Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Are you smarter than an eighth grader?

There is a TV show (or at least there used to be one) called, "Are you smarter than a 5th grader?" I watched it a few times. I did pretty well - better than a lot of the contestants who had to get help from the kids, but not as well as some of the kids.

We make a lot of jokes today, sad jokes, about high school graduates often not even knowing how to read or write. Some of that is probably true, although not as bad as the British pundits running edited film clips depicting Americans in general as morons would have you believe. I hope.

Anyway, I ran across (online) an old graduation test (eighth grade) from a Kentucky school district from a hundred years ago, in 1912. Remember that back then it wasn't the norm to finish high school, and an eighth grade education was deemed adequate for many, even less for the farm boys. One would imagine that such a test for eighth graders would be a breeze for us modern folk to pass today. I thought I could. I quickly realized I couldn't. Not off the top of my head without further study.

The first thing I noticed about the test was that there were no multiple-guess questions; the kids had to write out their answers on many of them, and prove they could read by doing it in public. Writing too.  There were several sections to the test, and it must have taken quite some time to complete. I assume the kids were timed. The sections were:

Civil Government

I thought I could do most of this stuff pretty easily, but it wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. I don't think I would have passed. Back to eighth grade for me. Want to try a few questions? There's a lot of questions so I don't expect you to wade through it all. Also, some of this stuff is obsolete information today. I didn't understand the questions on some of them.

The reading and writing were given by teachers and judged by proctors. Can't do any of that here, but here are the words they had to spell:

(Click to enlarge if needed)

I liked the Arithmetic section because I like to analyze things. When I was still in school, I could often arrive at the right answer eventually, even if I couldn't remember the actual formula. I was very inventive. :)

Give some of the below arithmetic questions a shot.

Grammar I passed on. Some of the Geography questions were challenging though:

Anyway, I would like to see this test given to high school 10th graders today, and without multiple choice options.

If you would like to peruse the other sections, the entire test can be viewed here, and the answers can be found here.

School's out.


  1. I'm sure the grammar stuff wouldn't have thrown me, and the math seems pretty doable. I couldn't point out Liverpool to save my life, though. Romania? Not a chance (though Greece and Turkey are recognizable).

    I love the idea of write-in answers. That's what I use in my college classes. I've always had issues with T-F and multiple-guess.

    1. I'm very sure the grammar stuff wouldn't faze you a bit. (I also think you could locate liverpool.)

  2. I see they switched you on again. Do you dream while in limbo? When only the little 'standby' light shows you are not defunct?

    The questions, I love that stuff. As I think we once discussed on a post where a train from a-b, was going to meet a train from b-a, at some spot to be divined by calculation.

    They were, in my early days, the things that kept my head involved in school. I had to be able to envisage the problem, see that pour bloke in his Kalsomine-splashed dungarees.

    I figured out what Kalsomine might be, at first by guessing, later, by googling. My guess was near enough. Well, closer than any government department ever gets to a true estimate the cost of a project.
    I'd guess that the successful applicant for the job of Secretary of State for Kalsomining, would have looked at that question and said....
    "Oh, about fifty cents and it will all be brought in on time and under budget, I guarantee."
    then... "The rise in the cost of Kalsomine in the last hundred years was unprecedented, and, of course, totally unexpected. Nobody could have forecast it, so whilst it's regrettable that the project now stands at fifty two million, I can confidently predict that the results will be a resounding success.... Oh. yes. Well, it's true the building in question was demolished two years ago, but the work of our department continues, and it's expected that we'll have an interim report soon on our proposals to ship the secure store of Kalsomine cans for disposal in Colorado, just as soon as the geologists complete their preliminary site investigation."

    1. I'm not exactly switched on. I didn't know what Kalsomining was either. I'm not even sure Tom Sawyer knew that's what it was really called.

      I could have done all those arithmetic problems. Except maybe the rope. Triangles are mystifying still, of the devil.

      Do you know where the strait of Magellan is located? (If it hasn't moved.) Maybe I will make up a strait test.

      (Ha! I just looked up the word Magellan in my little dictionary that came with my Mac. It only has one definition shown for the word and that is: "an American space probe launched in 1989 to map the surface of Venus, using radar to penetrate the dense cloud cover. The probe was deliberately burned up in Venus's atmosphere in 1994.")

      I give up.

    2. Without Googling, the Strait of Magellan is the strait between Tierra Del Fuego and the mainland of the South American Continent.

      I'm fairly confident on my straits.

  3. Geography, Question 10: Salt.

    In my schooldays we did not have multiple choice questions. You were supposed to know or to deduce the answer, not just circle A B C or D, in the knowledge that the examiner was giving a 25% chance for the ignorant to get the right answer.

    In later years, I studied test and examination theory, and thoroughly disagreed with my tutor.

    Multiple choice questions exist so that exams can be marked by semi-sentient monkeys, who themselves have no knowledge of the subject being examined.
    Simple overlay cards allow grading without any valuation of the examinee's real understanding.
    Really grading examinations, the old way, is hard work and slow. Multiple choice allows for the dumbing down of both students and teachers.

  4. Templates and, worse, the ones that have a separate answer sheet for machine grading. We had those on our SAT test, as I recall. Now they use them on the census forms. And if you scribble on them they will visit you in person. Or maybe BHO will tell the CB to report me to the IRS. Or even the NSA.

    Maybe I will move to Leeds so all the census numbers will balance out.

    P.S. - an astounding score on one's SAT, plus five bucks will get you a latte at Starbucks.

    1. The census numbers will never balance, because there'll never be a time when everybody fills in a census form, nor will there ever be a time when you can guarantee that the person who fills in the form is telling the truth, or that the person who fills in the form understands the question.

      Machine grading is okay, but on some dirt roads it leads to corrugations.

  5. First, I hate multiple choice. I'm not a black and white person and would often talk myself into reasons why more than one answer was correct (and I maintain I was usually write). But I LOATHE true-false tests, particularly those that use "usually", "often" etc. Think to much and you can get them all wrong through knowing TOO MUCH about a subject.

    The math is easy (though the typos are irksome). Though I could do it in half the time if I converted to metric, did it, then converted back. Just sayin'. I personally did math like this in fifth grade.

    I could do all the geography except I'd never heard of Montenegra (in 6th grade I memorized all the countries in Europe and South America, locations and capitals. I was a weird kid). I can point out most still today and still remember most of the capitals.

    Spelling words were tough, but I remember some like that in fifth grade (rhythm comes to mind). I might have been caught by exaggerate (OK, I guess not, I typed it correctly without thinking) but I don't know what "eneeavor" - I also have troubles, since I read a great deal of Brit lit, with words like endeavour/endeavor (which I think that word was actually supposed to mean).

    I'm not sure I could point out the Ohio River on a map (though I could give a good guess) and have no idea where the Wasatch mountains are. The others I knew.

    Woot! I get to pass eighth grade.

    I get what you're saying, though, Max. I read a Poe short story and, though I think I have a pretty darn good vocabulary, I have to look up a word at least every other sentence. They sure didn't teach those words when I was in school. Humiliating.

    Although, obviously, I could use some humiliation.

    1. When I read the answers that the museum board came up with as a group (there was not actual answer sheet found from 1912) I agreed with most of what the group came up with. Pretty much.

      The "typos" were actually typesetting errors (maybe by the local newspaper?) since offset printing wouldn't have been used. They were supposedly corrected by the teachers manually before the tests were handed out to the students. That was irksome though, as you say.

      I learned where the Wasatch Mountains are few years ago when I drove from Salt Lake City to Park City (where Romney's olympics were held and where Robert Redford hosts his Sundance Film Festival.) A beautiful mountain range.

      As a child I used to read Poe with a dictionary too. I'm sure I had to use it more than you did. Dickens had no mercy either.

    2. I see that Wikipedia claims that Poe's "A Descent Into the Maelstrom" is often grouped with Poe's tales of ratiocination.

  6. Ah, that ratiocination. I gave up on it, as my ratiocinator kept blowing a fuse. Now it's in a box in the garage with the juicer, the coffee-grinder and all the other expensive crap I never use.

    I don't know what ratiocination is. I think I might have done once, but that bit of my brain is stacked full of other random and mostly useless things, and I can't find it. Maybe I'll remember, sometime. I'm trying not to google it.

    1. :)

      I think Wikipedia was trying to be as pompous as Poe. Poe pompous. I can think of little worse than Poe pomposiity.

      I have heard that Poe and Bat Masterson ended up with the same career - newspaper editor. But then, somebody once told me that Scotty was an Irishman. Who knows?

    2. I certainly hope your physical exam is the last hurdle. I hope you don't have to go back for an interview. Surely after all this time someone could have been interviewing you while they were marveling at your physical prowess.



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