USCIS Revises Citizenship Test

by Joseph Pimentel/

LOS ANGELES – What are two US Cabinet-level positions? Before he was President, Eisenhower was a general. What war was he in? The answer: there are 15 cabinet positions two of which are the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security. Dwight D. Eisenhower served in the military during World War II.

These are not questions from the show Jeopardy. These are sample questions in the new US Citizenship test to be administered after October 1, 2008.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) revised the citizenship test to place more focus on understanding the principles of US democracy. By law, those applying for citizenship must demonstrate an ability to read, write, and speak basic English and have knowledge of US history and civics. More than 600,000 immigrants are naturalized each year.

Earlier in the week, the USCIS held a workshop for educators at the Orange Education Center, the Adult education branch of Santiago Canyon College in Orange County. Members of the media were not allowed to attend the event. The Asian Journal, however,  was able to interview an attendee to discuss the different facets of the new test.

Orange Education Center Citizenship Coordinator Thomas Donahoe said that the USCIS phased out the old naturalization test because it did not comprehensively emphasize the importance of US History.

“I think they [USCIS] felt like it wasn’t really stressing what Americans would want of our citizenry,” he said.

The government agency has been working on revising the current test since 2000. It has already been part of a pilot program in certain States for the past several years. Critics have argued that the current test was too easy for prospective Americans, who memorize the facts, rather than fully understanding US history and civics.

Donahoe said that the new and revised test focuses more on critical thinking questions or as he says a “higher order of thinking skills” compared to the previous version. For example, one question on the old test asks, “How many stripes are on the flag?” The new version rephrases the question, “What do the stripes symbolize?”

The 100-question civic test includes topics ranging from American Government, System of Government, American History, 1800’s, Recent American History and Other Important Historical Information, Integrated Civics, Geography, Symbols, and US Holidays.

The test administrator will ask only ten questions during the actual examination. The applicant is required to get six of the ten questions correct in order to pass. They have two chances. In the event that the applicant fails both chances, he/ she must start over the citizenship application process, according to Donahoe.

The reading and writing component will be the same as the existing test. Applicants have up to three chances to read and write a sentence correctly in English.


Since many immigrants applying for citizenship come from foreign countries that do not have English as its primary language, Donahue said that vocabulary and English proficiency might be the biggest obstacle.

He said that the US “Secretary of State” position is better known in some countries as “foreign ambassadors.”

Another problem is age. Donahoe said that elderly individuals in their 70’s or 80’s reluctant to learn basic English or learn fundamental US history will have their application denied.

Overall, Donahue believes the new test is not easier or harder.

“Dr. Mike Jones [one of the test’s authors] worked with educators and field tested the exam,” explained Donahoe. “The passing rate tends to be very high. I think 80 to 90 percent.

“The test reflects that the government cared about people who want to be really part of this country. They are not trying to kick people out.”

“English is a very important part of this test. We are urging anybody who may be applying for their citizenship soon to brush up on their English and to consider taking citizenship courses. We offer all our courses free,” Donahoe added.


(Sample questions for the revised test is available on The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website.)

1 Comment

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One response to “USCIS Revises Citizenship Test

  1. Jose

    I enjoyed reading this article, as I am soon to take the test I was wondering which one to take, the new or old… but there seems to be no general consensus as to which one is more difficult? After looking at both I think the new one is harder, but the difference is not big. This article on the citizenship questions brings up some interesting points…

    What is your general feeling on the new test, is it going to be harder ?

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