James E. Talmage’s College Finals

Talmage was a student at the Provo BYU Acadamy in 1879 (he was 17). Talmage kept his blue book (actually eggshell book) and it ended up in an archive. I thought it was only fair that you all take the same test. Something tells me it will destroy you. Now, no cheating, looking on the internets or encyclopedias or whatever. Get out your paper and prepare for make or break. You can attempt answers in the comments. Possible grades James could earn (they are labeled “Marks of Criticism”):

X indicates answer missing

I indicates incomplete answer

F (You know that one)

* mark of excellence.

None of that A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, D+, D, D-, F sissy stuff.

There were seven parts to the exam:

I= Natural Philosophy (sort of practical physics as it were)

II= Astronomy

III= Chemistry

IV= Geology

V= Physiology

VI= Zoology

VII= Botany

James wrote 150 pages for his responses. He was already verbose. (And to be fair, his answers are somewhat vague by today’s standards, but then the questions are a little vague too). I’m only testing you on part I, mostly because I’m far too lazy to type in all the questions. Pencils ready? Ok. Here were go.


1. Describe the most efficient form of Water-wheel. (Add illustrations as necessary.)

2. Explain the principle upon which the telegraph operates.

3. State the physical causes of the three elements of a musical sound.

4. What will be the kinetic energy of a 25 pound ball that has fallen a mile (Reject small remainders).

5. What is the difference between evaporation and boiling?

6. Draw a figure showing the position of the parts of the cylinder and steam-chest when the piston is going up.

7. Point out the changes in the form of energy from the furnace fire through a high pressure engine to the heated axles set in motion.

8. What is the difference between waves of sound and waves of light?

9. Explain the difference between reflection and refraction of light.

10. What is the maximum weight that can be supported by a hydraulic elevator connected with a reservoir, the area of the piston being 24 sq. in. that of the connecting tube 1 sq. in. and the reservoir being 170 feet above the cylinder.


  1. Oh my goodness, keep writing out all the questions! I love this and I want to see all the questions!

  2. Franklin says:


  3. 5. Boiling occurs at 100 C at sea level; evaporation occurs from liquid water at all temperatures, regardless of pressure.

    Honestly, the questions here that aren’t entirely outdated could easily be answered by most college students who’ve recently taken two semesters of physics. Many universities require two semesters of physics for biology majors. Of course, Einstein’s advances, among others, means that those modern biology majors could also answer all kinds of questions about physics that Talmage didn’t know anything about.

  4. Lindsey Smith says:

    Uncle indeed!

  5. Half engineering, half physics. Interesting.

  6. J. Stapley says:

    8. What is the difference between waves of sound and waves of light?

    That would have been an interesting response in 1879.

  7. i swore when i walked out of 642 i was never taking another of your finals ever again and im not breaking that promise now. even under the guise of you giving us someone else’s final. :)

  8. david137, 642 no longer exists. This may be comforting. Or it may contribute to the ambient feeling of obsolescence.

  9. J. Stapley, it is. Talmage rarely makes use of techniques that would be considered basic today. I think his immaturity of expression probably reflects that of his teachers (mostly Maeser).

    Here’s the meat of his answer (I’m compressing his tendency to over express):

    The propagation of sound corresponds with that of light insomuch that both, according to the theories now generally accepted, are founded on the undulatory wave motion.

    Differences: “undulatory velocity.” Sound propagates by compression waves (his explanation struggles a bit). Light radiates in straight lines (rays). Sound can go through a crooked tube, light can’t.

  10. your food allergy is fake says:

    BY Academy was a high school.

    Your answer to #5 doesn’t explain why boiling and evaporation are different using physical principles and would have earned James an F.

  11. Grover, just to please you, here are the geology questions (Talmage eventually became a consulting geologist-got a PhD from Illinois Wesleyan as non-resident in 1896).

    1. Draw a parallel between the formation of the Eastern and Western Continents and Oceans.

    2. Explain the cause of the Delta formation.

    3. Which are the three methods of determining the order of the arrangement of Strata.

    4. What were the characteristics of life in the Archaean time?

    5. Give the topography of South America during the Silurian Age.

    6. What evidence have we that coal is of vegetable origin?

    7. Describe the result of the subsiding of the coast from New York to Cape Hatteras.

    8. Explain the process of Metamorphosis of Rocks.

    9. What evidences are there of a glacier period?

    10. Explain the theory of earthquakes.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    Way cool. This reminds me of those 8th grade exams from a hundred years ago that make me feel like an idiot.

  13. Where can we see the original? I assume there’s a digital version online?

  14. I’ll bet he failed the “Modern US History: Versailles to the Gulf of Tonkin” class, though. ;)

  15. New Iconoclast, Talmage didn’t care for history and at BYUA you could specialize.

  16. t0008sa, the original is at https://findingaid.lib.byu.edu/viewItem/MSS%20229/Series%202/. Other repositories have copies and other material. Try https://churchhistorycatalog.org.