Survey of College Seniors
Knowledge of History and Literature
Conducted for the National Endowment for the Humanities
You probably heard all about this test when the news media grabbed the results and shocked the nation with the average college student’s lack of knowledge. Here are some of the questions relating to early history and literature. See how you compare. The number after the answer is the percentage of correct answers on the original test.
1. A Greek play about a woman who defies a king in order to honor her dead brother is…Okay, these two aren’t exactly early period, but I love them.
2. A central episode in the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf involves a…
a. hero’s battle with the monster Grendel
3. In Greek mythology, Prometheus was chained to a rock as punishment for…
b. group of people trying to escape the plague
c. monster that dwells in Loch Ness
d. young boy’s battle against a giant
a. stealing fire from the gods and giving it to mortals.
4. The Koran is the sacred text of
b. killing a sacred animal in defiance of religious laws.
c. marrying a mortal woman and boasting about her great beauty.
d. deceiving humanity and bringing about widespread destruction.
5. What is the Magna Carta?
a. The Great Seal of the monarchs of England
6. Who ruled England at the time of the defeat of the Spanish Armada?
b. A foundation of the British parliamentary system
c. The French Declaration of the Rights of Man
d. The charter signed by the pilgrims on the Mayflower
a. Henry VIII
7. The region of Asian known as “the cradle of civilization” is…
b. Elizabeth I
c. Catherine the Great
c. William and Mary
8. Which Roman leader was assassinated because his political enemies saw him as a threat to the republic?
a. Alexander the Great
b. Julius Caesar
1. b (49%) The remaining answers were split almost exactly among the other three options.
2. a (65%; 14% picked b)
3. a (62%; 19% picked c)
4. b (58%)
5. b (45%; the sad thing is that 34% picked d)
6. b (31%; 42% chose a)
7. c (70%; Most people knew this one, but 22% still picked a and 4% picked d)
8. b (77%; Alexander came in second with 11%)
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