group of teen students running out of school bus

Across the Richmond region Tuesday morning, thousands of students will say goodbye to summer, gather their backpacks and head off to a new year in the classroom. Virginia’s approximate 1.3 million public school students — as well as all K-12 pupils around the state — will face a full year of homework, class projects and tests in this second decade of the 21st century.

One of our longtime readers recently sent us a portion of an eighth-grade exam that was given to students in Salina, Kansas, in 1895. The exam came from the original document on file at the Smoky Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, today a town of about 46,000 residents in north-central Kansas. In the 1990s, the local newspaper published the exam, sparking a fascination that continues today.

As our octogenarian correspondent pointed out, “In 1900, a person with an eighth-grade education was considered very educated. Today many people question that assumption. I suggest you print this exam on your editorial page and let your readers see how times have changed.”

Indeed. In a note published on its website, the genealogical society explained that it posted the exam because of the many questions, emails, calls and letters the test generated.

“Many people forget that Kansas is an agricultural state. [Eighth] grade was as far as many children went in school at that time. It was unusual for children to attend either a high school or a normal school because they were needed on the family farms,” the web posting states. “Times have changed, children have changed, and our world has changed. This test was not put on our website to create controversy. Rather it was put on because it gives us a glimpse back in history at that time. There are other exams in other counties that have been published. Our test seems to have created more interest because it’s easily accessible via the internet.”

Here’s a sampling of questions, as they appeared on the exam:


Give nine rules for the use of Capital Letters.

Name the Parts of Speech and define those that have no modifications.

Define Verse, Stanza and Paragraph.

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


Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.

A wagon is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?

If a load of wheat weights 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50 cts. Per bu., deducting 1050 lbs for tare?

Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 per cent.


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

Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.

Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.

Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, and1865.


What are the elementary sounds? How classified?

What are the following, and give examples of each: Trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals?

Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.

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


What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?

Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S.

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

Describe the movements of the earth. Give inclination of the earth.


Where are the saliva, gastric juice, and bile secreted? What is the use of each in digestion?

How does nutrition reach the circulation?

What is the function of the liver? Of the kidneys?

How would you stop the flow of blood from an artery in the case of laceration?

Students in the 1890s rural Kansas town likely attended a one-room school, according to the genealogical society, where paper was in short supply and the school year lasted far fewer days. If they needed to find a fact, students turned to the local library — if there was one. Today students can just check their hand-held smartphones for information with the swipe of a finger. In another 124 years, what will people say about our eighth-grade tests?

— Pamela Stallsmith

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