USCIS Cuts Citizenship Test Questions in Half
FAIR Take | February 2021
The Biden administration announced this week that it will be winding down use of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s (USCIS) 2020 civics test that applicants for naturalization must take in order to become citizens. This test had only been in use since December 2020, and was updated as part of a routine review that USCIS conducts every ten years to ensure the naturalization process is consistent with contemporary standards. The agency will return to issuing the 2008 version of the test, which asked applicants for citizenship just ten questions about basic U.S. history and government.
The naturalization test is required by statute and has two parts: an English language proficiency test and a civics exam. Certain applicants, such as senior citizens or long-term residents, are allowed to waive out of the English proficiency portion of the test and/or be tested on a significantly reduced portion of the civics exam. No changes were made to these exceptions. USCIS also provides all potential questions to the civics exam, with their answers, in advance of the exam (as well as flash cards and a pocket study guide) publically so applicants may study.
Out of a possible 100 questions, the 2008 version of the civics exam only had 10 questions, and permitted a six out of ten (60%) score to be the lowest acceptable passing score. The 2020 update increased the number of potential questions to 128, but only included 20 questions on the actual exam. An applicant would have to receive the same 60% score, requiring just 12 correct answers, in order to pass this version of the exam.
The 2020 version of the test covered topics that provide applicants with more opportunities to learn about the United States as part of the test preparation process. “USCIS has diligently worked on revising the naturalization test since 2018, relying on input from experts in the field of adult education to ensure that this process is fair and transparent,” said former USCIS Deputy Director for Policy Joseph Edlow at the time USCIS announced the change to the 2020 test. “Naturalization allows immigrants to become fully vested members of American society, with the same rights and responsibilities as citizens by birth, and offering a fair test, which prepares naturalization applicants for these responsibilities, is of upmost importance to our agency.”
It is unclear what purpose the Biden administration’s policy change serves by returning to the old test, aside from making naturalization as easy as legally possible and ultimately devaluing citizenship. USCIS granted citizenship to a record number of aliens annually the Trump administration, peaking at 834,000 new citizens in 2019 (an 11-year high). The numbers dropped in 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic required a pause in naturalization ceremonies and, later, changes to protect the health and safety of applicants.
Applicants will have the choice to take either the 2020 or the 2008 version of the civics exam for a short time. After April 19, 2021, only the 2008 version will be given.