NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Revising the Test for Citizenship

July 7, 1999

Officials at the Immigration and Naturalization Service are trying to decide what subjects to include on a revised civics and history test given to applicants for U.S. citizenship. They are also trying to determine how much applicants should know to pass the language and civics tests.

The revisions are being prompted at least in part by a backlog of applications -- cause largely by computer problems -- that has overwhelmed the naturalization process for the past three years. The agency wants to make the test more uniform and easier to administer.

  • At present, 1.8 million people are waiting to be tested on their knowledge of English, civics and history.
  • The current history and civics test contains 100 questions -- ranging from the colors in the American flag to the number of changes or amendments their are to the Constitution.
  • Interviewers can use some or all of the 100 questions and have wide discretion in phrasing the questions and deciding who passes.
  • An interview with an immigration adjudicator can range from 15 to 40 minutes.

The prospect of revising the test makes some Americans wary. They are afraid that tampering with the questions will lead to efforts to made the answers easier. They are also concerned that citizenship may be redefined.

For example, one academic consulted by the INS wants to see "civic education courses that talked not just about the separation of powers, but what to do if your landlord sues you."

Source: Susan Sachs, "Pressed by Backlog, U.S. Rethinks Citizenship Test," New York Times, July 5, 1999.


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