Each year, hundreds of thousands of people take citizenship tests. In 2009, over 700,000 people passed the U.S. citizenship test and became naturalised citizens. However, the issue of whether these tests should be required is controversial. Some believe that they are an important part of the citizenship process, while others see them as inherently flawed.
Understanding of Government
Most citizenship tests cover the operation of government in some way. For instance, it can include questions such as "Name your U.S. representative" and "What are two Cabinet-level positions?" By requiring that new citizens become familiar with the operation of government, a citizenship test encourages people to become more involved in their own governance and helps them to understand the new laws that will apply to them.
Citizenship tests are often only given in the most common language used in the country. In the U.S. and the United Kingdom, tests are only given in English and the test taker must demonstrate an understanding of English to pass the test. This requirement helps to ensure that new citizens will be able to understand communications from their new government and their fellow citizens. On the other hand, it can exclude people who do not have the resources to learn their new country's dominant language.
Too Easy to Pass
Many countries have been criticised for the low standards they use for a passing score, or for how easy it can be to guess the correct answers on their tests. The U.S. citizenship test requires only 60 per cent of the questions to be correct for civics and one in three correct for English. Some countries, including the U.S., make the questions and correct answers available to the test takers ahead of time. Critics often voice concern that these tests are simple exercises in memorisation.
Two citizenship tests proposed in Germany were criticised for targeting Muslim values by asking if the test taker thinks that Israel has the right to exist and asking for the test taker's view of homosexuality. A citizenship test in the Netherlands requires that applicants understand that nude sunbathing is legal there. Critics believe that these are all aimed at tripping up Muslim applicants, and is a response to the tension between local values and Muslim immigration.
The biggest criticism aimed at the tests is that they are not relevant to determining whether someone would be a good citizen. Many argue that memorising history, geography, vocabulary words and government procedures have nothing to do with whether a person will add to the culture of a country. They also contend that the questions are less about values and integrity, and more about test-taking ability.
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- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Office of Communications; Fact Sheet Naturalization; September 2010
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: The USCIS Naturalization Interview and Test Video
- ProPublica; How I Passed My U.S. Citizenship Test; Dafna Linzer; February 2011
- Deutsche Welle; Testing the Limits of Tolerance; Deanne Corbett; March 2006