New citizenship test, new English proficiency test

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Jul 27 17:31:35 UTC 2004

>>From the NYTimes, July 27, 2004

Less to Memorize, More to Learn; U.S. Is Rewriting Citizenship Test


WASHINGTON, July 26 - In an effort to improve the quality and fairness of
the citizenship test taken every year by hundreds of thousands of
immigrants, the government is overhauling the naturalization exam.

Like the current exam, the replacement will test applicants in two areas:
proficiency in English and knowledge of United States history and
government. A major intent is to make sure the exams are administered
uniformly. The new test will also try to ensure that prospective citizens
understand basic concepts of American democracy and are not merely
reciting facts by rote.

"We're looking to standardize the process," said Chris Bentley, a
spokesman for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Currently, the difficulty of the history and government test depends on
which 10 questions the proctor chooses from an exam book. To pass, an
applicant has to get six right. Sample questions on the current exam
include: What are the colors of our flag? Who said, "Give me liberty or
give me death"? and Who is the chief justice of the Supreme Court?

A review of the citizenship exam began in September 2001. The immigration
agency is working on a study guide for the history and government part.
When that is done, there will be a 60-day period for public comment. Then
the agency will revise the exam and test its effectiveness. It plans to
begin using the new exam in 2006.

Gerri Ratliff, the director of the test design project, said those
involved in devising the test included civics experts, educators and
groups that aid immigrants, as well as the National Academy of Sciences.

The current exam requires applicants to demonstrate proficiency in English
by reading a single sentence out loud and then writing a sentence dictated
by the test giver.

On the new test, applicants will have to talk about what two photographs
show and write a description of another. They will also read a paragraph
and answer four or five multiple-choice questions about it.

In the government section of the new test, a question might ask an
applicant to select from a short list a right guaranteed by the

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