Video: Are new citizenship test questions fair?

NBC News
By Ron Allen Correspondent
NBC News
updated 11/28/2006 7:27:51 PM ET 2006-11-29T00:27:51

Question: The colonies had had enough of what country?

Answer: England.

It's basic history in basic English for students hoping to become U.S. citizens.

The U.S. citizenship test has 100 possible questions, including:

  • What color are the stars in the flag?
  • Who were our enemies in World War II?
  • What's our most important right?

It's an oral exam. Answer six out of 10 correctly — in English — and you pass.

However, after years of review, a lot of people think too many of the questions are trivial and the test comes down to simply memorizing facts, such as that Boston is the capital of Massachusetts, a state that's one of the original 13 colonies.

On Wednesday federal officials will unveil new test questions designed, they say, to make the exam more meaningful.

"Our idea is to make this a test which is more relevant, which instills a greater sense of civic pride," says Emilio Gonzalez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Some of the new questions:

  • Why do we have three branches of government? (It's not enough just to name them.)
  • Name two ways Americans can participate in our democracy.
  • Name three of the Cabinet posts and what they do.
  • Name one idea in the Declaration of Independence.

Some immigrant advocates are suspicious of the new questions and a likely increase of the $400 test fee.

"We're really concerned that the immigration service is making it much harder to become a citizen," says Fred Tsao with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and  Refugee Rights.

Guillermo Torres hopes to take the test before it changes.

"Now, it's not easy," he says. "Later, I don't know what happen, it get more difficult later."

Some 650,000 people become citizens yearly, and nearly 85 percent pass the test the first time.

The new exam questions will be tried out in 10 cities beginning next year. A better test that some say will also help make better citizens.

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