The Redesigned US Citizenship Test

Why the test redesign and what was viewed as wrong with the old test?

On October 1st, 2008, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly known as INS) implemented a new citizenship test. Why the test redesign and what was viewed as wrong with the old test?

According to the USCIS, the test was redesigned “to ensure that naturalization applicants have uniform, consistent testing experiences nationwide, and that the civics test can effectively assess whether applicants have a meaningful understanding of U.S. government and history.”

The office of citizenship was given the task in 2006 to redesign a fairer citizenship test as the old test came under scrutiny for a lack of standardization and meaningfulness. Studies conducted showed that the old test was inconsistent and lacked scoring uniformity. To address these concerns, Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) launched a test redesign project that included help from several test developers, a panel of history and U.S. government scholars, and a panel of English as a Second Language (ESL) experts. In addition, USCIS sought input from a variety of groups, including immigrant advocacy groups, citizenship instructors and ESL teachers.

The pilot exams, offered in various test cities starting in February 2007, seem to have addressed those issues.

For the most part, the redesigned naturalization exam kept the writing and reading portion of the exam relatively the same except for making the vocabulary more civics oriented; the major difference came with the civics questions being asked. The new citizenship test focuses more on history and civics topics rather than general topics as on the old test.

The English items and civics questions were developed by a panel of ESL and TSEOL teachers in accordance with the Department of Education’s National Standards for civics and government. According to USCIS, the vocabulary on the new test is also fairer than the old test because it is targeted at a language level consistent with the Immigration and Nationality Act standards.

In addition, USCIS’s interview officers were trained to score the test in the same way nationwide.