Per Section 312 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), naturalization applicants have to demonstrate an ability to read, write, and speak words in ordinary usage in the English language. In addition, they should also have a knowledge and understanding of US history and government (Civics). The USCIS modified the naturalization test as part of a multi-year redesign to achieve two basic objectives. One was to create a uniform and consistent testing experience for all applicants and the second was to have a civics test that can effectively judge an applicant’s knowledge of US history and government.
The objective of the re designed test is to emphasize the founding principles of American democracy and the rights and responsibilities of US citizenship. It also serves as an important instrument to encourage civic learning and attachment to the US nation. The USCIS began administering the new test on October 1, 2008. Till October 1, 2009, applicants who had filed the citizenship application before October 1, 2008, had an option of taking the old test or the new test. However, on October 1, 2009, it was mandatory for all naturalization applicants to take the new test.
From October 1, 2008 through June 30, 2011, around 1,570,000 new naturalization tests were conducted across the country. For applicants who are required to take both the English and civics tests, the overall national pass rate is 92 percent (as of June 2011). Information gathered since October 1, 2008 shows that applicant performance remains relatively consistent with that of the old test. Per the data from USCIS’ internal case management systems, the pass rate of 92 percent is same as that of the old test, which was 91 percent, per 2008 data.
The USCIS has decided to periodically furnish information on the national pass rate of applicants who took the new naturalization test. The data mentioned earlier were taken from internal case management systems used to track naturalization applications. It has been gathered to give a general snapshot of how applicants perform the new test.
Note that the national pass rate is determined only on an applicant’s first test within the current naturalization application. The data are based on applicants taking the new citizenship test from October 1, 2008 through June 30, 2011. The test results for each applicant are manually entered into the case management system and since it is done manually, some errors tend to happen. Though the USCIS has taken every effort to eliminate any errors made during entering the data manually, small errors do exist and that would have an impact on the publicized national pass rate.
If an applicant fails the test, he/she will be given two opportunities to take the English and Civics tests and to answer all questions relating to his/her naturalization application in English. If he/she happens to fail any of the tests at the initial interview, the applicant will be retested on the portion of the test that he/she failed (English or Civics) between 60 and 90 days from the date of the initial interview.