What Changes will the United States Citizenship Test Undergo?

After more than 10 years without an update, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) launched an updated naturalization portion of the civics test to provide a fresh perspective on history and basic civics. The test is the final step of the naturalization process that all immigrants must engage in to become a citizen of the United States. The update is the result of months of collaborate work between the USCIS and several community-based organizations and volunteers throughout the nation.

The updated test will apply to all candidates applying for citizenship who filed their paperwork after Dec. 1, 2020. All of those who applied prior to that date can still take the old test. There are also special circumstances for candidates who are at least 65 years old and have at least 20 years of lawful permanent resident status.

What is Different About the New Test?

The new test is slightly longer than the previous one as it has 20 questions as opposed to 10. The passing score has not changed as candidates must still correctly answer 60 percent of the questions to pass. The reason for the new questions, according to the USCIS, is to test an applicant’s understanding of U.S. history and their knowledge of civics. Determining what level of knowledge is sufficient is based on statutory requirements, the agency said. The new test covers several topics, and the agency is hoping that it will allow new citizens to learn more about the history of the nation.

The test is given orally to all candidates, and it is the final stage of the naturalization process. Many of the questions involve U.S. history, including the nation’s origins and the structure of the government. There are also several questions pertaining to current leadership, including:

  • Who is the governor of one’s state?
  • Name one of the senators in the state.
  • Name one of the representatives in the state.
  • Who is the Speaker of the House?
  • Who is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?
  • Who is the President of the United States?

About 40 percent of the questions from the previous test remain the same with no alterations. Other questions have remained, but the wording and language have been updated, and there are some entirely new questions. The new test has eliminated many of the geographical aspects of the earlier test to make way for relevant questions pertaining to the structure of the government. One question asks the applicant to list the three branches of government.

Why was the Test Updated?

The USCIS first announced plans to modernize the test in 2019, saying it needed updating to ensure that it remains an accurate barometer for testing an applicant’s knowledge of civics and that it reflects best practices in adult education assessments. The goal of the update is to verify that the test is meaningful, uniform, and efficient, according to the agency. In general, the purpose of the test is to determine an applicant’s knowledge and understanding of U.S. history, government, and values.

The agency worked with several volunteers, as well as other community-based organizations that work with immigrants, to come up with the new test. Agency representatives issued test pilots to ascertain the positives and negatives about the changes they were considering. The USCIS collected the information it gauged from these interactions and used it to finalize the language and grammatical structure of individual test items. They also finalized the linguistic and cognitive weights assigned to each test item and identified what topics were most appropriate to pose to candidates.

Why is the Test Part of the Naturalization Process?

The test is the culmination of a naturalization process, which can take months to complete, depending on several factors. The process includes filling out an application, as well as obtaining references to vouch for a candidate’s character. The person administering the test chooses 20 questions out of 128 potential ones. When giving the test, the administrator is not only looking for the correct answers, but they are also testing the applicant’s knowledge of the English language in how they speak and read. This requirement was not updated or changed with the new test.

The tests were first introduced more than 100 years ago and served as a fair way to determine a candidate’s understanding of U.S. history and civics. Prior to that, a naturalization judge was tasked with determining this knowledge from a candidate. The flawed system was based purely on the judge’s feelings or instinct. The result was an inconsistent system that denied citizenship to those who deserved it and granted it to those who did not. The test was an unbiased way to eliminate this inconsistency.

What are the Downsides of the Updated Test?

Opponents argue that the changes will make it harder for candidates to pass the test. They point out that the pass rate of the previous test was more than 90 percent, and they fear that the high number will see a reduction due to these changes. Overall, there has been a growing number of applicants who have been granted citizenship, with 2019 seeing more than 840,000 new citizens. This represents an increase of 11 percent, according to the federal government. Opponents of the updated test say that these numbers could drop going forward due to this test.

Another critique of the test is the size; they argue that doubling the number of questions an agent must go through will take longer. This means the agency will get through less tests per day, resulting in a reduction of applicants processed per day, which will slow the overall naturalization process. The process has been growing in length naturally, with the average wait time being about 10 months in 2019, as opposed to six months three years prior. Others say that the new test is designed to confuse people as the new questions and the revised language are too complicated and nuanced for applicants to competently follow.

Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. Help Clients Rightfully Obtain Citizenship

If you are looking to become a citizen in this country, or you are facing problems related to your immigration status, our Philadelphia immigration lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. can help. We can provide you with the legal help you require to help you through the naturalization process. Call us at 215-925-4435 or contact us online for an initial consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and nationwide.