All of these are good questions and I asked those same questions myself several years back. In fact, it was because those questions went largely unanswered that I chose not to give Charlotte Mason style examinations. But after careful research and contemplation, I decided to try giving them to the children one year. I was not disappointed and we have continued to have simple examinations in our home twice a year.
So, what changed my mind?
I learned so much more about each of my children's progress after hearing their answers. If they couldn't remember much, I was able to narrow the problem down to either a) the book was not 'living' enough or b) my child was just not ready for it, or c) I didn't require enough weekly narration from the book during the term. If they really connected with the book, their answers were often detailed and enthusiastic.
I noticed particular language weaknesses that I did not pick up on during the term. For example, one of my children was able to retell certain events but it was obvious she didn't pay much attention to the names of people and places. I was able to point this out to her and we work on it together the following term.
The exams give the children an opportunity to review what they have learned, cementing it deeply in their mind while processing it more thoroughly. I am able to clear up any misunderstandings as well.
Realizing that they will have one more occasion at the end of the term to display their knewfound knowledge, they pay closer attention to their studies.
I enjoy the fact that CM style questions are broad and allow the child to elaborate on what she knows with enthusiasm rather than narrow fill-in-the-blank questions. This means studying is not necessary before exam week. There is simply NO pressure, enabling the experience to be positive for mother and child.
Preparation is minimal. The questions are easy to come up with because they are open-ended. I usually just pick a couple questions for each book, making sure they are not too vague but ask about a particular time in the character's life or major event that they read about. There is no ONE right answer. At the same time, these examinations are deceptively intensive.
'They last for one week, and the subjects are not all done in one lump three hours for arithmetic, two for history, or whatever it is, but in the usual time set for that subject on the time-table. Thus you might have forty-five minutes history on Wednesday and forty on Friday.'
All of these reasons made me a believer in giving examinations to my children. While certainly not necessary, I feel that the both the children and myself have benefited greatly from them.
Here is a link to some further helpful information about examinations, Miss Mason's way.
and here are some sample examinations from Miss Mason's day:
one step at a time...