PAXTON — Adam McMullin is grateful he is an eighth-grader at Paxton-Buckley-Loda Junior High School today, rather than finishing his middle school education in a one-room schoolhouse in Kentucky in 1912.
Otherwise, he probably is not advancing to high school.
"There's no way," McMullin said.
McMullin is quick to point out that the eighth-grade exit exam administered 101 years ago to students at Bullitt County schools in Kentucky is "pretty hard."
So difficult that it took 4-1/2 hours for McMullin and the six other students in Daron Johnson's first-year eighth-grade enrichment class to find all of the answers on the Internet.
So difficult that PBL Junior High School's college-educated teachers tried to answer a selection of the questions on the test and failed miserably.
Johnson came across the 57-question test last summer on the Bullitt County History Museum's website. He thought it might be interesting to show it to his newly created eighth-grade enrichment class and use it for the students' first project.
"I think they were kind of excited about it, and they said, 'Hey, can we take the test?'" Johnson recalled.
The seven students first tried to answer the questions as a group. It proved very difficult, Johnson said, adding that they had to look up almost all the answers using the Internet.
The class assumed the questions were difficult because of differences in what was taught in 1912 compared with today.
Johnson's students began to wonder how their classmates would do on the exam. That then led them to wonder how well their teachers would do.
They then took a small sample of the questions from the 1912 test and asked their teachers and staff two questions from each of the seven categories from the test: spelling, arithmetic, grammar, geography, physiology, civil government and history. Like in 1912, there was no multiple choice.
The results were not impressive. Some teachers correctly answered only two of the 14 questions.
"I did take the test, and I have to admit I could only answer about three to four of the questions correctly," Principal Josh Didier said.
Teachers and staff thought the most difficult subjects were history, arithmetic and geography. They thought the easiest subjects were civil government, physiology and spelling.
"According to the results, one junior high teacher knew one of the two history questions provided, while the rest knew neither of the two," Johnson said. "Yet, the majority of the individuals tested knew both of the spelling questions."
A copy of the eighth-grade exam for Bullitt County schools in 1912 was donated to the Bullitt County History Museum. The museum's website says that "obviously it tested some things that were more relevant at that time than now, and it should not be used to compare student knowledge then and now."
The museum's website says Bullitt County schools were mostly one-room schools in 1912. Students came together at the county courthouse once or twice a year to take the exam, and some scholarships were provided to those who passed to go on to high school.
Johnson's class said the most noticeable difference between what they are taught today and what was taught back then is the practical application of information. Many of the questions from the 1912 test involved rote memorization, Johnson said.
"Today's tests have a lot more to do with something that would realistically happen," said eighth-grader Madeline Goldman.
"Instead of random questions you can't really apply to life," eighth-grader Kristoffer Hewerdine added.
"They knew a lot more about the world, though," Johnson said.
Some questions also contained language not commonly used today — such as the question that asked, "At $1.62 1/2 a cord, what will be the cost of a pile of wood, 24 long, 4' wide, and 6'3" high?"
The use of the word "cord" caused Johnson's students trouble even though they had the math skills to find the answer, Johnson said.
Also, "there were some things in there that are no longer taught at all — like penmanship, now we don't even have in our schools. Diagramming sentence structure we no longer teach at all," Johnson said. "Things have definitely changed."
What Johnson's students were surprised by most is that students were somehow able to pass the test without calculators and with fewer resources to help students study, such as the Internet.
"They probably had a limited amount of encyclopedias, as well," McMullin said.
Goldman said the test from 1912 shows "just the way things have changed" in the educational system.
"It definitely shows how the curriculum has changed — their standards for knowledge have changed over the years," Hewerdine said.
The complete test from 1912 and its answers can be found at http://bullittcountyhistory.org/bchistory/schoolexam1912.html.