Testing! Testing! Do you read me?

By Jeffrey Page

There’s a 100-year old document making the rounds on the Internet that some people undoubtedly will use to show that kids in 1913 got a better education than children in school now. Others will dismiss the test as a means to memorize and regurgitate facts.

In any case, it’s a 60-question test that was administered to eighth graders in Bullitt County, Ky., about 25 miles south of Louisville.

I’d like to tell you that I picked up my pencil, sneered at this easy exam of a time long ago when there was a century’s worth of fewer facts to know about. I’d like to tell you that I went on to score a perfect 100 percent. I’d like to tell you all that.

But I’d be lying.

Oh, I was able to spell “chandelier” and “scissors” and most of the other 38 words on the spelling section of the test – I was always good in spelling. I got “pennyweight” right though I hadn’t the foggiest notion of its meaning. I erred on “rhinoceros.” Don’t ask me why.

In math, I was successful in determining that if a man bought a farm for $2,400 and sold it for $2,700 he gained 12½ percent on his money.

I’d like to say that I breezed right through this question: “How many steps 2 ft, 4 inches each will a man take in walking 21.4 miles?” But the truth is I didn’t even attempt it. For one thing, the calculator I would use hadn’t been invented in 1913. Of course the real reason is that doing the arithmetic long hand would bring a monumental headache beyond the healing power of my bottle of ibuprofen. Or is it Ibuprophen?

How would you do on this exam?

In the grammar section, the testers asked questions I never encountered until high school, such as “What are the properties of verbs?” I had no idea—not in high school, not now. (Those properties are, courtesy of the answer sheet, person, number, tense, voice and mood. You say you knew that one? I don’t believe you.)

The kids were asked to diagram the sentence “The Lord loveth a cheerful giver” and I marveled at the innocence of the question’s wording and how quickly the testing company would be called on the carpet nowadays for mentioning you-know-who by name.

In geography, students were asked to name the six states that border the Ohio River and give their capitals. They also had to locate the following mountain ranges: Blue Ridge, Himalaya, Andes, Alps, and Wasatch.


How are you doing?

The test had a section on physiology. “Describe the heart,” it asked and I imagine the answer to that terse question could have gone on for days. The students were also asked, “Why should we study physiology?” My question precisely.

Among the questions in the section on civil government were the following: “To what four governments are students in school subjected?” Watch out, that’s a Kentuckycentric question but you can probably figure it out. But if it is too Kentuckyish, try this: Name three powers given Congress by the Constitution. The House has the power to impeach federal officers; the Senate conducts impeachment trials; Congress has the power to declare war – though the framers might be shocked at the number of undeclared U.S. conflicts in the years after World War II.

The students had to name the last battles of the Civil War, the War of 1812, and the French and Indian War, and then name the commanders in each battle.

 Oh, and “Describe the Battle of Quebec.”

And, who invented the magneto? How about the phonograph?

Who led the first European expedition into what is now Florida?

 To see the entire test, go to: bullittcountyhistory.com/bchistory/schoolexam1912.html

For the answers, try:  bullittcountyhistory.org/bullitthistory/bchistory/schoolexam1912ans.html?.

Let me know how you do.


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One Response to “Testing! Testing! Do you read me?”

  1. Jo Galante Cicale Says:

    I was a queen of sentence diagrams back in the day! But, what difference has that ever made in my life? Just like a lot of this test – inane at best. And yes, I relied on spell-check for inane.

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