The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is proposing changes to the US citizenship test, sometimes called the naturalization test. The proposed changes include updating the speaking section to assess English skills and updating the content and format of the civics test. The USCIS expects the initiative to take approximately two years and be ready for implementation by late 2024. A nationwide trial of the redesigned naturalization test is being conducted to test the changes.
The changes are part of a broader effort by the Biden administration to reform the US immigration system. The administration has also streamlined the naturalization process by eliminating the citizenship application fee for low-income applicants and reducing the wait time for naturalization interviews.
What is the US citizenship test?
The US citizenship test is a test that immigrants must pass to become US citizens. The test is one of the final steps toward citizenship, a months-long process that requires legal permanent residency for years before applying. The current format of the US citizenship test is made up of two components: an English test and a civics test.
The English test assesses the applicant’s ability to read, write, and speak in English and consists of three parts: a speaking test, a reading test, and a writing test. The civics test evaluates the applicant’s knowledge of US history and government and is an oral test. The USCIS officer will ask up to 20 questions from a list of 128 civics test questions, and the applicant must answer at least 12 of the questions correctly to pass the test.
Naturalization Test Redesign Initiative
The proposed changes to the citizenship test are part of the Naturalization Test Redesign Initiative, which aims to standardize and structure the naturalization test and make it more meaningful for applicants. The initiative is intended to support the goals outlined in Executive Order 14012, Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration. The USCIS has emphasized that the redesigned naturalization test will be more fair, transparent, and accessible to all eligible individuals.
The initiative includes a nationwide trial of the redesigned naturalization test to test the changes. The trial test will consist of proposed changes to the English-speaking portion of the test and updates to the content and format of the civics test. The USCIS has emphasized that the redesigned test will continue to assess applicants’ knowledge of US history and government and that the new English-speaking section will be designed to evaluate applicants’ ability to communicate in English in everyday situations.
Approximately 1,500 individuals enrolled in adult education classes with volunteer community-based organizations will take the trial test. The trial results may be used to support changes to the naturalization test.
What are the proposed changes to the US citizenship test?
Under the proposed changes to the US citizenship test, a new English-speaking section would be added to the test. During the speaking section, an agent would show photos of daily life and ask the applicant to describe them. Additionally, the civics test would have a new written multiple-choice format. The content and format of the civics test would also be updated.
According to an article written by Bill Bliss, a language and civics educator, “The current oral civics questions would be replaced by a multiple-choice exam that requires a significantly higher level of reading skill and test-taking ability. The current English-speaking evaluation, which consists of personal information and application-related questions, would be replaced by a formal test that uses photograph prompts and a scoring rubric for evaluating language proficiency.”
The proposed changes to the US citizenship test have raised concerns for those with low English skills and may have potential consequences for the naturalization process. Some of the possible consequences of the proposed changes include:
- Some believe the proposed changes will create new barriers to gaining citizenship, particularly for those with low English skills.
- Showing applicants photos of daily life may be difficult to translate for those unfamiliar with American culture.
- If the pass rate declines due to the proposed changes, they may conflict with the goals of Executive Order 14012 to improve the naturalization process. According to the US government, the current pass rate for the citizenship test is 91 percent.
On the other hand, the proposed changes have also been criticized by some advocates for being too easy and not adequately testing applicants’ knowledge of US history and government. For example, Elizabeth Jacobs, director of regulatory affairs and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, has said in an interview with the AP, “The proposed multiple-choice format for the civics section would put the answer to each question in front of applicants and would get rid of the memory challenge that’s in the current test.”
The argument for and against US citizenship tests
Whether a citizenship test should be necessary to become a US citizen is a complex and controversial issue. Some argue that the test is an essential part of the naturalization process and helps ensure that new citizens have a basic understanding of US history and government. Others say that the test is unnecessary and creates unnecessary barriers to citizenship.
Arguments in favor of the test include:
- Ensuring that new citizens have a basic understanding of US history and government: The naturalization test is designed to ensure that new citizens have a basic knowledge of US history and government. This is seen as an important part of the naturalization process.
- Encouraging civic engagement: The naturalization test is a way to encourage new citizens to become more engaged in civic life and participate in the democratic process.
- Ensuring that new citizens can communicate in English: The English-speaking portion of the test is designed to ensure that new citizens can communicate in English, which is seen as an important part of assimilating into American society.
Arguments against the test include:
- Creating unnecessary barriers to citizenship: Some argue that the naturalization test creates unnecessary barriers to citizenship, particularly for those with low English skills.
- Being unnecessary: Some argue that the naturalization test is unnecessary and does not actually ensure that new citizens have a basic understanding of US history and government.
- Being discriminatory: Some argue that the naturalization test is discriminatory and unfairly targets certain groups, particularly those with low English skills.
Six quick tips to help you prepare for the citizenship test
While critics may argue for and against the citizenship test, it remains an integral part of becoming a US citizen. Here are some steps to prepare:
- Review the study materials provided by USCIS: USCIS provides study materials for each component of the exam, including the civics test and English test. The resources found on the USCIS website will reflect any updated changes made to the tests.
- Practice speaking English: The English-speaking portion of the test is designed to ensure that new citizens can communicate in English. Practicing speaking English with others can help improve language skills.
- Take practice tests: Taking practice tests can help you identify areas where you need to improve and get a sense of what the test will be like. USCIS provides practice tests on its website.
- Seek assistance from community-based organizations (CBOs): CBOs that work with immigrant English language learners and lawful permanent residents preparing for naturalization may be a valuable resource for those preparing for the naturalization test.
- Attend naturalization classes: Some CBOs and adult education programs offer naturalization classes to help prepare you for the naturalization test.
- Stay informed about the proposed changes to the naturalization test: The USCIS is proposing changes to the naturalization test, so it’s important to stay informed about these changes and how they may affect the test.
Preparing for the naturalization test can be challenging, but with enough preparation, you can perform well on the exam and start your life as a US citizen. Stay informed about any changes to the naturalization test, as it is one of the final steps toward citizenship and requires legal permanent residency for years before applying. The USCIS website provides information on the naturalization interview and test, including updates on exceptions or modifications to the English and civics requirements for naturalization.
Additionally, you can sign up for email updates from the Citizenship Resource Center to inform you of any civics test changes. A reputable immigration attorney will also keep track of any changes between the time you file Form N-400 and when you attend your interview to ensure that you are adequately prepared.
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