New test for citizenship applicants becomes mandatory

The new test for would-be-citizens becomes mandatory from October 1st.
A revised citizenship exam that initially sparked fears among some immigration-rights advocates will become mandatory Oct. 1.

The civics exam mostly tests broad concepts rather than the easy-to-memorize facts that were the staple of the old exam. Some believed that the new test which was first unveiled in 2006, was so difficult that it was deliberately designed to reduce the number of new citizens.

But the 91-percent pass rate for the new test is higher than the 84-percent rate for the old exam, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which administers the test.

To better familiarize citizenship applicants with the new exam and the rest of the naturalization process, the agency is holding meetings across the country that will feature free study materials, informational CDs, application forms and a question-and-answer session, said spokeswoman Mariana Gitomer.

The Sept. 19 meeting at the agency's San Bernardino location will also serve to spread the word about the Inland field office, which opened in 2001 but is still unknown to many would-be citizens, said office Director Irene Martin. Many people travel from the Inland area to the Los Angeles location, she said.

The exam debuted in 2008. Applicants initially were given a choice between the old and new exams, but those submitting an application on or after Oct. 1, 2008, are required to take the new test.

The average wait time to take the test after submitting an application is less than six months, but some people who applied before October 2008 are still on a wait-list because of background security checks, documentation problems or other reasons, Gitomer said.

Most students at Riverside Adult School who have the choice between the old and new exams select the old one, said Kathy Bywater, who until recently was a citizenship coordinator at the school. They thought it was easier to memorize facts than study concepts, she said.

Some of the questions are the same on both exams, such as asking for the word for changes to the Constitution, amendments.

But most of the questions do not lend themselves to one-word answers. One asks "What does the Constitution do?" More than one answer is acceptable.

All 100 questions and sample answers for the civics test are available ahead-of-time. Applicants are asked up to 10 of the questions and must get at least six correct.

Bywater prefers the new exam because it requires test-takers to think more carefully.

"It's checking for knowledge instead of memorization skills," she said. "It's checking whether people know something about this country. It's far more relevant."

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