The U.S. citizenship test is being updated. In December, U.S. authorities said the test was due for an update after 15 years. The new version is expected late next year. USCIS proposes that the new test adds a speaking section to assess English skills. An officer would show photos of ordinary scenarios — like daily activities, weather, or food — and ask the applicant to verbally describe the photos.
In the current test, an officer evaluates speaking ability during the naturalization interview by asking personal questions the applicant has already answered in the naturalization paperwork.
Another proposed change would make the civics section on U.S. history and government multiple-choice instead of the current oral short-answer format.
A current civics question has an officer asking the applicant to name a war fought by the U.S. in the 1900s. The applicant only needs to say one out of five acceptable answers — World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, or Gulf War — to get the question right. But in the proposed multiple-choice format, the applicant would read that question and select the correct answer from the following choices:
A. Civil War
B. Mexican-American War
C. Korean War
D. Spanish-American War
The applicant must know all five wars fought by the U.S. in the 1900s to select the one correct answer. This format will require a higher level of English.
Currently, the applicant must answer six out of 10 civics questions correctly to pass. Those ten questions are selected from a bank of 100 civics questions. The applicant is not told which questions will be selected but can see and study the 100.
Under federal law, most applicants seeking citizenship must demonstrate an understanding of the English language — including an ability to speak, read and write words in ordinary usage — and demonstrate knowledge of U.S. history and government.
According to a University of California professor, the U.S. currently has the easiest citizenship test compared to other Western countries — including Germany, Canada, and the United Kingdom. In the U.S. test, applicants must correctly answer six out of 10 questions to pass. About 96% of applicants pass the test, according to recent estimates.
But in the German test, the professor said applicants must correctly answer 17 out of 33 questions to pass. About 90% of applicants pass the test, according to recent estimates. According to the professor, the test is at an “intermediate” level of German, and a question bank with answers is made available.
The Canada and United Kingdom tests are even harder, and a question bank is not provided in the latter.
Along with the English language requirement, USCIS already evaluates whether applicants have past criminal histories, pay taxes, and support their children financially.
More than 1 million people became U.S. citizens in fiscal year 2022 — one of the highest numbers on record since 1907, the earliest year with available data — and USCIS reduced the huge backlog of naturalization applications by over 60% compared to the year before, according to a USCIS report also released in December.