Updates to Naturalization Test — What you Need to Know

Posted by Frank Gogol

When Joe Biden won the presidential race and was crowned as president-elect, immigrants had many reasons to sigh a sigh of relief. Trump’s antics and attempts to obstruct the lawful immigration process would be a thing of the past. 

Unfortunately, Trump hasn’t handed over the presidential seat just yet. And in his final days of being president, he is continuing his battle against immigrants in the U.S.

On Friday, November 13, 2020, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced they will be updating the naturalization civics test. This is the first change to the naturalization civics test since 2008. 

The announcement has caused uncertainty for many existing naturalization applicants and those planning to apply to become a naturalized citizen. Will the test affect your naturalization application? If you’ve already passed your naturalization civics test, will you now have to retake the test? 

Below we unpack the changes you can expect in the new naturalization civics test. We’ll also explain how this could affect you and your naturalization application. 

What is the Naturalization Test?

When you apply for naturalization, one of the final steps in the process is to take two tests. These tests are the naturalization civics test and the English test. 

The English test tests whether you can read, write, speak and understand English. The purpose of the civics test is to test your knowledge of U.S. history and government before you are awarded U.S. citizenship. 

You take the naturalization civics test orally at your citizenship interview. The topics covered in the civics test are mainly about U.S. history, U.S. government bodies, and U.S. regulations. Other more general topics related to the United States are also covered. 

You can see examples of the existing naturalization civics test questions here.

Why is the Naturalization Test Changing?

On Friday, November 13, 2020 the USCIS announced it would be updating the naturalization civics test. This announcement was a surprise to many, as the naturalization test hasn’t been updated since 2008. So why the rush to change the naturalization test now?

According to the USCIS, the changes to the test are being made to keep the naturalization test “current and relevant.” The USCIS Deputy Director for Policy Joseph Edlow stated the “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… 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 utmost importance to our agency”. 

Basically, the USCIS says they want the test to prepare new immigrants for life as U.S. citizens. According to them, the old naturalization test wasn’t relevant enough to do this successfully.

Critics are, however, very skeptical. According to Boundless, this new test will only make it harder for immigrants to become citizens. They see it as another (perhaps one of the final) attempts Trump has to throw obstacles in front of immigrants to legally obtain U.S. citizenship. According to Boundless, the changes to the naturalization test are “unnecessary, unjustified, overly complex, and shamelessly ideological.” 

What Changes are Being Made to the Naturalization Test?

Let’s cut to the chase. What exactly is the USCIS planning on changing? 

The current naturalization test only has 100 questions. You are asked 10 questions, and you have to get 6 right to pass the test. You, therefore, have to score 60% to pass the naturalization civics test. 

The new test will have 128 questions in total. The number of questions the USCIS officer will ask you will be increased to 20 questions, and you will need to answer 12 questions right to pass. 

The pass threshold of 60%, therefore, does not change. But the number of questions you need to study and answer correctly does. 

Another change is the fact that the USCIS officer won’t stop asking questions once you’ve answered 12 correctly (and passed the 60% threshold). The USCIS officer will now be obliged to ask all 20 questions, even if you’ve already passed the 60% threshold after your first 12 questions. So, the questions won’t stop once you’ve scored enough to pass. 

If you are over 65 years old and have a minimum of 20 years of lawful permanent resident status behind you, you will still only be asked 10 questions. In this case, you only have to answer 6 questions correctly to pass. So, your passing threshold will still be 60%. 

When Will the Changes to the Naturalization Test Go into Effect?

The new naturalization test will only apply to you if you apply for naturalization to become a U.S. citizen on or after December 1, 2020. If you apply or applied for naturalization before December 1, 2020, you will take the existing old test (which is the 2008 version of the naturalization civics test). 

Keep in mind, however, there is a chance the USCIS officer conducting your interview could accidentally administer the new test. If you want to play it safe and avoid any issues, it will be a good idea to print out this page and take it with you to your naturalization interview. 

If the USCIS officer accidentally starts administering the new test, you can show them the portion stating the new test won’t apply to an application filed on or before December 1, 2020. You should also save evidence of the date you postmark your N-400 application and the receipt notice you get when your N-400 is filed. This will help you show the USCIS officer that the new test doesn’t apply to you. 

You can find resources to study for your naturalization civics test herean. 

After December 1, 2020, the USCIS is planning to release more resources to help lawful permanent residents and other immigrants study for the test and to assist them with the immigration process. These additional resources will include information about the naturalization process, the eligibility requirements, and the steps you will have to go through to naturalize. They will also release more study material to help you prepare for your naturalization interview and naturalization civics test. 

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Don’t let the changes to the naturalization civics test freak you out. If you can, file your naturalization application before December 1, 2020, and avoid the new test altogether. Otherwise, use the resources available to study as best you can to ace your naturalization civics test! 

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