Preparing for the Citizenship Process and Civics Test 

US citizenship exam test and USA flag.

The process of becoming a citizen can be a long road for many people. Obtaining citizenship is a great accomplishment and can change a person’s life forever. Depending on your particular situation, the time that it takes you to become a citizen might vary. It might depend on whether you were a resident first and for how long. In 2017, the US naturalized 707, 265 individuals. The process of citizenship can be confusing and involves a lot of paperwork. One of the aspects of the citizenship process that often makes people nervous is the civics test. So we thought we’d take a look at how that civics test came about what you might expect from it. 

Steps Towards Citizenship — Proving Residence, Character, and Civics Knowledge 

Before taking the oath to become a United States citizen, the applicant must go through several steps. First of all, you must have been a legal resident of the United States for a certain amount of time before being able to apply for citizenship. You must also show that you have been physically present in the country for that amount of time and that you are a person of moral character. In addition to those steps, one of the steps that is most well-known is the civics test. The test has often been represented in popular culture or media or perhaps just seems to be the part that makes people a little jittery. The tests have been administered to naturalization applicants since the early twentieth century, although copies of that test no longer exist. 

The History of the Exams — How the Test Came to Be 

In the early 20th century, the naturalization exam was mostly given orally by judges in a courtroom. The process of naturalization, as noted by the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services,  was under the jurisdiction of the courts and the process varied widely throughout the country. Some judges were far more in-depth with asking questions about American history and law, others were more lenient and didn’t see it all that necessary but focused their attention more on testing applicants on the United States Constitution. This made the process somewhat inconsistent and difficult to know what exactly was expected, as questions were asked impromptu and often varied depending on the applicants’ responses. 

It was in the year of 1906 that a standardization of the process began by the Federal Bureau of Naturalization. This began ironing out the details and coming up with solutions to make the process more consistent and straightforward. Throughout the initial period, there was a lot of debate as to what kinds of questions should be on the test and the concern by immigrant groups and certain judges that immigrants would be denied entry simply on the fact that they did not know American history. The Bureau thus took measures to ensure there were educational programs and resources available to help immigrants study and know what to expect, although there were no specific strides taken to make the test the same across the board. And yet, even after 1950, the test remained an oral quiz determined by the individual discretion of the judges.

In the 1930s, there was the removal of more tricky questions like “how high is the Bunker Hill Monument” from the exam. 

The concept of the civics test continued on to through the 20th century. The Bureau would provide resources and textbooks for people to study for the test.  

A Two-Part Test — Assessing English skills and Civics Knowledge 

The test is divided into two main components. One is an English test that will assess an applicant’s ability to read, write, and speak the language. Then, the applicant is tested on rudimentary knowledge of U.S history, government, and the Constitution. 

English Test

The English component has a speaking, reading, and writing component. Today, these tests are conducted on a tablet. An officer will show you how to use this before you take the test. Many people worry that expectations are flawless pronunciation, grammar, and writing skills. You don’t have to worry about being perfect. The test is meant to assess your ability to communicate and function well with the language. When it comes to the speaking test, an officer will ask you questions orally and you will be expected to answer in English. The complete list of vocabulary words used can be found on the USCIS website but expect to see the names of notable American figures like Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. The main idea is to convey to the immigration officer that you have a full understanding of the meaning of the sentence. 

Civics Test 

The expectation here is answering at least 6 out of 10 questions correctly. The idea is to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of the country and its background. There are 100 questions that you must study.  The immigration officer will choose ten random questions from the list. About half of the questions have to do with the U.S government and the rest will test your knowledge of U.S history. Expect questions about such as:

“Who is in charge of the executive branch?”

“Name one of the senators from your state.” 

The test might be based on several characteristics such as your:

  • Age
  • Background
  • Educational attainment
  • How long you’ve been in the U.S

So if you are a person that is about twenty years old and has gone through the education system in the country as a resident, your test might be a little more in-depth than a person who is of older age and has not studied in the United States. 

Prepare the Right Way With the Right Guide 

The path towards naturalization can be difficult and long. Here at the Winterberg Law Firm, we help people ensure their paperwork is in order but we also help you prepare in other ways. We want you to succeed in your road to citizenship and can help ensure you are preparing adequately in a variety of ways. If you’re looking into citizenship, give us a call. We’ll guide you through.

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Victoria Winterberg

Ms. Winterberg’s law school experience began after joining the Law School Preparation Institute while being a student at the University of Texas at El Paso. She then attended law school at Washburn Univesity School of Law before formally beginning her career. 

Leveraging a unique cultural background and approach to law, Ms. Winterberg uses her expertise in immigration law to bring people together. She has extensive work in all areas of immigration law and has helped countless people win cases and thrive. Immigration-related cases often involve the most vulnerable in the community, and our firm is driven by our ability to protect our clients and their families with each and every case.