“Every generation congratulates itself on being wiser than the ones that came before. But are we?” asks an article in The Berkshire Edge. “This Amherst College entrance exam from 1885 may offer an answer.”
The article—written by Carole Owens and based on research by Andrew Berner, library director and curator of collections at the University Club in New York—presents some of the questions asked on the 13-page Amherst entrance exam from Sept. 8, 1885. The test required prospective students to write an English composition; correct the grammar and spelling in various English sentences; translate writings to and from French, Greek and Latin; solve algebra, arithmetic and geometry problems; and answer questions about ancient history.
Supposing that few people in the 21st century would be able to pass the 19th-century exam, the article concludes, “It may be that we substitute rather than add to our knowledge base. That is, we know far less about the things our ancestors prized, and we know more about things they hardly imagined. Possibly, if we retained the old knowledge and added to it, we would be correct in congratulating ourselves that we are older and wiser.”