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Understanding the New Naturalization Test

by Gregory Siskind, Esq.

Beginning in October of 2008, USCIS will introduce a redesigned naturalization test, which will change the content of the old test to include questions about American civics and geography. While the changes do not go into effect for another year, portions of the retooled examination have become available to the public.

What specifically has changed on the test?

The new naturalization test places a great emphasis on American civics. This encompasses questions regarding the Constitution, federal law, American democracy, basic U.S. history, and the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizens. Also included is an acceptable range of correct answers for a number of questions. For example, the question: "What is one freedom or right from the First Amendment?" could have the applicant respond with a number of correct answers such as speech, religion, assembly, press, and petition the government.

Will test applicants receive a sample of the test before it goes into effect?

A sample of the new questions regarding civics and U.S. history are available to download at the USCIS main page. USCIS also plans to distribute study materials for the new exam beginning in early 2008 via application to their web site.

Which test will applicants be expected to take?

Though the new changes officially take effect on October 1, 2008, USCIS has implemented a cutoff schedule to determine which test an applicant will take.

If an applicant

  • applies BEFORE October 1, 2008 and is scheduled for his or her naturalization interview BEFORE October 1, 2008, he or she will take the current test.
  • applies BEFORE October 1, 2008 and is scheduled for his or her naturalization interview AFTER October 1, 2008, he or she can elect to take the current test or the redesigned test.
  • applies AFTER October 1, 2008 and is scheduled for his or her naturalization interview AFTER October 1, 2008, he or she will take the redesigned test.

    Are the sample questions available in other languages?

    Currently the questions are available only in English, but UCSIS has stated they intend to make the sample civic questions available in other languages soon.

    When will USCIS release study materials for the redesigned test?

    USCIS plans to provide updated versions of its study materials, including Civic Flash Cards and Learn About the United States: Quick Civics Lessons, to correspond with the new test; these materials will be available in early 2008. The current versions of Civic Flash Cards and Learn About the United States: Quick Civics Lessons will continue to be made available as long as the current test is administered. USCIS also has announced plans to introduce additional study materials to be introduced throughout 2008.

    What was the decision-making process regarding what questions would be in the exam redesign?

    USCIS analyzed each question to make sure it met one or more of the following criteria:

  • Does the item involve critical thinking about government or history?
  • Does the item offer an inferred or implicit concept of government, history, or other areas?
  • Does the item provide a geographical context for a historical or current event?
  • Does the item help the applicant better utilize the system? Is it useful in their daily lives?
  • Does the item help the applicant better understand and relate to our shared history?

    Each question was also analyzed by its linguistic properties. Specifically, USCIS examined whether the vocabulary and sentence structure of each question was appropriate for anyone taking the test. If not, they looked at how to revise the question without losing any necessary content.

    Why are there questions about U.S. geography on the test?

    USCIS received feedback from many teachers requesting that the subject be added to encourage applicants to learn about the land where they plan to live. USCIS states that "the geography questions provide a context essential to understanding past history and current events. For example, the question on the Missouri/Mississippi Rivers helps applicants understand the question regarding the Louisiana Purchase ."

    What will the training process entail for test administrators?

    The new training for District Adjudication Officers (DAO) will begin in early 2008 with training orientation at USCIS district offices. On-site training seminars will be conducted at regional USCIS centers beginning summer 2008. Finally, each DAO will participate in continued adjudicator training as part of the standard curriculum for all adjudicators.

    Aside from USCIS itself, what other organizations were included in the test redesign process?

    During the pilot process, approximately 150 organizations participated in determining the questions that would be on the new exam. The following organizations participated regularly in the redesign process:

  • Catholic Legal Immigration Network
  • Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
  • Asian American Justice Center
  • National Council of La Raza
  • National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials
  • Association of Teachers of English Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
  • National Academy of Sciences
  • American Institutes for Research
  • Hudson Institute
  • National Endowment for the Humanities

    How active were these organizations in the test redesign process?

    Organizations involved in the retooling process are responsible for a number of revisions or omission of questions. For example, TESOL alone was responsible for a number of changes to the questions, ranging from reworded questions (changing the broad "Name one of the things that Abraham Lincoln did?" to "What was one important thing Abraham Lincoln did?") to omissions (a question concerning minimum wage was deleted because stakeholders thought applicants could be confused by state minimum wages).

    USCIS re-piloted several questions during a follow-up secondary study in 64 civics and citizenship classroom sites across the country, to obtain additional qualitative feedback, and to ensure that the participating organizations and U.S. civics scholars as a whole could agree on both the content and wording of each question.

    NOTE: A sample of the new question format can be found here.

    About The Author

    Gregory Siskind, Esq. is a partner in Siskind Susser's Memphis, Tennessee, office. After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, he received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago. Mr. Siskind is a member of AILA, a board member of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and a member of the ABA, where he serves on the LPM Publishing Board as Marketing Vice Chairman. He is the author of several books, including the J Visa Guidebook and The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. Mr. Siskind practices all areas of immigration law, specializing in immigration matters of the health care and technology industries. He can be reached by email at

    The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.