledge without actually “testing” them

My school years were filled with paper and pencil tests. I can’t actually recall a single time where a more non-traditional testing method was used to test my knowledge of a subject. In 35 years, not much has changed in the traditional school settings. The trouble with those silly scantrons and fill in the blank quizzes is that they can hardly test the breadth and depth of the knowledge that your child has on any specific subject. They essentially test what your student doesn’t know as opposed to all that they might know on a given topic. Just one of the many beautiful things about homeschooling is that you don’t have to get stuck in that same pattern of thinking. Here are 7 ways to test your student’s knowledge without actually testing them.

testing your studentss

1.       Act it out.

My children love to act, if I pull out my camera even better. If you are doing a literature study, have them act out a scene. If you want to know if they understood a particular time in history have them act it out. Give them character roles and the situation. Tell them they need to convey what was happening in that moment, using costumes and props that they find around the house.  My kids have even created Lego movies on their Ipad using this same concept.

2.       The sneaky oral report

Ask questions. Lots of question, but do it casually. Maybe while you are driving or having lunch. They will catch on but because it’s not technically “school time” they won’t feel the pressure of having all the right answers.  Remember the 5 W’s.  If you are studying the American Revolution you could ask:

          Who were the important figures of the American Revolution?

          Why did the colonist think it was unfair to be taxed?

          Where did the first battles take place?

          What caused the Americans to decide to go into battle with the British?

          When did the war officially begin?

I like to do this kind of questioning at dinner and have them share with their dad all that they learned throughout the day.  They get excited to share all that they know and dad has the opportunity to praise them for their hard work.

3.       Make a diagram.

egg diagram

This is simple but effective.  If you are studying plants or the atom a simple labeled picture will show you quickly if they recall what they are learning. Make it fun by letting them draw it on a white board, or going outside and drawing it with chalk.

4.       Play a game. 

jeopardy online game

Are you learning math facts? Play math war. Have a fact race.  Are you working on vocabulary? Play Jeopardy. Are you learning to read? Try these sight word ideas. These are simple ways to know quickly whether or not your student grasps the subject matter.

5.       Test the Teacher. 

My children love to test my knowledge on whatever we are learning. Have your student come up with a set of “hard” questions about what they are learning and see if you can answer them. Make sure they know the correct answer to go along with the question. 

6.       Interview them.

Dress up as a reporter, or at least grab a fake microphone and tell them that you are writing a report on __________ and you need to interview an expert.  Tell them you will be fact checking everything they say so they need to make sure they are giving you correct information.

7.       Have them create their own game. 

This could be as simple or elaborate as they like. They will need to come up with specific questions about the subject and create a board or card game.


Think outside of the box. Before you hand them a paper and pencil test, ask yourself “Can I test them on this in a different way?”


What ways do you test your student’s knowledge? Are you a traditional paper and pencil tester or do you think outside of the box? 


9 thoughts on “How to test your student’s knowledge without actually “testing” them”

    1. Motheringwithgrace

      Yes! There are so many ways we can evaluate our children’s knowledge of a subject without actually testing them.

    1. Motheringwithgrace

      I know! I was a terrible test taker. I wish my teachers would have tried other ways to test my knowledge.

  1. These are such smart ideas! My son always gives me a hard time when I try to review with him! Definitely using this tricky ideas lol!

  2. Thanks for the great ideas – my favorite would be the ‘sneaky oral report’. I try to do this in the car sometimes. I have to try getting the camera out more, mine are motivated by it as well 🙂

    1. Motheringwithgrace

      It’s amazing what kids will do when they get to perform. Just last night we were watching old videos of them and laughing our heads off. Such great memories!

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