A Closer Look at the Citizenship Test

After an applicant has filed for US naturalization, he or she must pass the citizenship test in order to achieve citizen status. The naturalization test is administered by immigration officers and is designed to help determine whether an applicant has an adequate grasp of the English language and US history and civics.

Now that a new study has been released by professor Paula Winke, questioning the accuracy and reliability of the civics portion of the test, more people are taking a closer look at the test. According to Winke, the test may not be reliable because the ten questions applicants are asked on the civics portion of the test are chosen at random from 100 questions, and some of those 100 questions are harder to answer than others. This may mean that an applicant may be fortunate enough to be asked simple civics questions or may have to struggle through challenging questions that even a US citizen may have trouble answering.

The USCIS changed the civics part of the test in 2008. When researchers administered the revamped test to citizens and noncitizens alike, 30% of the respondents failed two different forms of the test, 44% passed both and 23% failed one form and passed another.

According to a spokesperson from the USCIS, about 93% of applicants who take the naturalization test pass on the first attempt, and study materials are provided through different channels to ensure that applicants can learn the materials. According to the spokesperson, the test is designed to ensure that applicants learn and study English and US civics, and is not meant to act as an obstacle to naturalization.

Although Winke’s study does create some questions about the US citizenship test, the reality is that many applicants, despite the challenges, still manage to pass the naturalization test and become US citizens. Winke has suggested steps that the USCIS can take to ensure that the test is more standardized and fairer. In the meantime, there are many things that applicants can do to ensure that they pass the test:

1) Start studying early. Since the test covers civics, history, and English, there is quite a bit to study. Applicants should start studying as soon as they realize they want to become US citizens.

2) Study using a variety of materials. Over-preparation ensures that applicants are prepared to answer easy questions or the more challenging questions. Taking a citizenship class, reading test preparation books, visiting the USCIS website to review the test materials, and studying with a citizenship test DVD ensures that students are prepared to answer a wide range of questions.

3) Stay positive. It is possible to make a big difference in test results by studying. Many applicants can and do pass their citizenship interview with a little studying.