An 8th grade final examination from 1895

A friend sent me this.

Amazing and scary to think what has happened to education.

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, 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 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 50 cts/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 a t 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, orthograph, 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 a 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.


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  1. Diane says:

    It would seem that the liturgy (as celebrated in many quarters) isn’t the only thing that has been seriously dumbed down.

  2. Mac McLernon says:

    Ummm… what’s the 8th Grade? What age? I ask, because I want to compare it with the UK (it’s the teacher in me, sorry!)

    Year 8 over here is 12-13 years.

    They wouldn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of getting through that little lot…

  3. Al Stakhanov says:

    The powerful Snopes site has some observations regarding the test:

  4. Jordan Potter says:

    Eighth grade in the U.S. is usually age 13-14.

  5. Ryan says:

    8th grade is US is 13-14 yr olds. I think that few of today’s 8th graders would be able to answer many of these.

    I’m not sure what percentage of 1895 children made it through to 8th grade though. I think that most kids were done with school by 6th grade and anything beyond that was for very intelligent children who were going on to an academic, law, or medical position. In that case this would be the equivalent of undergraduate university work, which makes it seem more appropriate. But it does show what 8th graders are capable of. I’m convinced that schools could teach at a much faster pace if they wanted. Because you are stuck there for 12 years they take their good old time and aren’t really interested in challenging students.

  6. TNCath says:

    I solemnly assure you that most of today’s 8th graders who took this test wouldn’t get past the first question. E-mail, cell phones and text messaging have made capitalization obsolete. Very sad. Until we close down the schools and start all over, education will continue to get only worse. This, of course, doesn’t just apply to public schools, either. Catholic schools have been deteriorating for the past 40 years as well.

  7. vox borealis says:


    That Snopes commentary is pretty bad, actually. Look at the forms of the questions and the basic concepts tested in those 1895 questions, not simply the funny old words, which is what Snopes does. In other words, replace ‘yards’ and ‘bushels’ with modern equivalents, and I still think most 8th graders could not answer the questions. Change the geography locations to reflect places of modern importance, and students still would not find them on a map.

    I teach, and I when I look at that test I see that it expects students to know about very basic accounting and financial considerations, to memorize geography, to memorize dates and associated important historical events, and of course to be able to spell, read, write, and speak proper English. Such quaint topics are surely not emphasized in schools today, and old fashioned techniques such as memorization are avoided at all costs.

  8. shana sfo says:

    My husband’s beloved grandfather Al lived to be 100, having been born in 1898. He only made it to the ‘8th grade’, but was too poor to pay for high school (grade 8 was 15/16 year olds, as there was no kindergarten and children began school at 7 or 8). He went to the University of Pittsburgh instead. He was not permitted to get a degree since he had not completed high school, but completed their curriculum for accounting and business, and went on to sale cars, eventually owning his own Studebaker dealership and making a good living for his family.

    One of his required tasks before graduating 8th grade was to memorize a passage from the long poem, “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant. He loved to recite it:

    “So live, that when thy summons comes to join
    The innumerable caravan, which moves
    To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
    His chamber in the silent halls of death,
    Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
    Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
    By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
    Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
    About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.”

    I am thinking that if kids were made to memorize stuff like this the parents would be complaining that Junior will need therapy to come to grips with it once the meaning dawns on them.

  9. shana sfo says:

    PS – to add one more bit to old Al’s life:

    At 16, when he graduated 8th grade, he lived in the city, and near the college, with an older, unmarried sister who was a nurse. He (shudder) worked full time during the day in order to pay for the classes in accounting and business that he took at night. My husband said that Grandpa Al began with Studebaker as a clerk, then as he got his courses completed, worked as an accountant and only much later began selling cars.

    Imagine the horror of telling our current crop of 16 year olds that they will have to go out and work for the rest of their educations!

  10. Nick says:

    I think people are reading too much into this test. I dont think that was a standard test given all over the United States, and if it was given at all it was likely for an elite group of boys who managed to (and had the opportunity to) make it to 8th grade.

    Im not saying education hasnt been in a downward spiral the last few decades, but it is wrong to use that test as a “standard” for today.

    If people REALLY want to read a education joke so sad that it makes you laugh I highly recommend this:

  11. Mark M says:

    I say bring back said test. :) I’d be happy to sit it (with a dictionary; what’s a bushel?).

  12. W says:

    it was likely for an elite group of boys who managed to make it to 8th grade.

    I suspect you are wrong. To me, this looks like a test aimed at boys who were ending their education and who were expected to take up farming. “Elite” students would have been going on to high school and (for the ueber-elite) college.

    Note that 45 minutes is given for 8 questions in History. That is 7.5 minutes per question, each of which would actually suffice for an essay. So obviously, in-depth analysis was not expected of these pupils.

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