When we say that our ancestor only went to 3rd Year of high school (or whatever), what do we mean? It’s important to understand what was being taught in schools in those days before we pass judgement on the education our ancestors were given.
I was driven to think about this topic by a post I saw in Psychology Today entitled Can You Pass This Final 8th-Grade Exam from 1895? Admittedly, a lot of the terminology has changed since those days. We don’t measure wheat in bushels or coal in pounds or distance in rods or area in acres. We also don’t study grammar and orthography as they did then.
Here’s the exam in full:
This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina , Kansas , USA. These questions were taken from the original examination on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina , Kansas.
Take the test and see if you would have graduated with the eighth grade class in 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 seven 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 per annum.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft long at $20 per metre?
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 you even know what this 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, 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, 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.
We can see the emphasis on the rules of grammar and orthography. We can also see the emphasis on the knowledge that an adult in Kansas was likely to need.
I’d love to be able to find an equivalent exam for New South Wales. If I find one I’ll be sure to post it here.
What do you think? Would you pass this exam?
Photo of Greghamstown School, taken by the author in 2008.