Wolfsdorf Rosenthal LLP

New Naturalization Test Pilot Emphasizes Civics, History


On January 22, 2007, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released details about its pilot naturalization exam. The new exam is intended, USCIS said, to “encourage civic learning and patriotism among prospective citizens.” USCIS noted that studies have shown nationwide inconsistencies in the way the test was administered and there was no assessment of whether applicants had a meaningful understanding of U.S. history and government. The new test will emphasize the fundamental concepts of American democracy and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

The reading and writing portions of the pilot naturalization exam are similar to those in the current test, except the new exam contains more civics-based vocabulary. Applicants will still have up to three chances to read and write a sentence correctly in English. In the writing section of the test, the testing officer will dictate a sentence and ask the applicant to write everything the officer reads. During the reading portion of the test, the testing officer will ask the applicant to read each word out loud in that sentence. The proposed format for the new civics exam will still require applicants to answer correctly six out of 10 questions chosen from a master list of 100 civics questions and answers. The difference is that the new questions will focus on civics and history topics rather than on the general range of topics on the current test.

The pilot testing program will begin in 10 cities beginning in February 2007 and will last two to three months. The 10 cities are Albany, NY; Boston, MA; Charleston, SC; Denver, CO; El Paso, TX; Kansas City, MO; Miami, FL; San Antonio, TX; Tucson, AZ; and Yakima, WA. USCIS will administer about 6,000 tests under the pilot, and will use 142 U.S. history and government questions and approximately 36 reading and 36 writing items. Topic areas include principles of American democracy, system of government, rule of law, rights and responsibilities, American history, and geography. Citizenship applicants in the 10 pilot areas who are scheduled for their naturalization tests during the pilot will receive advance copies of the civics questions and the reading and writing vocabulary lists for self-study. Applicants may decline participation in the pilot.

USCIS has posted the two vocabulary lists and other study materials. The announcement, which includes a fact sheet, is posted here.

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