Hardly orthographically challenged

It’s not all that often that I get an e-mail from my mom that blows my tiny mind, but ole Mary Lou got me the other day. Her brother sent her a copy of the final exam taken by the eighth graders of Salina, Kansas, back in 1895, which she then forwarded to me. It’s interesting and impressive.

This test was discovered recently in the city library in Salina, and reprinted in the Salina Journal. Take a gander at this sucker, and wonder how the college grads of today would fare on this. Because of space limitations, I’m leaving out half the questions in each section.

The first section—grammar:

Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.

Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.

Give rules for the principal marks of punctuation.

Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Next is arithmetic (nobody called it math in 1895):

Name and define the fundamental rules of arithmetic.

A wagon box is 2 feet deep, 10 feet long and 3 feet wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold? (Good question for Kansas kids.)

Find the cost of 6,720 pounds of coal at $6 a ton.

Find the interest of $512.60 for eight months and 18 days at 7 percent.

Write a bank check, a promissory note and a receipt.

Moving now to U.S. History:

Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided.

Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.

Show the territorial growth of the United States.

Who were: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn and Howe?

Name the events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.

Then, on to orthography (whatever that is):

What is meant by the following: alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication?

Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis, mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup.

Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.

Finally, of course, there’s geography (have you noticed the severe lack of multiple choice and true/false questions?):

What is climate?

Describe the mountains of North America ("high and pointy” isn’t going to cut it here, I’m afraid).

Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver (finally, a softball!), Manitoba, Yukon and Orinoco.

Name and locate the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.

Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.

That’s it. Or actually, that’s just half of it. The 14-year-olds had six hours to give it their best shot. As my uncle put it, "it seems fair to conclude that functional illiteracy wasn’t a real big problem in the Kansas of 1895."