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Could You Pass Harvard's Entrance Exam From 1869? 741

erfnet writes "The New York Times remembers back to when 'college was a buyer's bazaar' and digs up 19th-century classified ads from Columbia, Harvard, Yale, and others. In competitive efforts to attract students from the limited pool of qualified candidates, applications were taken as late as September for an October freshman class. Vassar offered lush room accommodations. The expectations were high: Latin, Greek, Virgil, Caesar's Commentaries; Harvard's entrance exam from 1869 is posted (PDF). Could any of us pass the exam today?"
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Could You Pass Harvard's Entrance Exam From 1869?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 10, 2011 @10:19PM (#35777380)

    "To circumscribe a circle about a given triangle."

    I fail.

  • by Calibax ( 151875 ) * on Sunday April 10, 2011 @10:32PM (#35777470)

    True, the ink stamp on the documents is 1899, which is likely to be the date they were added to the Harvard library. You will note it is stamped on top of the content on each page and is clearly not part of the original page.

    However, at the bottom of each page it gives the date as 1869. This date appears to be part of the original page.

    Apparently you failed to read each page completely. One fundamental rule of all examinations: read the questions fully. That hasn't changed.

  • by daniel_mcl ( 77919 ) on Sunday April 10, 2011 @10:46PM (#35777566) Homepage

    If your idea is that the average person alive today -- never mind the average high school student -- has any knowledge at all of relativistic mechanics, evolutionary biology, computer science/engineering, medical science, etc., I think you'll find you're sadly mistaken. Yes, the average teenager knows how to use a cell phone. Clearly this is an insurmountable obstacle, and Isaac Newton himself would be unable to figure out my Nokia.

    At any rate, the material on the "arithmetic" and "algebra" sections is still taught and used in schools today, and I'll outright guarantee you that if I printed those out and took them to a Calculus III section at the local university I'd be unlikely to get a very high pass rate, despite the fact that most of them have memorized how to take dozens of integrals or apply Lagrange multipliers.

    Knowledge isn't worth as much as people seem to think; at its heart, it's just trivia. What matters is the ability to think, and that doesn't change from generation to generation.

  • Re:re Maybe (Score:5, Informative)

    by zill ( 1690130 ) on Sunday April 10, 2011 @10:57PM (#35777650)
    PROTIP: Latin America does not speak Latin.
  • Latin answers (Score:4, Informative)

    by dsanfte ( 443781 ) on Sunday April 10, 2011 @11:02PM (#35777692) Journal


    1. Me non refero quam divitem esse Gygen. (Unsure how to decline 'Gyges' but we'll go with that for accusative. I guess it's a Greek paradigm.)

    2. Quis clarior Graeciae quam Themostecles? Quis, cum in exilium expelleretur, injuriam suae patriae ingratae non tulit, sed idem quod ante viginti annos Coriolanus fecisset?

    3. Primo veris venit consul ad Ephesum, et militibus ab Scipio acceptis apud milites contionem habuit, in qua, virtute sua collaudata, adhortabatur ad novum bellum cum Gallis suspicandum, qui (ut inquit) Antiochum auxiliis iuverunt. (I left in 'ut inquit' and 'in qua' although they were meant to be omitted. I wondered if the last bit should be infinitive/accusative construction due to indirect speech, however I think 'ut' demands the indicative.)


    You could copy this out of Wheelock so I don't see the point of reproducing it here.

  • Re:Nope (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 10, 2011 @11:30PM (#35777868)

    On top of that, I'm not sure the demographics are even remotely comparable either. The college-for-the-masses thing in the US didn't really start until after WW2. In the 1890s, high school wasn't even mandatory yet for most of the country; checking wiki (history of education in the united states) that didn't happen until decades later, and initially it was only mandatory to age 14. In 1890 there were only 200,000 high school students. Period. In the entire country. And that's a few decades after the given test date. And we're not told what was a "passing" grade for that entrance test (it was unlikely to be the "this test is geared such that if you don't get at least 90% of the points, you have failed to master it enough" that we use today for the more serious stuff like college admissions).

    From another direction, we have dropped the Greek-Roman fetish that was the style of the 1800s, when it was a point of pride that ALL western history and culture (and therefore all history and culture of any value) descended in a direct unbroken line from them to us. Heh. Once freed of that notion, there's a lot more history to cover, and it's more complex, and we're fairly more honest about it, there's 150 more years worth of it, and we're informed by modern anthropology (didn't exist yet, back then... not as the serious science it is today). For that matter, biology and chemistry have completely changed too. And we have more great native-english literature, such that you don't have to build the whole literature curriculum on another language anymore. Oh, and much more math. Hell, you can get into math in high school today that we hadn't even agreed on the notation for yet in the mid 1800s.

  • Re:Nope (Score:5, Informative)

    by jdpars ( 1480913 ) on Sunday April 10, 2011 @11:43PM (#35777946)
    Just some more info to aid metlin, "liberal arts" comes from Latin "artes liberales," literally the "freeing arts." Up until very recently, these included science. The modern definition (at least in the USA) of liberal arts is art, music, literature, language, social sciences, and history. That's a horribly lacking bunch. I spent almost two years as an engineering major before switching to a "liberal arts" degree and I feel I am only just barely well-rounded because of my strengths in math and science.
  • Re:Nope (Score:4, Informative)

    by PhunkySchtuff ( 208108 ) <> on Sunday April 10, 2011 @11:44PM (#35777958) Homepage

    And before any of you think that the PowerPoint presentation is in jest - I've got a client who's son is in grade 7 this year. He has to purchase the school "blessed" laptop and in return must run Microsoft Office 2010 (they heavily use OneNote, which has no alternative, free or otherwise), as well as the Adobe Creative Suite 5 Master Collection.

    Now, this suite of Adobe software retails for over $4k here (sure, there's a massive edu discount) but I can't believe they're being taught this when in school I learned BASIC and LOGO.

  • Re:Nope (Score:5, Informative)

    by Entropius ( 188861 ) on Sunday April 10, 2011 @11:44PM (#35777964)

    OT: That inscription is CREEPY, if you know all the symbolism behind it.

    All the other cathedrals are expressions of some sort of artistry, or aspiration to heaven, or whatever.

    St. Peter's is this imposing thing that says I am the Pope; I am the most powerful man on Earth; do as I say or suffer the consequences. And then there's that inscription -- "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church", said by Jesus, for those who don't know the Latin -- inscribed above the canopy where only the Pope can say Mass, as if to say "I am Peter's descendant as Pope, and Peter is Jesus' successor, so to slight me is to slight Jesus, so do what I say!"

  • Middle English (Score:5, Informative)

    by cdecoro ( 882384 ) on Monday April 11, 2011 @12:18AM (#35778146)

    This is a minor point, but Shakespeare and the King James Bible aren't Middle English; they're Early Modern English from the early 1600's. They are almost completely recognizable to a speaker of modern English, especially once the "thou/you" distinction is explained, and with the occasional vocabulary word. For an example of Middle English, the best known example is Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (late 1300's), []. That's significantly more difficult to understand, though if you sound it out, and read about the rules of grammar, it doesn't take too much practice before you can read it without trouble.

    But you're right, the big change was from Old English, which was a Germanic language that is far more intelligible to modern German speakers than modern English speakers. Our current language is highly influenced by the importation of French and Latin words after the Norman invasion of 1066.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11, 2011 @12:53AM (#35778298)
    Are you sure []?

You are in a maze of little twisting passages, all different.