Thursday, September 20, 2007

I took the ISI History Quiz

I took the ISI History Test that so many college seniors at elite universities failed. Results:
You answered 57 out of 60 correctly — 95.00 %
Average score for this quiz during September: 75.3%
Average score since September 18, 2007: 75.3%
What did I get wrong?
Answers to Your Missed Questions:
Question #19 - C. philosopher kings.
Question #54 - D. can be reversed by government spending more than it taxes.
Question #58 - B. An increase in the volume of commercial bank loans.

Here are the questions and all possible answers (including my wrong ones) for the ones I missed:
19) In The Republic, Plato points to the desirability of:

That was a classic brain f**t on my part.

54) Keynesian economists conclude that the recession phase of a business cycle:
Eh. Economics ain't my strong suit...I suspect most historians can relate.

What is a major effect of a purchase of bonds by the Federal Reserve?
....And again....

All in all, I was surprised I did so well, frankly. While some are arguing the test is unfair because it doesn't adequately deal with big concepts, a knowledge of basic historical facts is necessary to support the "big picture" takeaway that colleges aim to teach. Besides, many of the questions do deal with concepts. For instance:
31) Which author’s view of society is presented correctly?

39) The question of why democracy leads to well-ordered government in America when disorder prevails in Europe is central to:

There is a lot of reading that goes into answering these questions, no?

Or how about:
35) The Monroe Doctrine:

13) The struggle between President Andrew Johnson and the Radical Republicans was mainly over:

44) The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (1964) was significant because it:
Doesn't understanding the "Monroe Doctrine" or why Johnson and the Radical Republicans were fighting display more than just knowing facts and figures. Aren't these the sort of historical concepts that many say should be tested?

And then there's question about the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Heck, they even give the date to help you make an educated guess!

I can only surmise that the historians who take a negative view multiple choice tests--thinking "only" facts and dates can be tested--have probably not read the actual test. Maybe they should.


Anonymous said...

Hi Marc,

Interesting post. After reading your description of the American Civic Literacy test, I couldn't resist taking it myself. I appreciate the work of this organization to return American higher education to its former rigorous standards.

Thanks in large part to the dedicated homeschooling efforts of my parents, I managed to attain a score of 88.33% (53 of 60 correct) on this test. Economics is a bit of a weak point for me as well, since most of the questions I got wrong dealt with that subject (2 of first 30 wrong, 5 of last 30 wrong).

P.S. My name is Justin, and I am the guy who queried you a few months ago regarding some of my articles. Did you gat a chance to read any of the pieces I have posted on the Internet? I would be grateful if you could link to one or two of them, but if not, I at least look forward to hearing your comments at

Also, sorry for accidentally posting this comment in the wrong place.

kreiz1 said...

57/60 as well. I misread Andrew Jackson for Andrew Johnson. Gesh. Proudly, my daughter, a college junior, was 56/60.

Nathanael said...

You missed "philospher kings"? I admit I did (slightly) worse than you, but isn't that a gimme?

Marc said...

Hey, rub salt in the wound why don't ya!

OK wiseguy, what'd you miss? :)

Nathanael said...

Sorry, can't remember (it was yesterday that I took the test). I missed several related to finance (no surprise). I also missed the Jamestown question, the dividing line being choices just a few years from the colony's founding.

As for your last paragraph, I totally agree: better command of facts allows for more solid arguments. Historians get better with age (assuming their memory doesn't decline).

James Stripes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Stripes said...

You answered 58 out of 60 correctly — 96.67 %
Average score for this quiz during December: 73.9%
Average score since September 18, 2007: 73.9%

I also missed #58 (same wrong answer as you). I also missed the one concerned with the Federal Reserve. In both errors I quickly narrowed my choices to two, then selected the wrong one answer.

A few of the questions seemed obscure, trivial, or rooted more in opinion than fact. I would be happier with a lower score on a better constructed quiz. Still, I am horrified that any college senior (or even high school graduate) could score under 70%--clearly many do much worse.