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Could You Have Passed?

Test your brain power with a vintage entrance exam.


Engst says she has never encountered an answer key to a Cornell entrance exam, but we’ve provided some answers below the exam.

Could you have passed?



As compiled by the Cornell Alumni Magazine


What two rivers flow into the Caspian sea?
The Volga and the Ural rivers.

Where does the Zambesi rise, in what direction does it flow, and into what does it empty?
The Zambesi rises in Zambia and flows east. It empties into the Indian Ocean.


Give a horizontal section of the right eye-ball, naming the principal parts. 

What nerve connects the eye with the brain?
The optic nerve.

With what part of the brain is the connection? 
The visual cortex.

What is meant by accommodation? 
The ability of the eye to adjust focus from nearby objects to objects at a distance.

By short-sighted?
Unable to see distances.

By long-sighted?
Unable to see objects close to you.

Give antidotes for Opium, Arsenic, Strychnine, Carbolic acid, and Caustic Potash.   

From the “Yearbook of Pharmacy
Opium: Strychnine or picrotoxin (1889, page 14)
Arsenic: Magnesium hydrate prepared by precipitation (1898, page 197)
Strychnine: Formyl-p-amidophenol ether (1890, page 225)
Carbolic acid: Alcohol – specifically whiskey (1900, page 180)

From: Philadelphia Times Almanac
Caustic Potash: Water with vinegar or lemon juice

How may vomiting be produced other than by the use of drugs?
Contemporary answer keys for secondary exam questions from the time period say: “Answers may vary.” Feel free to write your answer in the comments.

Proper temperature for sleeping room?   58-60 deg. (From The Phrenological Journal and Science of Health, April 1872)

For sitting room? 
Lost to the winds of history.

What should be the bed and bed clothing? 
Lost to the winds of history.

How much sleep is necessary for the student?
No less than eight hours.
(From The Student’s Guide to the Practice of Medicine by Matthew Charteris, page 440)

Write your opinions of the use of alcohol and tobacco as related to health and give your reasons for the opinions.  
“Answers may vary.” Feel free to write your answer in the comments.


Name the four leading explorers of America, after Columbus; and state the most important discoveries made by each.
Some possibilities:

  • Henry Hudson (Hudson Bay)
  • James Cook (Newfoundland, West Coast)
  • George Vancouver (Puget Sound, Oregon, Mount Rainier)
  • Meriwether Lewis and William Clark (Interior US)

What was the occasion of Huguenot immigration; and to what colonies did the Huguenots go?
Religious persecution drove the Huguenot immigration. They migrated to South Africa, North America, the Netherlands, Wales, England, Ireland and Germany.

More about the Huguenots at

Outline the life of Henry Clay.
tart your research on Henry Clay at


Translate at sight: Ceux qui n’ont pas vu la gloire de l’Empereur Napoléon dans les années 1810, 1811 et 1812 ne sauront jamais à quel degré de puissance peut monter un homme.
“Those who have not seen the glory of the Emperor Napoleon in 1810, 1811 and 1812 will never know to what degree power can elevate a man.”


Draw an outline of the Mediterranean sea. Locate upon its coasts: (1) Alexandria, (2) Massilia, (3) Syracuse, (4) Antioch, (5) Gades, (6) Argo, (7) Carthage.

Describe the constitution of Sparta.
The Spartan Constitution:

What was the outcome of the Peloponnesian war?
Read The History of the Peloponnesian War (by Thucydides) at



Solution: XYZ

Give the theory of the rule for finding the lowest common multiple of two polynomials.
We’ll refer you to “Least Common Multiple. The Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic” at


If Apollo’s altar were a perfect cube 10 ft. on a side, what, to the nearest tenth of an inch, would be the dimensions of a new cubical altar containing twice as much stone?
From A High School Arithmetic (Wentworth & Hill’s Practical Arithmetic)



Sum the series 3.75, 3.5, 3.25 . . .  to 16 terms, and derive the formula made use of. 
Sum: 30


where n=16
a1= the first term (3.75)
an = the last term (0)


Translate: At etiam sunt qui dicant, Quirites, a me in exsilium eiectum esse Catilinam. Quod ego si verbo adsequi possem, istos ipsos eicerem, qui haec loquuntur.
But there are men, O Romans, who say that Catiline has been driven by me into banishment. But if I could do so by a word, I would drive out those also who say so.
From Cicero’s Second Oration Against Catiline (Translation Brian Williams Jennings, 1906)


Translate into Greek: “Another army was collected for Cyrus in this way: Clearchus was a Lacedaemonian fugitive. Cyrus having met him admired him, and gave him much money. But he collected an army and made war upon the Thracians, who were troublesome to the Greeks. These therefore willingly gave him money for the support of the soldiers. So this army, too, was secretly maintained for him.”


Rewrite the following with correct spelling, punctuation, and capitals: “this esay afords an egregious instance of the predominanse of genius the dazling splender of immagery and the seductive powers of elloquense never were penury of knolege and vulgarity of sentiment so hapily disguised the reeder feals his mind ful tho he lerns nothing and when he meats it in its new array no longer knows the talk of his mother and his nurse when these wonder working sounds sink into sence and the docktrine of the esay disrobed of its orniments is left to the powers of its nakid exselense what shal we discover that we are in comparison with our creater very week and ignorant that we do not uphold the chane of existense and that we could not make one-another with moar skill than we are maid”


There are 28 spelling corrections, 8 capitalizations, and 20 punctuation changes.

“This Essay affords an egregious instance of the predominance of genius, the dazzling splendour of imagery, and the seductive powers of eloquence. Never were penury of knowledge and vulgarity of sentiment so happily disguised. The reader feels his mind full, though he learns nothing; and when he meets it in its new array, no longer knows the talk of his mother and his nurse. When these wonder-working sounds sink into sense, and the doctrine of the Essay, disrobed of its ornaments, is left to the powers of its naked excellence, what shall we discover? That we are, in comparison with our Creator, very weak and ignorant; that we do not uphold the chain of existence; and that we could not make one another with more skill than we are made.” (The exam question was extracted from Samuel Johnson’s “Life of Pope”, where he discusses Pope’s “An Essay on Man”.)

Write an essay of at least 600 words on one of the following topics:
    1. Macaulay’s estimate of Clive’s personal character, and his military and political talents.
    2. Narrate the author’s journey from Seville to Granada (Alhambra).
    3. Recount the story of the Rose of the Alhambra.
    4. The finding of Eppie by Silas Marner.
    5. The story of the caskets in Merchant of Venice.

Answers may vary! Here are some links that may help you out.
1.    Macaulay’s essay on Lord Clive:
2.    About Thomas Babington Macaulay:
3.    The Legend of the Rose of the Alhambra:
4.    Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe:
5.    The Merchant of Venice: