USCIS Reverts Back to Old Version of US Citizenship Test

Updated on April 10, 2024

At a Glance

  • The civics test is a crucial requirement for naturalization as a U.S. citizen, involving up to 10 questions about U.S. history and government.
  • To pass, applicants need to answer at least 6 questions correctly.
  • In 2020, the Trump administration made the test more challenging, but the Biden administration reverted to the 2008 version to ensure fairness in the naturalization process.
  • The changes to the civics test were implemented on March 1, 2021, and only the 2008 version will be used for testing after April 19, 2021.

In late 2020 there was a lot of controversy surrounding the U.S. citizenship civics test. The citizen test is one of the final stages of the citizenship process and assesses your knowledge of U.S. history, civics, and government bodies.

Under the Trump administration, the USCIS decided the civics test, set in 2008 after a lot of research and trials, was not hard enough. More questions were added to the civics test and the interviewing process was made stricter.

In March 2021, however, the USCIS admitted the 2020 civics test “content, testing procedures and implementation” was unfair. As a result, the USCIS is now reverting to the 2008 version of the civics test.

What is the Civics Test?

Every applicant seeking to naturalize as a U.S. citizen has to take the civics test. This is in addition to the other required tests that test your ability to read, write and speak English.

The civics test’s questions are posed by the interviewers during your naturalization interview. During the interview, a USCIS officer will ask you up to 10 questions from the list of 100 possible questions. The questions are asked in English. You must answer 6 of the 10 questions correctly to pass the civics test.

The purpose of the civics test is to assess your knowledge of U.S. history, civics, and government bodies. Your naturalization interview is one of the final stages of the citizenship process and passing the civics test will be one of the last hurdles you’ll have to overcome before you can naturalize as a U.S. citizen.

Changes Made by the Trump Administration

Under the Trump administration, the USCIS decided the civics test, which was originally set in 2008 after a lot of research and trials, was not hard enough. In 2020, the Trump administration was the first administration to change the naturalization civics test since the test was implemented in its current form in 2008. The civics test was expanded and the interviewing process became more rigorous.

Changes

The Trump administration revised the civics test in 2020 to include additional questions and topics. They also changed the format of how the test was administered. This made it tougher for naturalization applicants to pass the test.

Here is a brief overview of the changes the Trump administration made to the test:

  • The new test was longer. The Trump version of the civics test included 128 questions, compared to 100 in the 2008 version.  
  • During the interview, citizenship applicants would be asked 20 questions, instead of only the 10 questions asked in the 2008 version.
  • Applicants would have to answer 12 questions of the 20 correctly to obtain a pass.
  • Although the passing score remained the same as in the 2008 version, the increased questions and topics made it harder to obtain a pass.
  • Interviewing officers were also required to ask all 20 questions, instead of stopping once the applicant scored enough to pass.

Reasons for Update

In 2020, the USCIS said the changes to the civics test were an effort to keep the test “current and relevant”. Naturalization is the process where immigrants become full members of American society. This means naturalized citizens have the same rights and responsibilities as citizens by birth. A fair test is a way of preparing naturalized citizens for the responsibilities of being a U.S. citizen.

A survey done in 2018 asked born U.S. citizens multiple-choice questions based on the civics test. They found that only 36% of the born U.S. citizens interviewed would be able to pass the civics test. It seems unfair to demand more knowledge from immigrant naturalization applicants than is displayed by born U.S. citizens.

Critics of President Trump’s immigration policies said the 2020 test would make it harder for immigrants to acquire citizenship. The changes to the test were called “unnecessary, unjustified, overly complex, and shamelessly ideological”.

Changes Being Made by the Biden Administration

The 2020 civics test created potential barriers for foreign nationals legally trying to naturalize. As soon as President Biden was elected, there were calls to change the civics test back to the 2008 version.

Changes

Under the Biden administration, the USCIS is reverting to the 2008 version of the naturalization civics test. No changes are being suggested to the old, 2008 version of the civics test. The 2008 civics test will become the ‘new’ civics test again.

The 2008 version of the civics test was thoroughly developed over a multi-year period with input from over 150 organizations and was piloted before its implementation.

The civic test questions are posed by the interviewers during the naturalization interview. During the naturalization interview, a USCIS officer will ask you up to 10 questions from the list of 100 questions in English. You must correctly answer 6 of the 10 questions to pass the civics test. The civics test will assess your knowledge of U.S. history, civics, and government bodies.

Reasons for Update

In 2021, the USCIS said in a statementthat they had determined the “2020 civics test development process, content, testing procedures, and implementation schedule may inadvertently create potential barriers to the naturalization process”.

This means the test was unfair to people wanting to become naturalized citizens. This unfairness is a reflection of the anti-immigration stance of the Trump administration. The change and the fact that the USCIS reverted to the old version of the U.S. citizenship civics test is a good sign for foreign nationals. It shows a commitment to making the U.S. immigration system as fair as possible again.

President Biden is taking several steps to fix the U.S. immigration system and reverse many of the stringent policies implemented by President Trump. In an executive order, President Biden demanded that faith in the legal immigration systems must be restored.

When Will the New Changes Take Effect?

As of March 1, 2021, the USCIS is reverting to the 2008 version of the naturalization civics test.

All applicants filing for naturalization after March 1, 2021, will be tested on the older, more familiar 2008 version of the civics test.

If you filed for naturalization between December 1, 2020, and March 1, 2021, you will be given the option to either take the 2020 civics test or the 2008 version.

After April 19, 2021, only the 2008 civics test will be used.

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Conclusion

The civics test is one of the last hurdles that need to be overcome in your naturalization process. The changes to the civics test implemented by the Trump administration did not help test-takers. It created unfair barriers for people trying to legally file for naturalization.

The move by the Biden administration to revert to the 2008 version of the civics test is heartening. It shows a true commitment to making the U.S. immigration system as fair as possible. This is in line with President Bident’s executive order that faith in the legal immigration system must be restored.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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