Maybe, maybe not. However here’s some exam questions from the 50s.
First we have some GCE O Level General Science:
1. State the Principle of Archimedes, and describe
carefully an experiment you have carried out to verify
Explain briefly (a) why a hydrogen balloon rises,
but will eventually stop rising; (b) how a balloonist can
control the altitude of his balloon.
And then on Monday 29th of June, 1959 at 2pm until 4:30pm you might have sat the “Universities of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield and Birmingham Joint Matriculation Board”‘s GCE English Language Paper A. This is a scanned image so you’ll have to follow the link.
And to finish off, how about a nice bit of algebra.
Looks quite hard and testing doesn’t it. Lots of complex words, very terse layout and zero help given to the kids sitting the exam. It’s assumed they knew what to do. Proper exam.
Let’s look at modern equivalents since they seem to take a lot of criticism. Here are comparable exams that were sat last year. They’re real GCSEs, not “applied” or a “99% coursework with token exam” course.
There’s a very different style of exam paper now. They look more like application forms than a list of questions. There are boxes for marks, the kids doing the exam know what is expected of them (making education more about knowing what’s going on, rather than guessing what you’re supposed to do), and it tells them exactly what to do – so if they do it wrong nobody can complain “well I didn’t know I only had to answer one question”.
Look at the actual questions though; I don’t think the content of exams has become easier – the same sorts of things are still being tested. The difference is that the style of questioning and the layout of the paper has been made simpler.
Of course, what we can’t see from the old papers is what the grade boundaries are and what you needed for a C grade.