Weeks of classes, study and practice boil down to one 20-minute interview â€“ a short time, it seems, but an eternity for hopeful U.S. citizens awaiting naturalization. Six questions are all it takes to pass the American citizenship test, but for many hopeful citizens, six questions can be more than daunting.
To pass the citizenship exam â€“ administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services â€“ aspiring citizens must properly read one full sentence in English, write a dictated English sentence, and correctly answer six out of ten civics and history questions. As simple as the format might sound, however, the exam is frightening for many immigrants unschooled in American history and traditions.
Unlike a conventional exam, the citizenship test takes into account that immigrants may be intimidated â€“ no exam sheets or bubbles, no daunting rooms with rows of desks or ticking timers. Instead, the test is administered by a USCIS officerÂ on a one-on-one basis whenever an applicant is prepared to proceed with the naturalization process. And failing is no big problem â€“ applicants who fail the exam can retake the test another time until they pass.
USCIS has worked towards making the exam even more simple and significant for citizenship applicants. Oct. 1, 2009, marked the one-year anniversary of the revamped citizenship exam, the product of a six-year redesign initiated to address concerns that the old exam included too much trivia and was not meaningful enough for applicants, according to the USCIS website.
â€œOur new test captures the meaning of citizenship and is consistent with our values and history as a nation,â€ USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas said.
While the old test asked questions like, â€œwhat are some of the basic beliefs of the Declaration of Independence,â€ the new test asks more open-ended question such as, â€œwhat did the Declaration of Independence do?â€
Among the examâ€™s 100 questions are topics related to American history, government, geography and culture. The full exam, along with detailed answers and explanations, is available to all aspiring citizens online. [Click here for the full list of questions.]
Since its inception, the new citizenship exam has proved overwhelmingly successful. When the test was piloted last year, 92.4 percent of applicants passed after their first try, USCIS reported.
Still, the new exam raises questions about the appropriateness of the naturalization test in judging an immigrantâ€™s citizenship eligibility. Critics question whether aspiring citizens should truly have to know the presidential chain of command, the name of the current Chief Justice, or the authors of the Federalist Papers â€“ questions many Americans struggle with themselves.
A survey conducted by the Goldwater Institute in June 2009 found that only 3.5 percent of Arizona high school students attending public schools would pass the citizenship test, based on the results of a sample test administered to students.
But if the numbers are any indication, aspiring citizens seem comfortable enough with the new exam. A long and daunting process, to be sure, the citizenship exam may leave naturalized U.S. citizens more â€œAmericanâ€ than life-long Americans themselves.