Are you smarter (about civics) than an 8th grader?

Kathryn Fenner, knowing my weakness for taking poli sci tests and giving them to my readers, shared this Slate item about the civics portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).t

Slate shared these 10 sample questions:

1. Which activity is an example of civil society rather than an example of government?

  1. The sanitation department picks up Town X’s garbage every Monday morning.
  2. The School Board of Town X decides on its yearly budget.
  3. A builder in Town X asks the planning board to approve his plans for a housing development.
  4. The places of worship in Town X join together to provide food and shelter for the homeless.

2. A military government in Country X is taking away the political rights of a particular group in the country. What impact would this most likely have on the United States?

  1. An increase in inflation in the United States
  2. An increase in immigration from Country X to the United States
  3. A decrease in United States import tariffs
  4. A decrease in the number of cases brought before the Supreme Court

3. The United States and Japan disagree most about the

  1. growing power of the Japanese military
  2. openness of Japanese markets to American products
  3. need to give aid to underdeveloped countries
  4. number of Japanese who can immigrate to the United States

4. Which of the following has been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court?

  1. Requiring students in public schools to recite prayers
  2. Requiring journalists to reveal the names of people who provide information for news stories
  3. Allowing citizens to sue the federal government
  4. Allowing states to require that children be vaccinated against diseases

5. Which of the following is an example of people using power without having the right to do so?

  1. The owner of a newspaper prints her own opinions in the newspaper.
  2. A governor vetoes a bill passed by the state legislature.
  3. A group of people against nuclear power march outside a nuclear power plant.
  4. A police officer arrests someone because the person looks suspicious.

6. The process for amending the United States Constitution is described in Article V of the Constitution. According to Article V, both Congress and the states must participate in the amendment process. This requirement reflects which of the following ideas about the distribution of power in America?

  1. Separation of powers among the three branches of government
  2. Separation of church and state
  3. The importance of local government control
  4. The importance of federalism

7. Which of the following is a true statement about the United States Constitution?

  1. It created a democratic socialist state.
  2. It established a parliamentary government like that in Great Britain.
  3. It proclaimed that the government was based upon the consent of the people.
  4. It allowed a totalitarian government to function.

8. What is one responsibility that modern Presidents have that was not described in the Constitution?

  1. Commanding the armed forces
  2. Granting pardons
  3. Appointing Supreme Court justices
  4. Proposing an annual budget to Congress

9. Sometimes the common good conflicts with individual rights. Which of the following is an example of this?

  1. A person is put in jail because she is guilty of a violent crime.
  2. A person must move out of his house so that a highway can be built.
  3. Schools are closed because of icy roads.
  4. A community organizes to clean up a vacant lot.

10. Near the end of an election campaign, a poll shows that an issue that no candidate has mentioned is of great concern to voters. What is most likely to happen?

  1. The election will be postponed.
  2. Newspapers will not report the results of the poll.
  3. Candidates will start talking about the issue.
  4. Some candidates will drop out of the race.

Get yourselves a scratch sheet, and jot down your answers.

I did, and, ahem, I got them all right. Which of course made me particularly eager to share it with you. I was afraid I might not, because I thought maybe the test would cover very specific things from the school curriculum, and it’s been a long time since I was in the 8th grade.

But it was the best sort of test, one that tests whether you know how our society works, rather than testing rote memorization. The sort that — if not for, you know, constitutional questions — ought everyone ought to be required to pass before voting. Think how much better governed we would be if voters actually understood what was going on…

All done? You can find the answers here. How did you do?

20 thoughts on “Are you smarter (about civics) than an 8th grader?

  1. Mike

    I got 10 out of 10 right.

    Still, I have a hard time believing that the average eighth grader is supposed to know all of this. If they are, then our schools are WAY behind in teaching civics education.

  2. Doug Ross

    10 for 10 for me. Only one I had any doubts about was #8.

    An 8th grader SHOULD be able to get 100 on that test. My guess is that the average would be closer to 30%.

  3. Doug Ross

    How about we replace the PACT/PASS test with this one for 8th graders? Being able to comprehend the meaning of those questions and answering them correctly would probably be a good indicator of graduation potential.

  4. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    I missed #8 and misread number 1. I recall that my grades went up significantly after I started going back and checking my work.

    @ Doug– I don’t think they teach civics per se any more–they didn’t even teach it when I was in school except as an elective. This is how we get Tea Party voters who embrace that establishment outsider Donald Trump! (Donald Trump!)

  5. Brad

    My libertarian friend Doug Ross just said a rather communitarian thing. If I recall correctly (and it’s been awhile since I’ve read anything avowedly communitarian), the idea is that a central aim (if not THE central aim) of public education should be to teach kids about the society they live in, so they’ll be fully prepared to participate as citizens.

  6. Karen McLeod

    This test was a no brainer. I got 10 out of 10, and civics is not one of my most proficient areas. But how could you miss if you read the questions correctly, and understood what the words meant?

  7. Doug Ross


    It’s also how we get Alvin Greene voters.


    The greatest fear of our current crop of politicians is an informed electorate. They RELY on the stupidity and apathy of the voters.

  8. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    I thought it was the Declaration of Independence that was brought us government by the consent of the governed, and I skipped the last choice under question one.

  9. Scout

    I got 90% – couldn’t decide between 1 and 2 on #9. Picked the wrong one.

    Doug, the rigor of the PACT/PASS is closely correlated with the NAEP, unlike some other states’ tests. If you like I can probably find the link to the data that shows that. This, of course, doesn’t doesn’t mean that our kids are doing like they should on either test – it means that the data shows they do about the same unfortunate level on both tests, whereas other states that have fluff tests have really high pass rates on their state test, but do quite poorly on the NAEP.

  10. Steve Gordy

    10 out of 10. But then, I just got through reviewing all this stuff while preparing an exam for my students at Piedmont Tech.

  11. Brad

    Nah, Steve, that wasn’t it. You got it right based on long-term understanding of how our society works. I don’t think you could cram for anything like this, unless someone had leaked you the questions and answers ahead of time.

    If the questions were something like, “What does the 4th Amendment guarantee?” then studying might help. But this was less about facts, and more about understanding.

  12. Doug Ross


    PASS/PACT has no demonstrated value. It’s like testing the blood sugar of a diabetic and then handing him a slice of chocolate cake.

    It’s testing without a purpose. If it had any value, a student wouldn’t move to middle school without passing both the english and math tests in 5th grade nor to high school without passing the 8th grade test. Is that what happens?

  13. Pat

    Doug, I don’t think the purpose of PASS is to retain students. The purpose is to learn what the student doesn’t know so he can receive targeted instruction. PACT didn’t do that and was why so many educators complained about it.

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