Saturday, June 5, 2010

Of what use are rivers? (and other things every eighth-grader should know)

Below is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina, Kansas, USA. According to an e-mail I received recently, it was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey 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.
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, 1.25 hours)

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 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50 cts/bushel, deducting 1050 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 6720 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 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)

1. What is meant by the following: Alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication
2. What are elementary sounds? How are they 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, 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.
7. 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.

Notice that the exam took five hours to complete. It gives the saying “he had only an 8th grade education” a whole new meaning. And it also reveals how poor our education system has become.

And, no, I don’t have the answers.

By our next meeting, class, be prepared to stand up and tell what you can of the history of Kansas.


  1. I wonder what percentage of Kansas children actually took this gruelling Grade 8 exam, what the pass rate was and what percentage you needed to pass. Seeing those questions I pity the poor children who were faced with such a paper. It seems so mechanistic, so unenlightened.

    Regarding the history of Kansas - I will just say this -
    "In 1541, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, the Spanish conquistador, visited Kansas, allegedly turning back near "Coronado Heights" in Lindsborg. Coronado's expedition introduced the horse to the Plains Indians, radically altering their lifestyle and range. Following this transformation, the Kansa (sometimes Kaw) and Osage Nation (originally Ouasash) arrived in Kansas in the 1600s. (The Kansa claimed that they occupied the territory since 1673.) By the end of the 18th century, these two tribes were dominant in the eastern part of the state — the Kansa on the Kansas River to the North and the Osage on the Arkansas River to the South. At the same time, the Pawnees (sometimes Paneassa) were dominant on the plains to the west and north of the Kansa and Osage nations, in regions home to massive herds of bison. Europeans visited the Northern Pawnees in 1719. The French commander at Fort Orleans, Etienne de Bourgmont, visited the Kansas River in 1724 and established a trading post there, near the main Kansa village at the mouth of the river. Around the same time, the Otoe tribe of the Sioux also inhabited various areas around the northeast corner of Kansas."
    Want more sir? I can give you more...

  2. I wonder what the examiners would have made of your previous post?! :0)

  3. Jinksy - They would have made me an examiner!

  4. "Are you smarter than an eighth grader?" (I knew #9 under Orthography). :) This explains why my grandfather, who never went past 8th grade, was so smart.

  5. (Oops, I'm not even smart enough to sign in under the correct name. I'm not MDW, I'm Tracie).

  6. How old is an eighth grader Robert? We have a different system.

    Bloom's hierarchy of learning would suggest that these days the memory learning is not as important because you can just look it up on your hand-held whatever. Lucky, really as many young people today (listen to that phrase) don't seem to be able to concentrate on anything much for long. I read somewhere that there's a part of the brain that doesn't develop if it's not given 'concentrate' problems early on. After about 7 years old, it's too late.

    Having said all that, the higher learning rests on facts. I reckon you have to know them to be able to extrapolate, and then think for yourself.

    Excellent post. I'm going to link to it on my blog, if that's ok with you Robert?

  7. Thanks to all for commenting, and yes, Katherine, of course you may link to it!

  8. Wow, tough stuff! Very interesting. I would have problems with most of this test!

    Having said that, I make a special effort to give today's youngsters, and teachers, the benefit of the doubt. I think/hope, education is not worse now, merely different. The teachers I know (including yours truly) seem to take a more interesting inter-active approach to education, and I think the results are a mixed bad, pretty much as always!
    Plus my 4 and 6-year-old kids come out with some amazing stuff they've been taught, and some amazing questions and opinions which presumably have their roots in their teachers' aim to make them curious(er¿?!) about the world around them.

  9. P.S. to Katherine: Our eighth-graders are typically 13 when they enter and 14 when they leave.

    Brian, children are exposed to things much sooner today than previous generations were. When my son was 3, though (he's 45 now), he happened to see a photo of Old Faithful geyser (a tourist attraction in our Yellowstone National Park) on the front of a road map and said, "Look, Daady, a bolcano!" How did he know what a volcano was at that age?

  10. YP and RWP.. .my own father took and passed with high marks (96)the Kansas 8th grade test.. around 1904... if my memories of old family documents are correct. Daddy was born in 1886, so he would have been about 18 at the time. I have no idea why he was that old, and can only surmise that he did not begin school at the "normal" age of 6 or 7.

    Almost immediately after graduation, he became a teacher.

  11. Pat, I'm amazed! What a small world it truly is....