Tests from a homeschooler’s perspective

Growing up home-schooled, tests were never a particularly salient part of my life. Compared to my friends who went to public school, I was able to simply enjoying learning without worrying about being evaluated. After we finish a chapter of biology, my parents would bring us on a hike to explore the living things we just learned about instead of giving us an exam to see what terms we memorized; one year, for our “gym class”, we decided to bike around Taiwan as a family instead of training to see who could do the most pushups under 60 seconds.

That is not to say that we were never evaluated — but the difference was that we were always compared to ourselves and our own progress instead of being compared to others. I would get praised because I got 15 out of 20 math questions correct instead of 10/20 on my previous assessment, and I would be motivated to work even harder the next time.

However, high school came, and although I was still home-schooled, I was faced with the reality of starting to take exams such as SAT, SAT 2s, APs, in order to apply for university. For the first time, I was evaluated based on how I performed compared to thousands of other students across the world, and that brought me some initial uneasiness. I didn’t like how instead of looking right away for my test score, my eyes became trained to focus on the percentage instead and how well I scored above others. This preoccupation was further enhanced by the fact that these test scores were so important towards my application — unlike other students from the standard school system, my parents basically wrote my transcript, which probably wasn’t the best predictor of my performances in high school.

After surviving through the rounds of standardized exams, I finally arrived at McGill, where exams and evaluations continue to be a salient part of a student’s life. I remember the moment when I realized with horror that some professors actually curve the grades so that only a certain amount of students can receive an A. But since then, I’ve started to appreciate certain values of tests, especially how they can make students more motivated and diligent. I found a balance between learning for the pleasure and excitement it brings, but also performing well on exams so that I have the opportunity to study more of what I love.

At this point in time, if you meet this home-schooled girl on campus, you would never suspect anything different, except maybe for the occasional exasperated sigh when exam season comes and all the students start their hibernation in the libraries. But after sighing, she would most likely pick up her own books and head to the library. It’s McGill, after all.

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