The following exam was given in 1931 by the West Virginia Department of Education to students seeking graduation from eighth grade. For many students, that was the last year of formal schooling. The exam was sent to me by John N. Beall of Wilmington, N.C., who received it from his father, the teacher who administered the test in a one-room school in Gilmer County, W.Va.
Beall sent this to me and wrote:
“When I have shown the exam to people, including teachers, I am invariably asked if the teacher ‘taught to the test.’ The answer is ‘no.’ The students were given standard textbooks from which they studied as students do today. Two or three days before the day of the exam the school received a package from the state with directions not to open it until the day of the exam. In 1931, during the Great Depression, with work so difficult to come by, it is doubtful that any teacher would have risked the loss of their position by revealing the contents before exam day. My father certainly would not.
“The scope and depth of the exam speaks for itself. What is important to understand is that the students came from families that were very challenged financially, especially during the depression years. They lived on small family farms, and, just to make ends meet, every member of the family had to work on the farm. Each child had chores to do before and after school, and, as there were very few automobiles in that area, they walked to and from school each day, some of them walking several miles each way. At night after chores there was homework and then to bed. These young people were part of the ‘Great Generation’ that fought and died for freedom. Those who survived the war went on to build this great nation.
“You might want to take the exam yourself. I found it to be challenging.”