Sunday, March 20, 2011

8th Grade Final Exam: Salina, Kansas - 1895

This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina, Kansas. I'm told it was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, and reprinted by the Salina Journal. Could you pass this test? It'll make you think twice about your grandparent's 8th grade education...

8th Grade Final Exam: Salina, Kansas - 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.
3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph.
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of 'lie’, ‘play’ and ‘run’.
5. Define case; illustrate each case.
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.

Arithmetic (Time,1 hour 15 minutes)

1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. Deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. Wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1,050 lbs. for tare?
4. District No 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school 7 months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find the cost of 6,720 lbs. Coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards -12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $20 per meter?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)

1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided.
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 the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.

Orthography (Time, one hour) (Do we even know what Orthography is?)

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, lingual.
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, sup.
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.

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?
4. Describe the mountains of North America.
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia , Odessa , Denver , Manitoba , Hecla , Yukon , St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco.
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
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 the inclination of the earth.

So the exam took 5 hours to complete. Whew! I don't remember... does the high school ACT or SAT take that long?

So what do you think of this exam? Is this information still relevant today?

I gotta admit. I consider myself well educated but I couldn't pass this test. Wish I could though!


  1. I do not think very many of the graduating seniors could pass this test. I know I could not myself either.

  2. I have to say as a teacher that a lot of the questions are memorization, very low level—identifying, listing, labeling. On the other hand, some the questions are really good and others are downright practical. It's important to understand the how and the why in addition to the who and the what, don't you think?

    I think the SAT is four hours, but I'm not sure about the ACT.

  3. I have never had cause to question my grandparents' 8th grade education as my grandfather would often discuss poetry with me when I was in college (related to my college class.) :-)

    It's amazing what was required then vs now!! While I agree that some of the questions are memorization - it seems that's another thing that is no longer required. My dad used to teach his 7th & 8th graders estimating as part of math which I think is a great, practical skill.

    Oh - and no, I could not pass this test ;-)

  4. I have always been great at memorization (ok, not so much anymore ;-) and I know that at one time I did memorize much of this information. I don't remember it now because, well, if you don't use it you lose it. I get that. But I'm not sure I knew it all by the 8th grade. I don't remember ever being introduced to orthography. I'm sure I never learned the whole diacritical markings thing. I just don't think the English language was ever dissected and explained to me in that kind of depth.

    Does it matter that I never learned all these details of English? I don't think so. I've gotten along quite well in life without knowing them. Still, it's interesting to note what was considered a standard education.

    For the record, three of my 4 grandparents did not receive even an 8th grade education. They probably never attended a formal school but likely were home schooled and self taught by watching others. That's just how things were done in Poland before the turn of the century if you were of the peasant class.

  5. I didn't even read the whole test because they lost me there at the beginning! I think I learned more grammar studying other languages then I did studying English. I do remember not enjoying diagraming sentences in, I think, the 7th grade.

    One of my 4 grandparents was self taught. both grandmother's completed highschool. the other grandfather was an MD.

  6. Now we can find out any fact in seconds with a Google search. Knowing how to learn, being analytical, problem solving, and creative thinking are what's needed in the workplace today. Most high schools are requiring trigonometry (I never got near that) to graduate. My grandparents also only had a 4th grade education -- fine 100 years ago, but Lots of inner city kids aren't learning much more than that and can't make a living in today's technological world without education.

  7. I agree Linda, and I wish I'd said it!

  8. There is no way that I would pass that test although at one time, it might have been possible to get through most of the geography questions.
    Amazing how much education has changed in a century.


  10. Great minds think alike, Harold! The first thing I did when I read about this test was check out its validity. I didn’t use your source (which does validate the existence of the test document, the date, the genealogy society mentioned, and the newspaper that printed the story) but rather my favorite source for debunking internet myths, Snopes didn’t question the validity of the story, it just questioned whether the test proves that children were better educated in the old days (which they say the test does not prove).

    I was hoping to generate some conversation about what kind of information was relevant to our ancestor’s world. And I did get some conversation but not as much as I’d hoped. I was hoping that maybe one or two of my readers would have examples to share from their own family histories. Whether the exam was intended for 8th graders, 12th graders, or prospective teachers, it still reflects what information was considered important to know back in the day.

    My mom and dad and my grandmother all attended Polish Catholic schools. In my grandmother’s case, she would have graduated from the 8th grade in 1904... not so very different a time from the date of this exam. Now my grandmother didn’t live in Kansas or on a farm, so some of this information would have been irrelevant. But I’ll bet she had to learn similar information in both Polish and English (based on what my mom’s education was) and had to learn both Poland’s and America’s history too. How I would love to find an exam from her school back in the day!

    If any of my readers have tests or curriculum from their ancestors I really hope you’ll share it. Please, leave a link here so the rest of us can take check it out. Thanks!

  11. It's interesting how curriculum and tests have changed over the years. I found a 1911 high school math textbook while looking for background information on schools when my grandmother was young. I posted some of the representative problems at:…hool-text-book/

    Some of the more unusual problems that I found are at:…-math-problems/