Biden Administration Aims To Lower Standards Of U.S. Naturalization Test For Citizenship Applicants

According to an unpublished notice obtained by the DCNF and set for publication Thursday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has announced changes to the U.S. naturalization test, reducing the difficulty of the English-speaking section and editing the civics section to make the test easier for citizenship applicants.

Standardized criteria for evaluation will minimize the examiner’s discretion in judging the quality of responses, and the English-speaking segment will be curated to focus on more everyday conversational topics than the more formal themes historically discussed. According to the announcement, applicants will be asked to reply to three color photographs taken from a pool of roughly seventy images that each match to a typical usage scenario.


In addition, the civics test will be revamped into a multiple-choice style with four answers for each question, rather than the current “fill-in-the-blank” approach, in which applicants are required to answer a question by recalling information from memory. The multiple-choice style used on college admissions tests like the SAT and ACT improves accuracy by 25% and facilitates recall.

A USCIS source told CNN before the notice was published, “Primarily, this is about reacting to ideas from the larger community that we’ve gotten over the previous couple of years and making it more equitable.” Current candidates for citizenship can continue to use the current test until the end of 2023, when the proposed test will enter a five-month trial period before being enacted.

This is only one of a number of initiatives taken by the Biden administration to make the immigration and naturalization process more streamlined and to undo policies from the Trump administration that progressives have criticized as creating unnecessary obstacles to immigrant assimilation. On January 12, 2021, newly inaugurated President Joe Biden issued an executive order mandating a “complete assessment” of civics and English language tests and the “identification and removal of hurdles that limit access to immigration benefits.”


The Trump administration updated the naturalization test’s syllabus in 2020 November, increasing the required passing score from 10 to 12 out of 20, and adding 12 additional questions to the test’s bank of 128. According to the USCIS website, applicants would be “provided with more opportunity to learn about the United States as part of the test preparation process” if they took the test.

The test created by the Trump administration included new content about the Civil War, the development of communism, the 14th Amendment, and the War on Terror, in addition to questions about the Founding Fathers including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. As soon as the Biden administration took office, it canceled the new test and reinstated the 2008 version that had been used under the Bush administration.

The English reading and writing parts of the citizenship test will remain unchanged under the Biden administration. As USCIS Director Ur M. Jaddou put it, “we welcome comments from – and the engagement of – stakeholders who are familiar with this vital process,” as the agency is always revising and updating its naturalization examination.




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