The Citizenship Test is Getting Harder

Erick Widman

USCIS issued a Policy Alert on November 13, 2020 which describes upcoming changes to the test required to gain US citizenship. The changes will affect applicants who file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, on or after December 1, 2020.

In order to be approved at the Naturalization interview, applicants must pass English language and civics tests in order to demonstrate their language proficiency and basic understanding of United States history and government.

Currently, the civics test consists of 10 questions, 6 of which must be answered correctly in order to pass and become a US citizen. USCIS provides a general bank of 100 possible test questions and answers on their website which can be studied in advance. The current version of the test has been used by USCIS since 2008.

According to the new Policy Alert, the following changes will be made to the Naturalization civics test:

  • The general bank of test questions will increase from 100 to 128;
  • The number of questions asked during the interview will increase from 10 to 20;
  • Applicants must answer 12 questions correctly instead of 6;
  • USCIS officers will ask applicants all 20 questions, even if they have already answered the required 12 questions correctly, instead of ending the test as soon as the applicant answers enough correct answers.

The Policy Alert specifies that applicants 65 years or older who have been in the US as Lawful Permanent Residents for at least 20 years will be exempt from the new test requirements. The English language portion of the test will not change for any applicants, and will continue to be determined by the applicant’s ability to participate in the interview in English.

Critics of the new citizenship test believe that it will contribute to additional delays and backlogs at USCIS, as interviewing officers will need to spend significantly more time administering the test. Additionally, doubling the number of questions applicants must answer correctly will likely lead to more failed tests, which will need to be taken again. Citizenship applicants are given two chances to pass the civics exam, but if they fail the second time, they must refile their application and try again once they are scheduled for a new interview.

Applicants who file their N-400 petition on or after December 1, 2020 should be prepared to study for the new version of the test. Study materials can be found here.

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