Sunday, November 12, 2023

8th Grade Final Exam

I am sure that you have seen this exam that most college graduates could not complete today:

Arithmetic (Time Limit - 1.25 hours)

  1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
  2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
  3. If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50 cts/bushel, deducting 1050 lbs. for tare?
  4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
  5. Find cost of 6720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.
  6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
  7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at 20 per metre?
  8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
  9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance around which is 640 rods?
  10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.
That is the arithmetic section.  Some of this is sort of obsolete.  Few people know or need to know how long a rod is.  Revise it using feet and many college graduates in the whining degree fields would still never get the right answer or even know how to set up the algebra.

I see stuff like this and I get skeptical for two reasons:

1.  At the high school level, such exams overlook that high school was a fairly elite education.  My father went to high school after eighth grade.  His brother went to sea.

2. A big chunk of Americans were attending schools of very inferior level; blacks in the South were given educations markedly inferior to whites. The assumption was that they were not going to college.  I doubt black schools in Alabama expected this much from kids who were expected to go into the fields.

I found this exam on a NASA web site, so I find it plausible.


  1. Some of these questions require special knowledge of conversion factors that I would consider uncommon. #2: cubic feet to bushels; #3: pounds to bushels. And those two conversions are incompatible.

    #6 can't be answered because "8 months " is not a fixed period of time (242 days up to 245 days).

    #7 is unanswerable, because the thickness of the boards is omitted, and "20 per metre" is meaningless. ($20 per metre of board length? Then why is the width given?)

    #10 is very odd. Who would completely write out a check on blank paper? Who would know the exact language for a valid "promissory note" (as opposed to a simple IOU)? And a receipt is by comparison trivial.

    1. Some of these questions assume knowledge no longer common, yes.

      I suspect most people then, as now, assume 30 days to a month.

      I suspect board thickness was pretty standard and assumed. Ask most people how thich a board is and they say 1 1/2" because 2x4s are most common.

      This was a time when pre-printed checks were likely uncommon.