Name That President: Naturalization is a Real Test

15 04 2011

Living in the USA provides a series of daily tests which are not just remembering which side of the road to drive on and who is still in American Idol.

I have been here for nearly two years, have bought a house, am just about to apply to have my Conditional Residency removed and have even begun to understand baseball – although the appeal of Throwball still escapes me.

Provided that I am still happy to live in the Land of the Free, the next step will be to apply for citizenship and to do that I will have to study American Civics for the Naturalization Test.

Ten questions chosen at random from a list of one hundred spread over three categories and I need to get six out ten correct.

Then, providing that I am still considered of good moral character (haven’t been in prison, haven’t kidnapped children, didn’t leave a car-bomb in Times Square, have stopped making fun of Sarah Palin) and am willing to swear allegiance to the USA, I can become a citizen.

Which means that I have to care about who wins the Superbowl, agree that intervention in foreign countries is sometimes necessary to protect oil supply and celebrate Independence Day by downing a beer ending in the word Lite.

I have no real problem with most of these conditions but the thought of taking yet another test has caused me some concern. The Naturalization Test has been designed to make sure that those who chase the American Dream have some idea of where it originated from, that significant events are remembered and that the founding fathers who shaped the destiny of the USA are correctly identified.

Which is apparently something that 38% of Americans have failed to do.

On March 20, 2011, Newsweek published an article entitled “How Dumb Are We” and, based on results gathered from a poll of 1000 American citizens who had been given the Naturalization Test, 62 percent of those willing to undergo this oral exam received a passing grade.

Certain elements in the media saw this as another indictment of the ignorance of Americans about their own government and the history of the country. Bill Maher on his show ‘Real Time with…’ was scathing about the levels of basic general knowledge not being taught in schools whilst still ensuring that those who can achieve sporting success are feted by further education.

Personally, I just thought of the film “Idiocracy” – a satire that starts to look like a documentary on repeated viewing.

Newsweek pointed out that of the 1,000 US citizens who had taken the test, 29 percent couldn’t name the Vice President, 73 percent had no idea why the Cold War was fought and 6 percent couldn’t identity Independence Day on a calendar.

To be fair to these unidentified people, some of the questions were not as easy as they could have been.

Not everybody born after 1989 understands that Communism was a real threat for a while – you only have to watch Red Dawn or Rocky IV to see the threat that the Soviets actually presented –  or that Woodrow Wilson brought the USA into World War One.

Whilst 77 percent of them knew what Martin Luther King Jr. fought for, only 41 percent were clear on what Susan B. Anthony stood for; one assumes that the existence of a holiday for one and not the other was significant in their answers.

After all, it’s not as if every question is available to study beforehand on a government website that lists every single question and all the answers. If that was the case, then Newsweek could probably justify their claim that “the country’s future is imperiled by our ignorance.”

And this skyline is...

I will let you into a secret.

All of these questions are available online and in a print version. Every single one of them with the answer, sub divided into the categories of American Government (57 questions), American History (30 questions) and Integrated Civics (13 questions).

Brain teasers that range from naming one American Indian tribe in the USA or one war that the USA fought in the 1900’s to the location of the Statue of Liberty and the rights that everyone living in the USA has access to. Hard questions such as what is the capital of the state you live in, who is the President and what is the economic system of the country.

But any question is easy if you know the answer.

In the interests of being fair and balanced I took the test online and was given ten randomly generated questions. I got a score of 7/10 and passed but the USA isn’t alone in wanting it’s prospective citizens to know something about the country they are so desperate to swear allegiance to.

In 2005, the UK government introduced a test for those who wanted to become British citizens. Similar to the US version, the applicant answers 24 questions about the country that have been provided in a helpful 200 page Study Guide. It covers everything from politics to religion, from significant events in history to how to use a credit card. As you would expect, it is a thorough examination of your desire to become British.

I took the test without reading the guide. I got 66 percent. That is not a passing grade.

But I don’t need to pass a test to continue to be British, it’s if I decide to swap the Union Jack for the Stars and Stripes that I might need to study although, thanks to Newsweek, I do know who Susan B. Anthony is and the significance of 4th July, 1776.




One response

24 04 2011
Jon G

Good luck!
I came to Boston on 1987 and became a Citizen in 1997. It seems the only thing that has changed in order to become a citizen is the cost.
One question. Why do you want to become a citizen?

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