Thursday, December 2, 2010

1895 8th Grade Exam

I saw this exam quoted in a newspaper article once, and tried to find it online but could not.  But another blog linked to it today.  I'll copy it and give comments on the questions, and then discuss it a bit:

This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 from Salina, KS. USA.
It was taken from the original document on file at the Smoky Valley
Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, KS and reprinted by the
Salina Journal.

8th Grade Final Exam: Salina, KS - 1895

Grammar (Time, one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of Capital Letters.
2. Name the Parts of Speech and define those that have no modifications.

These are simple enough, but I'm not sure the lists I could come up with would be complete.  It would be easy to study, though.
3. Define Verse, Stanza and Paragraph.

I had no idea what the difference between Verse and Stanza is.  After looking it up, I saw that the two words have been conflated in the past century, but 'Verse' was single line of poetry whereas 'Stanza' was a group of lines.
4. What are the Principal Parts of a verb? Give Principal Parts of do, lie, lay and run.

I had no clue what they mean here.  Even after looking it up I am not confident I would get it right.  Looking at all the labels for each tense, like 'preterite', make my head hurt.  I have excellent grammar, but that comes from simply reading a lot of high-quality prose rather then memorizing rules like this.
5. Define Case, Illustrate each Case.

No clue.  This is apparently something to do with how you use nouns.  I started to look it up, saw that it was a twisted complex mess, and decided that I don't even want to know; I have better things to do with my brain.
6. What is Punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of Punctuation. 
7 - 10.  Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Finally, something reasonable and practical.

Arithmetic (Time, 1.25 hours)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.

I know a lot of basic rules of arithmetic and math, but I do not know which they are asking for here.  Is it the definition of the operations, or things like the Associative Property? <looks it up> The former.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?

Notice how they require you to memorize the volume of a bushel.  I do not know how many cubic feet there are in a bushel, so I could not get this right.
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50 cts. per bu., deducting 1050 lbs. for tare?

For this one, you have to know how much a bushel of wheat weighs.  Farmers in Kansas would find it useful to know this, but I certainly don't.
4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find cost of 6720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.

These are easy.  Many of my college students probably could not handle them, though.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $20 per m?

I have no idea what 'per m' means.
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.

I assumed that this was referring to 10 percent annual interest, but it is not.  The math here is very simple, but you have to know what these terms mean.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per are, the distance around which is 640 rods?

I have no idea how long a rod is.
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

How is this Arithmetic?  

U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided.

There are a large number of ways to divide history into 'epochs' and none of them are any more correct than any other.  You can come up with any classification system you want.  They may have just been memorizing a pointless list, or they may have been using these epochs as labels to aid a good understanding of history.  It is impossible to tell.
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus.
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States.
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of theRebellion.

I could handle these easily, replacing Kansas with my home state, but most people probably could not.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?

I knew these, but I would not expect most people to.  All of them except Lincoln and Penn were inventors of various tools and practical technologies.  An analogous modern question would be about Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.
8. Name events connected with the following dates:

I could not think of anything special about 1800 and 1849.  I forgot about the 'gold rush'.  I knew that Jefferson was president from 1800 but I would not have considered that worth writing about.

Orthography (Time, one hour)
1. What is meant by the following: Alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication?
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: Trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals?
4. Give four substitutes for caret 'u'.
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final 'e'. Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling.  Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a  word: Bi, dis, mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono,super.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: Card, ball, mercy, sir, odd,cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences, Cite, site, sight, fane,fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

Why is this separate from grammar?  How is it even useful?  I could give a decent answer for 1, 6, 7, and 9, but everything else seems completely pointless.  Memorizing rules like this do almost nothing to help develop good language skills.  The contrast between this and the arithmetic is staggering.  The arithmetic is too narrowly practical, while this would have no practical use at all, except maybe for a newspaper editor.

Geography (Time, one hour)
1. What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas? 
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?

Good questions.  Note the emphasis on how things are used by people.  This test seems to be a sign of a curriculum that is a good mix of theory and practicality.
4. Describe the mountains of North America.
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba,Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fermandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco.
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S.

4 and 6 are easy general knowledge questions, but 5 is all about pointless memorization.
7. Name all the republics of Europe and give capital of each.

This question was a lot easier in the 19th century than it would be today.  There were a lot fewer countries.  At one point in the 1800's, there were less than two dozen sovereign nations on the entire planet.  Everything else was a colony.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?

I thought the Gulf Stream made the areas around the Atlantic warmer.  But that only applies to Europe, I guess.
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give inclination of the earth.
Also easy, and good to know.

Aside from the grammar nonsense and questions like Geography 5, I could ace this with a little bit of studying.  The grammar probably would not be too hard if I had ever been taught it by someone, and I could certainly learn it in a week or so if I really had to.

Most people could not do so well, but that does not necessarily mean that we are stupider.  Every society demands a different mix of knowledge from its people.  The '8th grade final exam' in many primitive tribes would involve going off into the woods alone with a knife and surviving alone for a couple weeks.  Very few people today could do that, but it does not mean we are inferior.  Our education has simply been focused in a different direction.

Still, it would be interesting to need to find some modern 8th grade tests to compare.  My memory of by own middle school years is so fuzzy that it is useless as a comparison.


Phillip said...

Hey Richard, I wanted to let you know that I enjoy reading your posts. I agree with your conclusion that modern 8th graders failing this exam does not mean that they are less intelligent. My understanding is that also in 1895 a significantly smaller proportion of the population would be still attending school in the 8th grade. I don't think classrooms were separated by grade, either - trying to imagine what being an 8th grader must have been like in a one-room schoolhouse alongside children of every other grade isn't easy, but I feel like you must be (1) pretty obedient and well-behaved (so the teacher doesn't kick you out of school) and (2) fairly motivated (so you don't fail out). Anything less and you wouldn't be there. So it's conceivable that, since only motivated, focused students remain, the final exam would be more difficult than what an average 13-year old could do.

There is almost no science whatsoever on this exam, aside perhaps from some ?geology? (the climate questions). By 8th grade I remember knowing basic biology, chemistry, and physics - maybe time spent on these justifies not going over those grammar rules today.

Alleged Wisdom said...

Thanks for the note. You are right; in that time less than 10% of the population graduated from high school. This would have been the end of the education for a lot of people, and quite a few would never even make it this far.