How to prepare for your citizenship test

The citizenship test is one of the final steps in the long process of becoming a naturalized US citizen. The purpose of this step is to demonstrate your understanding of the English language and your knowledge of the US government and important American events, people, and places. 

The citizenship test, sometimes called the naturalization interview, will be in the form of a one-on-one interview with a USCIS officer who will test your English reading, writing, and speaking skills and your knowledge of US civics. According to USCIS, the naturalization test has a 90% pass rate, but that shouldn’t mean that you won’t need to study or prepare. Like any test, preparation, and knowing the material is the key to a successful outcome.

What’s on the test

During your interview, a USCIS officer will be evaluating your proficiency in English by asking you questions based on your N-400 application. You will not be penalized on your accent and feel free to ask the officer to repeat or rephrase the question if you do not understand it. In this portion of the interview, you will also be given three sentences to read in English. To pass, you will need to read the sentences without any extended pauses. But don’t worry if you get nervous, as you will have three chances to complete the exercise. 

To test your ability to write in English, the officer will dictate to you three sentences in English. You’ll have three chances to legibly write one of the sentences in English. Don’t worry about grammatical errors as long as they don’t interfere with the meaning of the sentence. If the sentence includes numbers, you can either spell them out or write the digit. 

During the civics test portion of the interview, you will need to answer six out of ten questions correctly. If you are unable to do so, the interview will stop, and the officer will reschedule another interview within 90 days. If you fail after a second attempt, your N-400 will be denied. However, you may re-apply for citizenship at any time after your denial by submitting a new application and paying the appropriate fees. 

Oklahoma City citizenship classes

There are many free resources in Oklahoma City that can help you prepare for the naturalization exam. For example, the Oklahoma City Literacy Coalition offers free English as a second language (ESL) and citizenship classes throughout the OKC metro area.

The Metropolitan Library System is also a useful resource for free materials on citizenship, the immigration process, and other related topics. Multiple locations in the Metropolitan Library system also offer a free 15-week citizenship class, which can help prepare you for the naturalization test and interview. 

The Oklahoma City Community College also offers free citizenship classes. Their classes also focus on the N-400 application, including how to answer difficult questions, how to talk to the immigration office, and practical English-speaking skills.

Study resources and materials

If you’ve lived and worked in the US, the naturalization test may be reasonably easy to pass. But don’t fail to study based on the assumption you’ll pass due to your time in America. There are many free resources available to make sure you’re prepared on interview day. 

The USCIS website offers a variety of study materials for the civics and English portion of your interview. Resources include flashcards, interactive practice exams, a reading vocabulary list, videos, study booklets, and a PDF of civics questions and answers in your choice of English, Spanish, or Chinese. An MP3 audio version is also available in English or Spanish. 

USA Learns is a free educational website that tests your English language skills through videos and interactive games and activities. The citizenship course, available in English, Arabic, Spanish, and Tagalog, tests your knowledge of US history and government and prepares you for questions about your N-400 application. 

You will find many practice tests and resources online, as well as free mobile apps to test your knowledge on the go. Many local schools and community organizations also offer free or low-cost programs and classes to help make sure you are prepared. While you’re studying, enlist the help of a friend or family member to quiz you. Since the test will be in the form of an interview, a study partner can help to mimic the actual test experience. 

It’s also important to note that you are responsible for knowing the current state and federal elected officials, as you may be asked to name them in your interview. Since elections occur every year, your study material may not reflect the most up-to-date officeholders. Keep an eye on elections and the local and national news to make sure you are aware of any changes in office. 

Test exemptions

Some applicants, because of age, time as a permanent resident, or other necessary accommodations or modifications, are exempt from the English requirement of the naturalization test. If you qualify, you must select the exemption at the time of filing your N-400 form. Exemptions include:

  • 50/20 exemption – You are 50 or older at the time of filing for naturalization or lived in the US as a permanent resident for at least 20 years
  • 55/15 exemption – You are 55 or older at the time of filing for naturalization or have lived in the US as a permanent resident for at least 15 years
  • If you are 65 or older and have been a permanent resident for at least 20 years, you may be given special consideration regarding the civics requirement
  • Physical or developmental disability or mental impairment – if you are unable to take the English or civics test due to a disability, you must submit Form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions

Even if you qualify for the 50/20 or 55/15 exemption, you are still required to take the civics test. However, you are permitted to take the test in your native language. If you choose to test in your native language, you must bring an interpreter who is both fluent in English and your language of choice. 

Note that your time as a permanent resident does not have to be continuous. As long as your overall time in the United States meets the requirement, you may be eligible for the English test exemptions. 

What to expect on the day of your interview

USCIS will mail you a notice of when and where to appear for your naturalization interview. It’s a good idea to make sure you are familiar with the location of your interview in advance to avoid getting lost or caught in any route delays, like construction. If you miss your appointment, you may reschedule, but it could add months to your overall process time. You’ll need to reschedule within one year of your missed interview date, or your application will be denied, and you must start the process all over again. 

Aim to arrive at least 30 minutes early and bring a copy of your N-400 and any supporting documentation. It’s not necessary to dress formally for your interview; however, the best rule of thumb is to avoid looking sloppy or careless. If unsure, aim for a “business casual” look of a collar shirt or blouse. 

Your immigration attorney can accompany you, but they cannot speak on your behalf. However, your lawyer can help if there are any issues of concern, such as the time you spent outside of the US, a recent divorce from the person who sponsored your green card, your criminal history, or a disability that prevents you from taking the English portion of the test. 

The USCIS officer will begin testing your understanding of the English language from the very beginning of the interview. They will be paying attention to your ability to follow directions and your comprehension of questions based on your N-400 form. The officer may repeat or rephrase questions until they are satisfied that you have a firm grasp of English. 

What happens next?

After you have completed the reading, writing, and civics portion of the interview process, the USCIS officer will inform you whether or not you have been approved or tell you to wait for the results to be mailed. If approved, you will be given information about attending an oath ceremony. The oath ceremony is the final step in the process of becoming a US citizen. 

If the USCIS officer is unable to make a decision on the day of your interview, your case will be continued. The continuation may mean that you must supply additional evidence or retake the English or civics portion of the interview. On your second chance to re-test, you will only be tested on the parts of the interview that you failed in the first round. 

If your application is denied, you will receive documentation stating the official reasons for the denial. You can choose to appeal or to reapply. Before your next step, be sure to consult with an immigration attorney to help you understand the denial and ensure that your new application has all of the necessary supporting documentation, or you will most likely be denied again.  

As you prepare the naturalization interview, visit the USCIS website to familiarize yourself with the test and interview process as well as all the steps before and after. Be sure to get a good night’s rest so you can arrive confident and prepared.

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