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A Comprehensive Guide to the U.S. Citizenship Test

October 18, 2021
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Summary

The U.S. Citizenship Test is one of the most important aspects of your citizenship application. You'll need to pass the test to become an American citizen and you can only take the exam twice. This article is a comprehensive guide to the U.S. Citizenship Test. It explains what to expect on the test, how you should prepare for the test, whether you can request special accommodations if you have a disability, who's exempt from taking the test, and what happens after you take it.

Overview

What is on the U.S. Citizenship Test?

Your U.S. Citizenship Test will include two components: the English component and the civics component. You should aim to do well on your Citizenship Test (or “naturalization test”). You will only have two chances to pass the Citizenship Test, so preparing in advance is essential.

The English Component

The English component of the U.S. Citizenship Test will include a speaking test, a reading test, and a writing test. Immigration officials will provide you with a digital tablet to use for your reading and writing tests.

The English component will test your command of basic English grammar and vocabulary. Don’t be afraid of making a few common mistakes on the English component. It’s alright not to speak English perfectly. During the test, you may ask your immigration officer to clarify some of the questions. Your immigration officer may then repeat particular words or phrases or clarify a question for you.

On the speaking test, your immigration officer will ask you to answer questions about your naturalization eligibility or application. They do so to assess your English speaking and comprehension abilities. To best prepare for this part of the English test, you can read over your citizenship application before taking your exam.

On the reading test, your immigration officer will hand you a digital tablet. The tablet will display a sentence that your immigration officer will ask you to read out loud. You will be given, at most, three sentences to read out loud until you have correctly read one. If you read the first sentence correctly, you will have passed and won’t need to continue reading more sentences.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) maintains a list of vocabulary words that you might see on the reading test questions. Examples of some of the words on this list include “American flag,” “Abraham Lincoln,” “George Washington,” “Bill of Rights,” “Father of Our Country,” “senators,” basic verbs like “can,” “do,” “is,” “vote,” and “live,” along with various American holiday names. Be sure to review this list before taking your exam.

The immigration officer administering your reading test is trying to see whether you understand the sentences you’re reading. So, be sure not to pause for too long while reading sentences out loud. You should not replace any unfamiliar words in the sentence with words you are more familiar with. It’s generally alright if you leave out a few short words, incorrectly pronounce some words, or have a non-standard intonation when you speak.

The final part of the English component will be the writing test. On the writing portion, you’ll need to listen to your immigration officer say a sentence. Then, you’ll write that sentence on your digital tablet using a stylus, the touchscreen pen tool. You must write one out of three sentences correctly to pass this section of the test. It’s usually okay to make a few capitalization, grammatical, or punctuation errors. If your sentences include numbers, it’s okay to either write out the number or the numeral. For example, writing either “two” or “2” would be fine. Write neatly, and don’t use shorthand.

USCIS also maintains a list of vocabulary words that you might see on the writing test questions. Be sure to also review this list before your exam. 

The Civics Component

The civics portion of the naturalization test requires you to have a good understanding of U.S. history and the American government. To pass the civics test, you’ll need to provide the correct answer to at least six out of 10 questions. Note that the civics test is not a multiple choice test.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) maintains a list of all 100 possible questions that your immigration officer might ask you to answer during the civics test. Your immigration officer will select 10 questions from this list at random to ask you. Your immigration officer will continue to ask you up to 10 questions until you have answered six correctly. Once you have answered your sixth question correctly, they will stop the test. Be sure to review USCIS’s list of possible test questions to make sure that you are prepared for your civics test.

If you are aged 65 or older, you will only have to review 20 questions in advance. USCIS has marked these questions with an asterisk (*) on their full list.

You can expect about half of the questions on the civics test to be about the U.S. government and the other half to be about American history. Some questions will require you to do research in advance. For example, you might be asked to name one of your state’s U.S. senators. Since state senators vary based on which state you live in, you should study any specific information like this in advance.

The difficulty of the civics questions will depend on your age, educational level, and how long you have been in the United States. Those who have lived in the United States for longer will typically have more prior exposure to U.S. history and government. But, you can still pass the test even if you haven’t been in the United States long - you just have to prepare.

How should you prepare for the U.S. Citizenship Test?

It is crucial that you study and prepare in advance for your U.S. Citizenship Test. You can find study materials, including a previous version of the civics test, on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website.

Here is some helpful advice for preparing for the Citizenship Test:

  • Begin studying as early as possible. Starting your studying early will help you practice and memorize important information.
  • Review English vocabulary and grammar. You can review English vocabulary and grammar by reading simple children’s books in English or watching videos, television, and movies in English to familiarize yourself with the language better. If you have low vision, USCIS also has study guides available in large print that you can use. 
  • Find help. If you have a friend or relative who can speak English, they can be a great resource to help you study and practice English. You can also have them quiz you on civics test questions. 
  • Complete civics practice tests. You can find older versions of civics tests on USCIS’s website. Be sure to review your questions and answers after completing a practice test.
  • Figure out which study approach works best for you. You may find it easier to break down your studying into smaller sessions to give yourself more time to focus on specific parts of the material.
  • USCIS has flash cards with space for note-taking. You can use this space to write down facts to help you remember important vocabulary or events in U.S. history.

Group your study material together. This is helpful if you’re trying to memorize lots of information. For example, you could group questions and vocabulary about the U.S. government, holidays, or history separately to better focus your studying. USCIS already groups together similar questions in its study material. The material has different sections for questions relating to the U.S. Constitution, forms of government, the legislative branch, the executive branch, the judicial branch, the powers of government, the amendments, civic engagement, and voting.

Can you request accommodations for the U.S. Citizenship Test?

Applicants with disabilities or special needs can request accommodations for the U.S. Citizenship Test. Examples of accommodations include being able to bring a relative or an interpreter along with you to your Citizenship Test, taking the reading test with text in larger font size, or being able to respond verbally to test questions. Other accommodations include receiving additional time to take your exam or receiving a different test location (like your home or a local senior citizens center) if you would have had difficulty traveling elsewhere. 

You can request accommodations for the Citizenship Test if you are deaf or hard of hearing, are blind or have poor vision, or have another condition that restricts your ability to take the test. If you need accommodations, you need to let U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) know in advance.

You can request accommodations by completing one of the following:

  • You can note your requested accommodations on your Form N-400 or “Application for Naturalization.”
  • You can contact your USCIS field office. You may locate your field office’s contact information on the USCIS website.
  • You can call USCIS’s contact line at 1-800-375-5283.

USCIS will let you know if accommodations will be available on the date of your exam. If not, USCIS will make other arrangements and reschedule your exam to ensure that accommodations are available.

Who is exempt from taking the U.S. Citizenship Test?

The vast majority of people will need to take the U.S. Citizenship Test to complete their naturalization application. But, some applicants may be exempt from part of the test.

You will be exempt from taking the English component if, at the time of your citizenship application, you are at least 50 years old and have lived in the United States with a green card for at least 20 years. Similarly, if you are aged 55 and older and have held a green card for at least 15 years you won’t have to take the English component.

There aren’t many exemptions from the civics component. But, the same groups mentioned above who are exempt from taking the English part may also opt to take the civics test in a language of their choice. If you take the civics test in your native language, an interpreter will be present at your civics test.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) also allows applicants aged 65 and older who have been permanent residents for at least 20 years to study only 20 of the total 100 possible civics test questions. As long as these applicants correctly answer six out of 10 questions, they will pass the civics test.

There are also some exemptions for applicants with disabilities. If you have a medical condition that has or will have lasted at least 12 months, you are eligible to apply for exemptions from the English test, civics test, and sometimes both. Examples of qualifying medical conditions are physical disabilities, developmental disabilities, and mental impairments.

To receive a disability exemption, you’ll have to submit Form N-648 or the “Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions” in addition to your Form N-400 or “Application for Naturalization.” You will need to have a licensed medical doctor, osteopathic doctor, or clinical psychologist complete your Form N-648. The medical professional who completes your form must verify that you cannot take the Citizenship Test or specific parts of the Citizenship Test, even with any accommodations.

Note that USCIS won’t exempt you from any part of the Citizenship Test for being illiterate. But, you may be able to prove that you have one of the valid reasons for an exemption described above.

What happens after the U.S. Citizenship Test?

After you take the U.S. Citizenship Test, you should expect U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to release your results on the same day.

If you pass your Citizenship Test, you can continue with the naturalization process. USCIS will have four months from your naturalization interview and Citizenship Test to send you their final decision on your application. If approved, you will then participate in a naturalization ceremony. You’ll take an “Oath of Allegiance,” receive your certificate of naturalization and become an official United States citizen.

If you did not pass your Citizenship Test the first time, don’t worry! You’ll have another chance to retake the exam or the component that you didn’t pass. The questions on your second Citizenship Test will not be the same as the questions you answered on your first test. If you retake the exam, USCIS will schedule your test retake. Typically, your second test will happen about two to three months after your first test. You must make sure to show up for your re-examination. If you do not show up for your second test, you will fail your re-examination, and USCIS will deny your citizenship application.

If you do not pass your re-examination, USCIS will deny your citizenship application. You may be able to appeal the denial if you write to USCIS within 30 days of receiving your denial to request a re-test. If approved, USCIS will schedule a hearing for you within 180 days of your request. At this hearing, a USCIS officer will offer you a re-test on the portion(s) of the exam you failed during your re-examination.

Conclusion

Applying to become a U.S. citizen can be complicated, but working with a good immigration attorney can make it easier. If you can't afford the attorney fees and don't want to handle your citizenship case alone, we may be able to help. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government. Click "Get Started" to see how we can help make your American dream come true!

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