US Citizenship Test Changes: What to Expect?

US Citizenship Test Changes: What to Expect?

The US citizenship test is undergoing updates that have raised concerns among immigrants and advocates. The proposed changes put forth by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services focus on incorporating a speaking section into the citizenship test in order to evaluate applicants’ English language proficiency. However, some worry that these modifications may disadvantage individuals with lower levels of English proficiency. The naturalization test serves as a crucial step towards obtaining citizenship, following years of legal permanent residency. 


In 2020, during the administration of former Republican President Donald Trump, the citizenship test underwent significant changes, resulting in a longer and more challenging exam. Following the inauguration of Democratic President Joe Biden, he took decisive action by signing an executive order aimed at eliminating obstacles that hinder the path to citizenship. As part of this effort, the citizenship test was reverted to its previous version, last updated in 2008.

The Need for an Update:

In December, US authorities recognized the necessity for an update to the citizenship test after 15 years. The upcoming version of the test is expected to be released late next year.

Speaking Section:

The proposed changes to the US Citizenship Test primarily involve the addition of a speaking section to assess applicants’ English language skills. Under the new format, an officer would present photographs depicting ordinary scenarios such as daily activities, weather conditions, or food. The applicant would then be required to verbally describe the content of the photos.

Current Test Evaluation:

In the current version of the test, speaking ability is assessed during the naturalization interview. During this interview, officers ask personal questions that applicants have already answered in their naturalization paperwork. This method of evaluation does not specifically focus on English language skills.

Implications and Concerns:

The introduction of a speaking section in the US Citizenship Test has raised concerns among immigrants and advocates. They worry that individuals with limited English proficiency may face additional challenges in passing the test. The proposed changes could disproportionately affect those who have had limited access to English language education or support. Critics argue that the modifications may further hinder the path to citizenship for certain individuals.


As the US Citizenship Test undergoes updates, concerns have been raised regarding the potential impact on individuals with lower levels of English proficiency. The addition of a speaking section to assess English language skills aims to provide a more comprehensive evaluation process. However, it is important to ensure that these changes do not inadvertently create barriers for those striving to become citizens. Striking a balance between accurate assessment and inclusivity will be crucial in shaping the new citizenship test.

Proposed Changes to the US Citizenship Test: Impact on Civics Section:

US Citizenship Test

As part of the updates to the US Citizenship Test, another proposed change involves transforming the civics section from an oral short-answer format to a multiple-choice format. This alteration has raised concerns among experts and advocates, who argue that it would increase the difficulty level and demand a broader knowledge base from test-takers. The civics section assesses an applicant’s understanding of US history and government, and the current format requires answering questions orally. However, the proposed change would require applicants to select the correct answer from a list of options.

The Change in Format:

In the current civics section, an officer asks applicants to answer questions orally, typically in a short-answer format. For example, applicants may be asked to name a war fought by the US in the 1900s, with multiple correct answers to choose from, such as World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, or Gulf War. However, under the proposed multiple-choice format, applicants would need to read the question and select the correct answer from a provided list of options.

Increased Difficulty and Knowledge Base:

Bill Bliss, a citizenship textbook author, highlighted the increased difficulty that would accompany the proposed multiple-choice format. Using an example in a blog post, he explained how applicants would need to have knowledge of all five wars fought by the US in the 1900s to select the correct answer from the given options. This change demands a higher level of language proficiency and test-taking skills, posing a challenge for those with limited English proficiency or test-taking experience.

Passing Requirements:

To successfully pass the test, applicants are currently required to provide correct answers to six out of the ten civics questions. These 10 questions are selected from a pool of 100 civics questions. While applicants are not informed which questions will be asked during the test, they have access to the complete set of 100 questions to study in preparation.

Concerns and Implications:

Experts and coordinators in citizenship programs express concerns about the proposed multiple-choice format for the civics section. They worry that the change could make the US Citizenship Test more challenging for individuals who struggle with English literacy, including refugees, elderly immigrants, and those with disabilities that affect their test performance. Many refugees, coming from war-torn countries where educational opportunities were limited, face difficulties in reading and writing, even in their native languages. The increased reliance on reading comprehension in the multiple-choice format poses a significant hurdle.

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