Could You Pass the New Citizenship Test?

Jason Hanna, CNN, October 1, 2008

James Yarsiah listened to his college classmates discuss whether the civics component of the new U.S. naturalization test—which prospective citizens can start taking Wednesday—is more challenging than its predecessor.

Are new conceptual questions such as, “What does the Constitution do?” more difficult than old queries like “What is the Constitution?”

Is a question with a range of acceptable answers, such as the new “What is one reason colonists came to America?” preferable to the old “Why did the Pilgrims come to America?”

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But some in Professor Robert King’s American Government class, which examined sample questions of the old and the new civics tests at CNN.com’s request Monday, had other opinions on how immigrants who weren’t raised to speak English—or even U.S. citizens—might fare on the new version.

Many preferred the new test, which the government says includes more meaningful questions, such as those that involve a concept of, or critical thinking about, civics or history.

The new civics list, a pool of 100 possible questions for a test of up to 10, omits the old “How many stars are there on our flag?” and “Name the amendments that guarantee or address voting rights.” Taking their place are questions like: “There are four amendments to the Constitution about who can vote. Describe one of them,” and “What is one responsibility that is only for United States citizens?”

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Others, including Ethiopia native Anteneh Workneh, addressed an issue that immigrant advocates have raised: Conceptual questions and answers might require a higher level of education and greater English-language dexterity.

He compared one question found on both tests—”The House of Representatives has how many voting members?”—with a new question: “Why do some states have more representatives?”

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The change

The old test will take a year to vanish. Anyone who applied for naturalization by Tuesday can choose either test if they take it by October 1, 2009. After that, only the new test will be given, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Anyone applying from Wednesday onward cannot take the old test.

Like the new civics exam, the old draws from a pool of more than 95 questions. Both ask applicants up to 10 questions, with applicants needing six correct to pass.

The test is not multiple-choice; applicants must know the answer directly and say it.

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Immigrant advocates: English, civics programs under-resourced

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She [Flavia Jimenez of the New Americans Initiative, a citizenship program of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights] said some new questions put people with lower levels of education and English skills at a disadvantage. Community groups that help immigrants prepare may need to explain certain concepts in their native languages and then work on English to express the answer, she said.

She said preparing some applicants for the concepts will require more time, straining under-resourced English and civics programs.

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