By Catherine Shu
What does it mean to be an American?
U.S. citizens who have lived here all their lives might shrug off the question
as celebratory rhetoric. But for the approximately 600,000 immigrants who seek
naturalization each year, the definition of being an American is more strictly
According to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration
Services' Guide to Naturalization, applicants for citizenship must have permanent
residence status, good moral character and a basic understanding of the English
language and of U.S. history and government.
Competency in the latter
two is tested during an interview with an immigration official who will administer
both oral and written exams to the applicant.
The immigration official
chooses appromixately twelve civics questions from a list of one hundred. While
the immigrant agency does not keep statistics on pass or failure rates, the majority
of naturalization applicants who take the exam do go on to become U.S. citizens.
Long Island City resident Dae-il Kim, who took the test last year,
agreed. "They ask you a few questions about simple government facts. They
just want to know that you can speak English well and that you're not a criminal."
"If you have a basic knowledge of political structure and history,
then it's pretty easy," said Gary Pang, 20, a resident of Flushing, Queens
who took the test in 2000, "I think all the questions were pretty easy to
answer if you studied the guide, which was basic American history."
Officials in different cities also determine the structure of the test.
While some cities leave the questions open-ended, other cities provide applicants
with multiple choice answers. In the 1990s, the U.S. Commission on Immigration
Reform recommended that the tests be standardized, and that the information contained
within the questions be made more current and relevant.
The new crop
of civics questions is already being tested in a pilot program launched on March
13, 2003 in Newark, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Atlanta. The BCIS
officials hope to have the new test officially implemented by late 2004.
the following list of questions are sample of what the U.S. government believes
is important for U.S. citizens to know.
Here to take the Citizenship Test Quiz.