On November 13th, USCIS announced its plans to implement a revised civics test for U.S. citizenship applicants. According to their memo last week, USCIS has revised this test “as part of a decennial update to ensure that it remains an instrument that comprehensively assesses applicants’ knowledge of American history, government and civic values.” USCIS had originally announced these plans in July 2019.
The new civics test must be taken orally and consists of 128 questions and answers. The test officer will ask an applicant 20 questions of the total 128, and an applicant must answer at least 12 questions correctly to pass the 2020 version of the civics portion of the naturalization test.
The previous test consisted of a total of 10 questions from a bank of 100 civics questions, and an applicant had to correctly answer 6 of the 10 questions. In this previous test, the civic portion of the test ended as soon as the applicant answered 6 of the questions correctly. However, in this revised test, the officer must ask all 20 questions, even if the applicant answers 12 correctly before the end of the exam. Note, however, that applicants who are 65 years or older and have permanently lived in the U.S. for at least 20 years will be asked 10 questions and must answer at least six correctly in order to pass the new test.
Don L. Fisher, who has spent the past 10 years teaching classes to immigrants preparing classes for their citizenship test, summarized the new test, “The exam is longer, requires more answers and more detailed answers.”
The U.S. civics test is taken by applicants for the U.S. Citizenship, and is a requirement for becoming naturalized as a U.S. citizen. This updated test will be taken by applicants who apply for naturalization on or after December 1st, 2020. If you have applied for citizenship before December 1st, you will take the current version of the test.
According to their November 13th memo, USCIS conducted pilot tests with volunteers and community organizations across the country. Using this pilot data, USCIS made choices about language and grammatical structure of every test item and determined the linguistic and cognitive weight of every test item as well.
The content of this revised test has also been altered. All the questions about U.S. geography, including oceans, rivers and states have been removed. Rather, the revised test includes more questions about politics, about the presidency, Congress and Supreme Court, and a bit about the U.S. founding fathers.
Certain updated answers to questions have sparked criticism. For instance, question number 31 asks, “Who does a U.S. senator represent?” In the 2008 version of the civics test, the answer to this question was “All people of the state.” But in the 2020 version, the answer is “Citizens of their state.” This seems to target and marginalized undocumented individuals in the United States.
Many community organizations and immigration activists have criticized these changes to the civics test. Eva Millona, CEO and President of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition said that the revised test is “another example of the Trump Administration seeking to put barriers to citizenship with little opportunity for input from communities that will be most impacted.” Millona is hopeful that the Biden Administration will reverse this change to civics tests. Many activists push for immigrants to take the civics test before December 1st if possible.
If you are planning to apply for citizenship on or after December 1st, 2020, consider the test items and study guides that are found on the Citizenship Resource Center on the USCIS website. There is a 2020 Civics Test Practice posted on the USCIS website with 128 questions. There is also an updated USCIS Policy Manual (PDF, 323.82 KB). For the English and Civics testing, see Volume 12, Part E, English and Civics Testing and Exceptions, Chapter 2, English and Civics Testing.