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Harvard Entrance Exam from 1869

NYTimes’ “The Choice” blog has an interesting piece titled “Remembering When College Was a Buyer’s Bazaar” which contrasts university admissions policies and practices between the late 1800s to now.

For example, did you know that top universities such as Harvard and Columbia used to advertise for students right up to opening day and offered entrance exams the weekend before classes started to give students every chance of taking and passing them?

And that Harvard even downplayed the difficulty of its entrance exam in advertisements, noting that of the 210 applicants who took its test in June 1869, 185 were admitted?

(Don’t ask me about my own college application process. Suffice it to say, I was deferred, wait-listed, then rejected from my top choice school. Triple rejection. Ouch.)

You can click on over to the article for advertisements from other top schools and other examples of the admissions practices of these days gone by. What really caught my attention was a PDF of the actual sample questions from the July 1869 Harvard entrance exam.

Take a look at the pages below (click to view large).

There is no chance in hell that I would have passed the Latin and Greek portions of the test. After all:

Harvard’s literature from the 1869-70 school year noted that incoming freshmen were expected to know how to write in Latin and Greek “with the accents” and needed to demonstrate knowledge of “the whole of Virgil,” Caesar’s Commentaries, and Felton’s Greek Reader or comparable texts.

The geography and history section doesn’t seem so bad — aside from question V: “Leonidas, Pausanias, Lysander.” Errr…what exactly are they asking? — I’m pretty confident that I would have done well on this section if I were to have taken the test straight out of high school.

The math section really surprised me, because…well, I suck at math and I haven’t touched anything aside from basic arithmetic since the age of 18. But I was able to figure out all the questions without hesitation. I was actually pretty proud of my aging brain.

How would you have done on this entrance exam from 1869? Is there anything that surprises you about the test?