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A Better, Not Harder Citizenship Test

On October 1, 2008, USCIS began administering a new naturalization test. The need for a standardized and meaningful test has been the source of study and discussion for more than a decade. I’m proud of the new test and the commitment we’ve made to giving applicants a meaningful and consistent testing experience across the board.

The purpose of the redesign was twofold: to make sure we have uniform testing experiences nationwide; and to develop a civics test that can effectively assess an applicant’s knowledge of U.S. history and government as the law requires. Naturalization applicants deserve a fair and standardized testing experience no matter where they take the test.

USCIS has made every effort to minimize the impact of this change by allowing one full year for preparation and by working closely with national and local immigrant-serving organizations along the way. Since announcing the test in September 2007, we have trained more than 2,000 educators and service providers, launched a variety of new study materials, and embarked on an unprecedented outreach campaign. You can see the study materials and judge for yourself their quality by going to I believe that the result is an effort all Americans can be proud of and one immigrants need not fear.

I would like to take this opportunity to let applicants know that what we have is a better, not harder test. The format is the same, just standardized across our offices. The civics test has been revamped and improved; and our 2007 pilots showed that those who study for the new test should pass. As for the English test, applicants now know exactly how to prepare through publicly released vocabulary lists. Also, all naturalization applicants now receive a new English and civics study booklet when they are fingerprinted at one of our Application Support Centers.

The new test was designed to serve as a tool to encourage civic learning and attachment to the country. Our pilot studies and research have shown that better content and a consistent format have not made the test more difficult. Through proper preparation and study, eligible candidates will be successful in achieving their dream of becoming a U.S. citizen. We will, however, monitor the results of the new test carefully and make this information public.

I want to commend those of you preparing for U.S. citizenship. The decision to apply is a very personal one. As you take this important step, it is my hope that the naturalization process helps strengthen your attachment to the United States and the democratic ideals that make this nation great. Thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments.

Jonathan “Jock” Scharfen
Acting Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services