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:

The Open Syl­labus Project Gath­ers 1,000,000 Syl­labi from Uni­ver­si­ties & Reveals the 100 Most Fre­quent­ly-Taught Books

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

by | Permalink | Comments (4) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (4)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • 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.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.