Tricky English quiz dating back to 1913 released by Cambridge

Can YOU answer this century-old exam test? English proficiency quiz dating back to 1913 is released by Cambridge University as it celebrates 110th anniversary of tests that are now taken by six million yearly

  • Questions originally set for three students taking first ever C2 English exam 

For grammar sticklers, the increased use of the split infinitive in recent decades will have been painful to observe. 

Sentences where an adverb is put between ‘to’ and the verb have become much more frequent. 

But back in 1913, the practice was very much considered a no-no, as an English test from Cambridge University proves. 

The question was originally set for the three students who took the first ever C2 English exam.

The C2 remains the pinnacle of the Cambridge English exams, which are taken by 6.1million people every year.   

The question from 1913 – intended for people who wanted to become English language teachers – was pulled from the university’s archives to mark the 110th anniversary of the Cambridge English exams.

It begins by asking students to correct or justify four sentences while giving their reasons. 

The first reads: ‘I hope you are determined to seriously improve.’

The second says: ‘Comparing Shakespeare with Aeschylus, the former is by no means inferior to the latter.’

The third reads: ‘I admit I was willing to have made peace with you.’

The fourth says: ‘The statement was incorrect, as any one familiar with the spot, and who was acquainted with the facts, will admit.’

The fifth adds: ‘It has the largest circulation of any paper in England.’

And the sixth says: ‘The lyrical gifts of Shakespeare are woven into the actual language of the characters.’  

Back in 1913, the C2 cost £3, the equivalent of nearly £285 in today’s money.

It lasted for 12 hours and included translation, dictation and phonetic transcription.

Back in 1913, the C2 cost £3, the equivalent of nearly £285 in today’s money

The C2 originally lasted for 12 hours and included translation, dictation and phonetic transcription. Above: The 1913 exam question

The first exams were taken by people who wanted to become English language teachers.

Today the C2 is intended for students who are looking to prove they are highly competent in English before they enter higher education in the UK. 

The test now takes around four hours and costs around £172. 

Francesca Woodward, managing director for English at Cambridge University Press & Assessment, said:  ‘From just three candidates, we now open doors for millions of people every year to learn and teach English. 

‘The historical papers from our archives paint a fascinating picture of how much has changed when it comes to learning English with Cambridge. 

‘The original papers were a revolution in English language assessment, setting clear goals and emphasising the ability to use the language.’


Cambridge ask readers to note that opinions about what is ‘correct’ English have changed significantly in the past 110 years. 

However, the answers are:

a.) This is a split infinitive, so should be avoided in formal writing and back in 1913 would have been considered wrong. The correct sentence would be: ‘I hope you are determined seriously to improve.’

b.) This is wrong because it is a hanging participle, which unintentionally modifies the wrong noun in a sentence. Instead, you could say, ‘Shakespeare is by no means inferior to Aeschylus,’ or ‘Shakespeare is just as good as Aeschylus.’ 

c.) The tenses are wrong: it should be ‘to make peace’.

d.) ‘Would admit’ instead of ‘Will admit’ is probably what they were looking for.

NOTE: e.) and f.) are correct but students would need to explain why no changes are needed.

Source: Read Full Article