Published on:

Changes to the U.S. Citizenship Test: What You Need to Know

As of December 1, 2020, becoming a United States Citizen just became much harder for immigrants. Specifically, immigrants who file their N-400 Application for Naturalization with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on or after December 1, 2020, will have to pass a longer and much more challenging civics test than in the past.

Previously, the applicant only needed to study 100 questions about American government, history and geography provided by USCIS on their website. During the naturalization interview, the USCIS officer would ask the applicant 10 out of the 100 civics questions and the applicant only needed to answer 6 out of the 10 questions correct. Once the applicant answered 6 questions correctly, the civics test would end even if not all 10 questions had been asked.

The new 2020 version of the civics test requires each applicant to study 128 questions about American government and American history, focusing more on the U.S. Constitution and the rights of U.S. Citizens, and less on geography.  During the interview, the immigration officer will ask the applicant 20 questions from the list. The applicant must answer 12 out of the 20 questions correct. Even if the applicant answers the first 12 questions correctly, the USCIS officer must continue to ask the applicant all 20 questions.

In addition to being longer, the new 2020 version of the naturalization test is harder and more complex. Compared to the old version of the test, which had been in effect since October 2008, the new version requires more answers to some of the questions. For instance, the 2008 version of the test asked applicants to name 1 out of the 3 branches of government, but the new 2020 version requires applicants to name all 3 branches of government. Another question on the new test asks applicants to name 5 out of the 13 original colonies, while the old version only asked the applicant to name 3 of the original colonies. The new exam also asks applicants to name 3 national U.S. holidays, instead of just 2 national U.S. holidays asked in the previous exam.

Another aspect that makes the new test and becoming a U.S. Citizen more complex is that some questions require more detailed answers. For example, the 2008 version of the civics test asked applicants “What do we call the First Ten Amendments to the Constitution?”. The applicants simply had to answer “The Bill of Rights”. However, the 2020 version asks “What does the Bill of Rights Protect?”. The two suggested answers by USCIS are “(the basic rights) of Americans” or “(the basic) rights of people living in the United States.”

This longer and more complex civics exam will make it harder for applicants who have a low English proficiency to pass the test since they will need to memorize more answers. Moreover, since the immigration officer needs to ask more questions, it may increase the backlog of applicants since interviews will take longer.

Although USCIS has indicated that they are considering changing the English language portion of the naturalization exam, it remains the same. The applicant must demonstrate the ability to speak, read, and write in English. The applicant’s ability to speak English will be determined by the officer through casual conversation during the interview. To demonstrate reading ability, the applicant must read out loud one out of three sentences correctly.  Similarly, to demonstrate the writing ability, the applicant must write one out of three sentences correctly.

Elderly applicants who are 65 years of age and older and have been permanent residents for at least 20 years will continue to be exempt from the English requirement and may choose to take the civics test in their own language. In addition, these applicants only need to study 20 out of the possible 128 questions from the new civics test. The USCIS officer will ask the applicants 10 out of the 20 questions and the applicants must answer 6 correctly.

Applicants who fail their naturalization exam have the ability to retake the test a second time. The second exam takes place 60 to 90 days after the initial interview, and the applicants are only retested on the portion that they failed. If the applicants fail the test the second time, they must reapply by filing a new N-400 application and paying the application fee again.

The 128 questions and answers for the new 2020 civics test can be found on the USCIS website.

At Lyttle Law Firmour Austin and San Marcos immigration lawyers will stay current with the changes in immigration law. Our skilled lawyers represent immigrants and families nationwide and worldwide. Contact us at 512.215.5225 or use our online form to schedule an appointment.

Contact Information