College used to be a lot harder

The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.


– Abraham Lincoln


My son’s home from college this weekend, which means his mother and I are asking him questions about school.

Is it hard?

Are the professors mean?

Are the books really that expensive?

Don’t they have a barbershop in that town? (That last question’s mine.)

We want to know because so much has changed since we were in college.

Forty years ago, I recall, school was hard. Professors were mean. Books were cheap and barbershops were everywhere (although we soon quit using them).

Questions remain although times seem to change.

To prove my point, let me share some sample questions from an 1890 Georgia Tech entrance exam that I came across years ago and love to use to make a point.



The largest portion of this test was grammar.

Here are some challenges:

• Parse the italicized words in the following sentence: James had returned home before the rain began to fall.

• Write the third person singular of the verb “to do” in all its moods and tenses.

• Give the three degrees of comparison of the following adjectives: good, beautiful, little, bad, ill.

• Give a sentence containing a verb in the active voice, and then change it to the passive; also a sentence using an infinitive as a noun; also sentences showing that the same word may be used as an adjective and a noun.



Here are some from history and geography test sections for those Tech applicants before the turn of the last century:

• Name the presidents in order to Grover Cleveland, and place opposite the name of each the length of his term of service.

• Give the capitals and the principal cities of the following countries: England, France, Germany, Russia and Brazil.

• Mention the rivers of Georgia and Texas.

• Name the countries which lie on the eastern and southern coasts of Asia.

• Through what waters would you pass in going by steamer from Pittsburgh, Pa., to St. Petersburg, Russia?



• Divide by decimal division, two-tenths by one tens of millionths.

• Divide 34 bushels, 2 pecks, 5 quarts, 1 pint by 7.

• A speculator sold 18 mules for $2,148.84, thereby making a profit of 26 percent. What did the mules cost apiece?

• If 450 soldiers are to be furnished with clothing, each suit requiring 9 yards of cloth 1 yard wide, how many yards of flannel, 3/4 of yard in width, would be required to line the suits?

• Define notations, numeration, and factor.

(Time allowed, two hours.)



Mon, 11/20/2017 - 20:16

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