1912 8th Grade Exam – Difficult?

8th Grade ExamThere’s an interesting story in the news today about an 8th grade exam given to students in 1912 Kentucky. The questions are of the sort that anyone who hasn’t been studying recently would find difficult. Judging by the comments that dominate the story it appears that most people think these questions are significantly more difficult than those faced by 8th graders today.

I’m not an 8th grade teacher but I thought the questions were somewhat below what I’d expect to see on an exam given to children of that age today. I base this on my various nieces and friend’s children who I’ve helped study over the years. I may be completely wrong and I’d love to hear from some teachers on the subject.

Sample questions:

  1. A man bought a farm for $2,400 and sold it for $2,700. What was his percentage gain?
  2. What waters would a vessel pass through if traveling from England, through the Suez Canal, to Manila?
  3. Name the organs of circulation?
  4. To what four governments are students in school subject to?

None of those seems like it would present much challenge to a student who had been studying such material. Perhaps I’m totally wrong, perhaps these question are much more difficult than those faced by 8th graders today. That is certainly the overwhelming opinion of those making comments.

The main difference that I noted is the lack of multiple choice questions and I’m of the opinion that this is actually an important distinction.

In the past students were expected to be able to write out complete answers rather than pick answers. Picking answers means that most people will be correct 25% of the time even if they have no clue as to the answer. 25% isn’t a good score but in the past the same students would be correct 0% of the time.

The change to largely multiple choice questions is simply a function of classroom size. Teachers are expected to grade hundreds of quizzes and tests weekly and this is a heavy, heavy burden. I’m of the opinion that this trend can be reversed by automatic grading using tablets and computers. No more handwriting. Computers are getting intelligent enough to recognize partially correct answers and grade accordingly.

However, back to the topic at hand. I really don’t see these questions as anything that would be a great challenge to today’s students; except perhaps the geography which I don’t think is taught as heavily in today’s classrooms. I could be wrong about that as well.

In any case, I’d absolutely love to hear from parents of 8th graders, teachers, and other who have more direct knowledge of the current educational system for students of that age.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($20.00 for a hardback – $17.01 discount for an eBook = $???)
Upcoming Release: The Spear of the Hunt

8 thoughts on “1912 8th Grade Exam – Difficult?

  1. Happy to say Nick got 100%. He had to think out the geography question, but he got it. With that said he is not your average 8th grader. There are others like him, but in my opinion not enough.

  2. He says that he doesn’t have an accurate view of what the others are doing. For the honor students it was par for the course. For him, the math was easy. Keep in mind he is going into high school with two math credits, and one foreign language credit. Also he is taking French 2, honors classes, and one AP class as a freshman. He is not your average bear.

  3. The 8th graders took the Explore test which is a pre-test for the ACT. Nick’s scores were way above average. It is estimated that his Plan test scores will be above average. Based on these two tests (should he do as well as expected on the Plan) he should do very well on the ACT. He also scores high on the dreaded MAP test. Personally I think our education system has lowered its expectations. IEPs, and behavior plans are giving excuses to students for not trying their hardest. It is also giving the parents a crutch for why their child is not doing well in school. Also there are a lot of people who take education for granted.

  4. Based upon the education of our soon to be first grader, I’d say that those questions are ridiculous easy for an eighth grader. Sophia could almost answer the government and circulation questions now. I’m stunned by the level of education provided now. But it isn’t universal. I believe that almost all schools offer this level of education, but a kid can’t learn if their parents don’t help them get enough sleep, food, and educational support. While any school may not be perfect, the expectations of some to overcome societal problems are unfair.

    • Thank you for the comment, Rob.

      I thought they were fairly easy as well and that seems to be the case for most people I’ve talked to about this.

      Interesting, it’s the opposite thoughts of what the many comments on the original story indicate.

      Any theory on that?


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