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What You Should Know About the New Naturalization Exam

Posted by Hugo Valverde | Nov 26, 2020 | 0 Comments

Photo by Anthony Garand on Unsplash

The path to citizenship in the United States appears to be getting a bit more difficult. On December 1, 2020, an updated civics test will be implemented - meaning those who want to naturalize as citizens will have even more information to study about the U.S. than before. 

The U.S. naturalization civics test consists of two sections - an English test and a civics test. Based on age and years in the country, certain applicants are exempted from the English test. The civics test has long been criticized and satirized for being so difficult that not even the average person born and raised in the United States could pass it. 

Curious if you could pass it? Quizzes such as Can You Answer the Hardest Citizenship Questions? have appeared on social media and news sites to question U.S. citizens on whether their civics knowledge would be enough to let them naturalize [spoiler: most natural-born U.S. citizens would fail]. Since 2008, applicants for naturalization have had to study 100 civics questions, knowing they will randomly be tested on 10 questions during their exam, requiring six correct answers to pass the test. 

Well, all that changes on December 1st. An exam that was considered already challenging is growing in its expanse and intricacy. The update, which was announced last year, is being changed “to ensure that it remains an instrument that comprehensively assesses applicants' knowledge of American history, government and civic values,” according to USCIS

So what kind of changes are taking place?

  • Amount of Study Material:
      • The bank of questions USCIS can pull from is being increased from 100 questions to 128 questions.
  • Amount of Questions Asked:
      • Previously, applicants would expect 10 questions, but once six were answered correctly, the USCIS officer could stop asking questions. Now, 20 questions will be asked, and a USCIS officer cannot stop presenting the questions even after an applicant has gotten the requisite amount correct. 
  • Amount of Correct Answers Needed:
    • Although a passing score of 60% remains, because the amount of questions asked is being doubled from 10 to 20, the amount of required correct answers is being doubled from six to twelve. 

Examples of new questions include, naming an example of an American innovation, the meaning of E Pluribus Unum, and what was Dwight Eisenhower famous for.  To download the set of the 128 naturalization exam questions click here.  

For those of you wondering, one thing that is not changing are the exemptions in place for seniors taking the exam. For the English proficiency portion of the exam, if an applicant is at least 50 years old and has been a green card holder for at least 20 years, or is at least 55 years old and has been a green card holder for at least 15 years, the English portion of the exam is not required, and the applicant may take the civics exam in their native language. For those who are at least 65 years old, only 20 civics questions need to be studied, and only 10 questions will be asked. 

If you have already applied for naturalization, you will be taking the previous version of the civics exam. Only those who apply for naturalization on or after December 1, 2020 will be taking the updated version of the exam. 

If you have questions or need assistance in applying for naturalization to become a U.S. citizen, please contact our office at (757) 422-8472, or send us a message on our website.

About the Author

Hugo Valverde

Hugo's passion for immigration law stems from his own family's immigration experience. His father and mother came to the United States from Peru fleeing political persecution, and as he grew up, Hugo spent many summers in Peru. Hugo uses his experience growing up in an immigrant family and time a...


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