Can You Pass This Test Originally Given to 8th Graders Living in Kentucky in 1912?


Can you spell “conceive”?

Of course you can! All it takes is a device with a built-in spelling app, an innovation of which no eighth grader in the far western reaches of bluegrass area Kentucky could have conceived back in 1912.

They were, however, expected to be able to name the waters though which an English vessel would pass en route to Manila via the Suez Canal.

Can you?

While we’re at it, how much do you really know about the human liver? Enough to locate it, identify its secretions, and discourse on its size relative to other bodily glands?

If you answered yes, congratulations. There’s a good chance you’d be promoted to high school back in 1912. Not bad for a kid attending a one-room school in rural Bullit County.

And now for some extra credit, name the last battles of the Civil War, the War of 1812, and the French and Indian War. Commanding officers, too…

That’s the sort of multipart question that awaited the eighth graders converging on the Bullit County courthouse for 1912’s common exam, above. The very same courthouse in which the modern day Bullitt County History Museum is located. A civic-minded individual donated a copy of the test to this institution, and the staff put it online, thinking it might be fun for latter-day specimens like you and me to see how we measure up.

So—just for fun—try typing the phrase “commanding officer last battle french & indian war” into your search engine of choice. Forget instant gratification. Embrace the anxiety!

Common wisdom holds that standardized tests are a lot harder than they used to be. But looking at the sort of stuff your average eighth grader had to regurgitate two years prior to the start of WW1, I’m not so sure…

Thank god the Internet was there to define “kalsomining” for me. Even with the aid of a calculator, math is not my strong suit. That said, I’m usually good enough with words to get the narrative gist of any story problem.


I confess, I was so demoralized by my ignorance, I couldn’t have dreamed of attempting to figure out how much it would cost to “kalsomine” a 20 x 16 x 9 foot room, especially with a door and window involved.

Fortunately, the Bullit County Genealogical Society has seen fit to provide an online answer sheet, a digital luxury that would have gobsmacked their forebears.

SPOILER: $8.01. That’s the amount it would’ve cost to kalsomine your room at 1912 prices. (A steal, considering that a quart of White Wash Pickling Water Based Stain will run you $12.37 a quart at a nationally known hardware superstore today.)

Go ahead, take that test.

If you quail at the prospect of faring poorly against a rural 1912 eighth grader, just imagine how well he or she would do, teleported to 2016, and forced to contend with such mysteries as cyber bullying, gender politics, and offensive eggplant emojis

via The Paris Review.

Related Content:

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Take the 146-Question Knowledge Test Thomas Edison Gave to Prospective Employees (1921)

Take The Near Impossible Literacy Test Louisiana Used to Suppress the Black Vote (1964)

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She lives in fear that her youngest child will pen a memoir titled I Was a Homeschooled 8th Grader and Other Chillling True Life Tales. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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  • Even Steven says:

    Hmmmm. I just might have to repeat 8th grade at the worst or at best attend summer school instead of whitewashing cousin Huck’s fence.

  • Joe Sewell says:

    Ironic that “endeavor” is misspelled “eneeavor,” as admitted at the original site.

  • David Thomson says:

    I just started volunteering in the Adult Learning Center (in a Kentucky County) helping kids prepare for the GED who can’t divide 7 into 35. Needless to say, this test amazes me.


    Don’t panic. Remember that these students had just learned these facts in class. I’m sure most of us could do fine on this test if we had recently been instructed on these subjects.

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