Peace Corps Placement Test

In the early days of the Peace Corps there was a Placement Test given to all applicants. Actually it was two tests. A 30-minute General Aptitude Test and a 30-minute Modern Language Aptitude Test. The areas of testing were in Verbal Aptitude, Agriculture, English, Health Sciences, Mechanical Skills, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, World History, Literature, United States History and Institutions, and Modern Language Aptitude. One-hour achievement tests in French and Spanish were also offered during the second hour. The instruction pamphlet that accompanied the tests said that the results would be used “to help find the most appropriate assignment for each applicant.”

For those who missed the opportunity to take the tests, which were given — as best I can remember — from 1961 until around 1967, I am including a few of the questions. Lets see if you could still get into the Peace Corps back then.

  1. Verbal Aptitude

The question below consists of a word printed in capital letters, followed by five words or phrases lettered A through E. Choose the lettered word or phrase which is most nearly opposite in meaning to the word in capital letters.


(A) stationary

(B) free

(C) automatic

(D) common

(E) easy

  1. Agriculture

After a seven year period of drought, an area had so much rain that floods were common. However, farms in these areas were still considered to be drought-stricken because

(A) Farmers had not had time to plant and harvest any crops

(B) The water table had not been raised significantly

(C) The economic losses had not been made up

(D) The floods had washed away the topsoil

(E) The large reservoirs had not yet been filled to capacity

  1. Mechanical Skills

In this part solve the problem, using any available space on the page for scratchwork. Then indicate the one correct answer in the appropriate space on the answer sheet.

What does 28 feet of wire weigh, if 154 feet weighs 11 pounds?

(A) 2 lb.

(B) 28/11 lb.

(C) 11/2 lb.

(D) 7 lb.

(E) 14 lb.

  1. United States History and Institutions

Upon which of the following did Jefferson base his argument for American independence in the Declaration of Independence?

(A) The rights of the colonists as Englishmen and British subjects

(B) The natural rights of man everywhere

(C) British neglect of the American colonies

(D) The absence of a written British constitution

(E) Britain’s indiscriminate disregard for procedural rights

  1. Literature Test
  2. “The Hero as Divinity, the Hero as Prophet, are productions of old ages; not to be repeated in the new. They presuppose a certain rudeness of conception, which the progress of mere scientific knowledge puts an end to. There needs to be, as it were, a world vacant, or almost vacant of scientific forms, if men in their loving wonder are to fancy their fellow-man either a god or one speaking with the voice of a god.”

On the basis of content and style, the passage can be judged to be the work of:

(A) Swinburne

(B) Arnold

(C) Carlyle

(D) Macaulay

(E) Ruskin

  1. ‘Tis late to hearken, late to smile,

But better late than never:

I shall have lived a little while

Before I die for ever.

Among other things, in these lines the poet is expressing his belief that

(A) a man should counterfeit cheer in preparing himself for death

(B) life is bitter, but must be endured

(C) old age makes a man impatient for death

(D) it is never too late to repent one’s misdeeds

(E) there is no life after death

  1. Health Sciences

The question below is followed by five suggested answers. Select the one which is best.

Which of the following would be the most satisfactory nutritional substitute for fresh orange juice?

(A) Fresh apple juice

(B) Fresh carrot juice

(C) Bottle prune juice

(D) Canned pineapple juice

(E) Canned grapefruit juice

  1. Physics

A helium-filled toy balloon is tied by a 3-foot string to the bottom of a closed box so that the balloon occupies the exact center of the box. The box is then given a sudden shove. While the box is accelerating, the position of the balloon is

(A) in back of its starting position

(B) in front of the center of the box

(C) between the center of the box and its starting position

(D) at the center of the box

(E) at its starting position

  1. World History

“The Calvinists were inclined to a democratic outlook by the circumstance that, for the most part, they remained a minority and were thus not able to prescribe the mode of life and religion of a whole region.”

Which of the following was probably among the regions which the author had in mind when he made this statement?

(A) Scotland

(B) France

(C) The Dutch Netherlands

(D) Geneva

(E) New England


Answers: 1. (E)   2. (B)   3. (A)   4. (B)   5a. (C)   5b. (E)   6. (E)   7. (B)   8. (B)


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  • I took the test in the Post Office in Boulder on a Saturday morning in April of 1963. I do not remember any of those questions. The only one I got right, now, was the one of nutrional substitute for orange juice. It is frightening to think that is why I was assigned to Health Education. As a political science major, I knew nothing about health.

    However, I got a telegram from Shriver in May of 1963, inviting me to training.

  • I remember taking that and several other tests in 1961 at the old Chicago Library and subsequently while in training. The Chicago Medical School granted me a two year leave of absence to teach biology in Malaya. Heaven only knows how I did on the test. Peace Corps assigned me toTenku Bariah Secondary School where I, as a Catholic kid from the northwest side of Chicago, became the interim Uatas teaching Islamic Studies to TBSS students.and since Peace Corps Teachers were not allowed to be idle when schools were closed, I was assigned to build water-sealed latrines in rural Malaysia during school holidays.

  • By the time I applied (1975), the aptitude tests, the Tarzan training mode and group analysis had been eliminated because wise men and women realized that these things had nothing to do with field success. They were nonsensical examples of bureaucrats over-thinking simple tasks. Some things don’t change. My younger son served in Panama (2015-2017). I flew down for his graduation from training and had the opportunity of meeting staff and the trainees. I was surprised to meet a very homogeneous group of naïve youngsters convinced that we, as Americans, were somehow superior and had the duty to set the world right. Someone in D.C. had been cherry-picking resumes filled with ultra-cool, campy save-the-world in two easy weeks type of experiences: the same kind that get you into ivy league schools. This did not impress me as wise. Good neighbors respect each other without the superiority complex. Yo! Jody! Can you hear me now?

  • I missed the author question and the Calvinists. I had only heard of Carlyle and Ruskin but picked wrong. I guess I’m not as well read as I supposed.

    I don’t think this is a pass-fail test. It’s intended to see who should be a teacher/leader/ laborer/construction worker? Obviously, I should not teach European Lit or European History.

  • Fun to take the test again. What I remember most about taking it in college, for the first time, is that my roommate had taken it the previous semester. He remembered that there was a language aptitude test with a fake language. You were given a bunch of fake words and told what they meant and then you had to answer questions about them. He remembered that the word for art was “roo”. Sure enough, there it was on the test I took. And now 55 years later that’s still all I remember about it.

  • I was already selected to serve and when I went home for a couple of weeks, I was asked to take it to complete my file. :Looking at the test , I think that I would have failed! However, the process for selecting trainees was once described to me by Don Romine, who was one of three Peace Corps staff tasked with the job of filling training projects: in the center of the room was a table on which applications were stacked as they were received. The three each read an application, and if acceptable, placed it on one of the stacks of training projects spread around the walls of the room. If anyone had a question about a specific applicant, the other two would read it and they would reach a decision as to whether to reject that applicant or in which training project to place it. Given the caliber of Don Romine’s knowledge and skills, I do not doubt that it was the best selection system that could be devised under the circumstances. And, the selection process during training, with five classifications ranging from “acceptable” to “high risk-high gain” would eliminate anyone deemed as not acceptable. Given the “skimming process, the best and brightest were most often selected, as be seen from the low rate of early terminations.

    • Very interesting. University of New Mexico has the best Peace Corps archive of training documents. Here is a paragraph from Sargent Shriver’s memo to his staff, in August of 1952 about Selection:

      Box 1 in the Selections 1962-1963 folder of UNMA 150, the Peace Corps Collection, Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico.

      “Communications with Trainees Not “Selected in”
      Responsibility for informing a trainee that the Peace Corps cannot offer him. an overseas assignment is the sole responsibility of the Field Selection Officer, or another member of the Board designated by the Selection Officer. As indicated in the attached sample memorandum, it is usually not desirable, and often not possible, to answer the question: “Why was I not selected? All Board members may expect to be asked this question and one is strongly tempted to try to answer it. Please do not do so! A partial answer is usually worse than none. When asked by trainees, refer them to the Field Selection Officer.”

  • My training group, in early 1963, Ghana-3 Geology, training together with Tunisia -1 Nurses and Agriculturalists, never saw this test. I’m sure the majority of our training groups would have failed it, grandly. Certainly us geologists.

    In 1962 there was a prominent request by newly-independent Ghans for field geologists, and it seemed that any PC applicant with the right degree would be selected-in. Years later, it was evident that several of our training groups should NOT have been selected and sent either to Ghana nor to Tunisia. I remember, years afterward, some blunt conversations with selectors and HQ guys, about this. I probably am one of the few RPCVs. after service, being able to discuss the section process with the selection team.

    I think, the truth is that back then, in those early days, in a sort of fantasy world, nobody had the faintest idea what they were selecting FOR. I remember the PC HQ sent out an exchange professor from Nigeria, to talk to us Ghana-3 candidates. His candid impression was ” to hell with all this academia”. ALL OF US who wished to work in W Africa, would be welcomed. He would participate in the final selection process, and I suspect his candor sobered a lot of the academiic theoeticians.

    But, afterward, i realized he was only half correct — as was the superacademician, a professor of geology, recruited from Johns Hoplkins to decide about our scientific credentials — and whose knowledge of the sociology of W Africa, and the work many of us would actually be doing, really was on the Kindergarten level. Having said that, still some of our group, and the Tunisia Agriculturalists, simply lacked the breadth, and attitude, to cope with the “Second Goal”. And sadly, a few “selected-out”, I think would have done admirably. SO, the early days of PC selection.

    One thing that sticks in my memory is the personification of that first Ghana PC project, founding Country Director, George Carter, a veteran of domestic civil rights struggles, who knew nonsense and BS, and who had the cool-headed sense of what REALLY was going on, and what was needed of us volunteers. I owe a debt of gratitude to George, and his pithy wisdom and insight. When George authorized my transfer to the then-colony of Nyasaland Protectorate, on the other side of Africa, his parting words were “Do some good over there, John.” And, judging from the career-recommendations I later would receive from my peers, I HAD. And today, I can speak to the realities of BOTH sides of that vast continent.

    Lots to be thinking about — and trying to preserve for a new generation coming up. John Turnbull Ghana-3 Geology and Nyasaland/Malawi -2 geology assignment 1963, -64, -65,

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