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How to Best Prepare for the U.S. Citizenship Test

Taking the citizenship test is one of the final steps in the U.S. naturalization process where your skills in English and U.S. civics are tested. Here are some tips and tricks about how to pass your test with ease.

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    When Do You Take The Citizenship Test?

    Permanent residents who have been in the United States for at least 5 years are encouraged to apply for U.S. citizenship. Those who decide to become U.S. citizens will then need to go through a series of steps to obtain their U.S. citizenship. Overall, the process is as follows:

    1. The permanent resident completes and submits Form N-400 (Application for Naturalization) to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) along with any supporting documentation and filing fee ($640 plus $85 for biometrics).
    2. The permanent resident will then have to schedule and attend a biometrics appointment where their fingerprints, photo, and signature will be collected for their application. Normally, an appointment letter will be sent to the permanent resident one month or so after they have submitted Form N-400. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will use this information to conduct a background on the permanent resident to determine if they are eligible for U.S. citizenship.
    3. The permanent resident will then be summoned to attend a citizenship exam and interview. This is normally done 1 year after the permanent resident has submitted their naturalization application. The date and location of the hearing will be sent to the applicant in a letter from USCIS.

    It should be noted that the exam and interview are normally done on the same day so come prepared for both!

    US citizenship applicant

    Who is Eligible to Take the Citizenship Test?

    There are a number of requirements in order to take the citizenship test. First, all applicants must be non-U.S. nationals who are lawful permanent residents of the United States (aka, green card holders) would like to become U.S. citizens. In addition, they must also:

    • Be at least 18 years old when they file and submit Form N-400 (Application for Naturalization)
    • Have been a lawful permanent resident of the United States for at least five years
    • Prove that they have lived in the U.S. state or USCIS district to which they are applying for at least three months
    • Have lived continuously in the United States for at least five years prior to the date of filing Form N-400
    • Have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the five years prior to the date of Form N-400 filing
    • Able to read, write and speak basic English
    • Have a basic understanding of both U.S. history and the U.S government system
    • Be a person of ‘good moral character’
    • Be able to demonstrate an attachment to the U.S. Constitution
    • Be able to swear an Oath of Allegiance

    What is Involved in Taking the Citizenship Test?

    The naturalization process consists of two parts: the exam and the interview. The exam, or citizenship test, will test the applicant’s English ability and knowledge of U.S. history and government.

    The English portion of the exam will focus on the applicant’s ability to read, write and speak English and is composed of three parts:

    • The reading test where the applicant will be asked to read no more than three sentences on a digital tablet
    • The writing test where the applicant will be asked to write no more than three sentences on a digital tablet using a stylus (digital pen)
    • The speaking test where the USCIS officer will ask the applicant a series of questions in the naturalization interview and determine if the applicant has the necessary ability to speak English

    The civics portion of the exam will consist of ten questions about U.S. history and the U.S. system of government. These questions are not multiple choice so revision is important.

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      What to Expect at the Naturalization Interview

      When you begin your naturalization interview, the USCIS officer conducting the citizenship interview will ask you to show them a form of identification such as a driver’s license, passport or permanent residence card.

      You will then be placed under oath to tell the truth and then asked a series of questions regarding your citizenship application, background, character, willingness to take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States and your attachment to the Constitution.  There are also likely to be questions regarding any supporting evidence that is relevant to your case.

      During this time, the USCIS officer will be ascertaining your ability to comprehend and speak English, so consider this as part of the English test. If you do not understand any of the questions, feel at ease to ask the USCIS officer to rephrase the question.

      Remember, you will not be expected to speak English perfectly. The USCIS officer is looking for general proficiency in basic English speaking and comprehension.

      The Civics Test

      Passing the Civics Test is essential for becoming a U.S. citizen. Those who are exempt from taking the English test will still need to take the Civics Test in order to pass their citizenship test.

      In the Civics Test, the applicant will be asked ten questions from a list of 100 possible questions randomly. To pass the test, the applicant must answer at least six questions correctly.

      Half of the questions will be about the U.S. government while the rest will be on the subject of American history. Applicants should do a little research ahead of time as some of the questions asked will be regarding naming present political and government figures such as the applicant’s state senator, representative and the current U.S. president.

      Once the applicant has answered at least six questions correctly, the test will finish. It should be noted that this is not a multiple-choice test, so the applicant will need to provide the correct answer orally.

      Individuals who are over 65 years of age will be given a chance to review a set of 20 questions in advance. The difficulty level of the test will be considered based on the applicant’s age, background, education level and total time spent in the United States.

      How Can I Prepare for the Naturalization Test?

      The naturalization test and interview are some of the essential last steps to becoming a citizen of the United States so it is important for all applicants to come ready and prepared.

      There are many resources and materials out there to help you prepare for the naturalization test including online practice tests, sets of vocabulary words to review and a list of questions and answers to Civics Tests. The USCIS Citizenship Resource Center offers free citizenship preparation materials online including multilingual resources. It is important to start studying as early as possible.

      In addition to checking test resources online, you can also help yourself study by:

      • Quizzing yourself with flashcards with vocabulary words or civics test questions written on them
      • Have your friends or family give you practice writing tests where they say a sentence and you practice writing it out
      • Read as much as you can in English including newspapers, books, magazines, comic books, etc. It doesn’t matter what you read as long as it is written in English. For beginners who struggle with English, children’s books are a good place to start.
      • Take practice tests. There are many online to choose from and many are free of charge.
      • Watch your favorite English language television shows, documentaries, and films. For extra help, put the English subtitles on below. This will help with your reading, grammar, and comprehension.
      • Stay updated with the news. Some questions on the Civics Test will ask you questions regarding the current politicians in office so it’s important to keep informed with the latest information.
      • Speak English whenever and wherever you can with whomever you can. Speak it at home with your family, when out and about with your friends, when at work and out running errands. The more you speak, the more confident you’ll be in the interview.

      How is the Test Graded?

      To gain U.S. citizenship, you must pass each section of the naturalization interview and test. This includes the speaking test, writing test, reading test and Civics Test.

      To pass the reading test, the applicant must read one out of three sentences correctly. The immigration officer overseeing the test will determine if the applicant understands what he/she is reading. Long pauses when reading along with the replacement of unfamiliar words with familiar words should be avoided. However, it is ok to leave out a few short words, incorrectly pronounce some words (even native English speakers do this, after all) and speak with non-standard intonation.

      To pass the English writing portion of the test, the applicant must write one out of three sentences correctly which the immigration officer will say to you. It is important to write neatly and not use shorthand when taking the writing test. It’s generally ok if you make a few grammatical mistakes as it is not expected your grammar to be perfect.

      As for the Civics Test, the USCIS officer will ask you up to 10 questions regarding the US government and history. Try to answer these questions to the best of your ability. To pass, you must answer six questions correctly. Once you have correctly answered six questions, the test will finish and you can go on to the next stage.

      English tests

      Can I Re-take the Test?

      You will have two chances to take the exam. If you fail to pass both times, your citizenship application will be declined. You can appeal the denial by writing to USCIS within 30 days of receiving a letter of rejection. If your request is granted, a hearing will be scheduled 180 days within receipt of your request where a USCIS officer will re-test you on the portion of the exam that you did not pass.

      If you fail to pass the test the first time, you will be able to retake the whole exam or even just the portion of the naturalization test that you failed. This is normally scheduled by USCIS 2-3 months after your first exam. When taking the test a second time, keep in mind that the questions will be different.

      If you fail to attend the re-examination appointment, USCIS will consider the absences as a failed attempt and your citizenship application will be denied. If you missed the appointment due to circumstances beyond your control such as being hospitalized or incapacitated, you may be able to retake the test.

      What happens after the test?

      After you have completed the interview and citizenship test, you should expect to be given your results soon after on the same day. Those who pass can continue on with the naturalization process which will include taking the ‘Oath of Allegiance’ at the citizenship ceremony. After you have taken the oath, you will have officially become a citizen of the United States of America.

      Pledge of Allegiance
      person giving American flag

      Are There Any Exemptions to Taking the Test?

      Certain exemptions can be made for the English portion of the test depending on the personal circumstances of the applicant. For instance, long-term Green Card holders are exempted from the English test if:

      • They are age 50 or older at the time of application and have lived in the United States as a permanent resident for at least 20 years
      • They are age 55 or older at the time of application and have lived in the United States as a permanent resident for at least 15 years

      Although there are exemptions for some applicants regarding English tests, all applicants must take the civics portion of the naturalization test. Older applicants who qualify for English test exemptions can take the civics test in their native language provided that they bring an interpreter with them to the interview who is fluent in both English and the native language of the applicant.

      In addition, individuals who are 65 years or older will be given special consideration regarding the civics portion of the test by being allowed to review a set of 20 questions ahead of time.

      Individuals who are unable to meet the requirements of the test process due to a physical, developmental, or mental impairment may request to be excepted from the process. To do this, the applicant must complete and submit Form N-648 (Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions) to USCIS. This form must be completed by either a licensed medical doctor, an osteopathic doctor or a licensed clinical psychologist.

      Applicants with a disability or other needs which require certain adjustments can request special accommodations on Form N-400 (Application for Naturalization) or by contacting USCIS at 1-800-375-5283 (TDD: 1-800-767-1833).

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