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» Saturday, July 25, 2009
"An Eighth Grade Education in 1895"--Real Exams
Probably, if you belong to any e-mail or newsgroups, you have seen this passed around, and probably also have seen it debunked on hoax sites like Snopes as being not a grammar school exam, but perhaps a teachers' college exam:
Remember when grandparents and great-grandparents stated that they only had an 8th grade education? Well, check this out. Could any of us have passed the 8th grade in 1895?

This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina, Kansas , USA.. 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.

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.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft.. Long at $20 per yard?
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 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. 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.

Gives the saying "he only had an 8th grade education' a whole new meaning, doesn’t it?!

Incidentally, the definition of orthography: 1. The art or study of correct spelling according to established usage, 2. The aspect of language study concerned with letters and their sequences in words, 3. A method of representing a language or the sounds of language by written symbols; spelling.
Thanks to the treasure chest which is Google Books, we may get a hint of what education level the exam may be aimed at. I found three bound copies of a magazine called "The Rhode Island Schoolmaster," a magazine for ... surprise ... teachers. I haven't looked at them all completely, but in most of them there are examples of examination questions.

Here are three sets of examination questions, but it does not specify for what education level (all from the 1874 issue, which also has a long section on pronunciation in the November/December issue):

Questions for Examination: Selected from San Francisco Examinations of 1873

Questions for Written Examination: Selected from San Francisco Examinations of 1873

This one simply says Written Examinations, but part of it looks like a business math exam.

This set is indicated as being at the university level:

Written Examinations: University of the State of New York. Preliminary Academic Examination.

And these as being high school exam questions:

Written Examinations. Fall River High School, May 9, 1874

Then we hit some jackpots--actual 8th grade examinations: the exam for graduation from grammar school (8th grade) in San Francisco (1874):

Written Examinations. Annual examination of first grade pupils for graduation from the grammar schools, and for admission to the High Schools of San Francisco

and for "candidates for high school" (grammar school graduates) from New Haven, CT, from 1864:

Questions for Written Examinations. New Haven public high school--examination of candidates, July 1864

BTW, here are links to the complete issues; great reading of 19th century instructional advice, and occasionally a student blooper:


Year 1864

Year 1874

Incidentally, none of these tests comes as any surprise to those who have read the last few chapters of Little Town on the Prairie where Laura Ingalls Wilder and her classmates put on a school exhibition where they answer oral questions in geography, grammar, and arithmetic, and then Laura recites a history of the United States from Columbus' exploration to the presidency of John Quincy Adams. In the final chapter she is examined for her teacher's certificate and gets a teaching license at the age of fifteen.