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U.S. Citizenship Test Gets Longer, More Complicated
BMK Group

The civics test to become a U.S. citizen just got more difficult.  

To be approved  for U.S. citizenship through naturalization (N-400 Application), applicants must take a civics test to show their knowledge and understanding of American government and history, as well as an English test to demonstrate basic understanding of the language. Those naturalization applicants filing their application on or after Dec. 1, 2020 will now at their in-person interview need to take a longer, more challenging version of the civics test that had been in place for 12 years. 

New vs. old civics test

In the 2020 version of the civics test, applicants will be asked 20 questions in English orally, and they must answer 12 correctly. The 20 questions will be pulled from a bank of 128 possible questions. In the 2008 civics test, which was also oral and in English, applicants were required to answer six of 10 questions correctly, and they just had to study 100 possible questions and answers. 

While many of the questions remain the same, some were revised to require more comprehensive responses. For instance, “Name two national holidays” was replaced with “Name three national holidays,” and a question about the 13 original states now asks applicants to identify five of those states rather than three.  Changes also involve questions requiring applicants to identify every branch of the federal government and to confirm why the electoral college is important.

Other changes include removing geography questions in favor of more questions about the presidency, Congress, the Supreme Court, and politics. 

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English portion of the test

The English portion of the naturalization test remains the same, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which administers the test. A USCIS officer will determine applicants’ ability to speak English during their eligibility interview, and applicants will be asked to read one of three English sentences out loud and to correctly write one of three English sentences to demonstrate an ability to read and write the language. 

Applicants who fail any part of the test can retake the part they failed once, between 60 and 90 days of the date of their initial interview. Those who failed the 2020 version will take the 2020 version again, while those who failed the 2008 version will be retested on the 2008 test. 

Special exemptions

Applicants who are age 65 or older and who have been living in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for 20 or more years receive special consideration, which is commonly known as the 65/20 exemption. These applicants only need to study 20 questions, which are marked with an asterisk. They will be asked 10 of these 20 questions, of which they must answer six correctly. Further, they are exempt from the English requirements portion and may choose to take the civics test in whichever language they choose.

Those applicants who are age 50 or older and have lived in the United States as a permanent resident for 20 years or those who are 55 or older and have lived here as a permanent resident for 15 years are exempt from the English language requirement, but are still required to take the full civics test. 

Individuals who are engaged in certain kinds of overseas employment may be eligible for an exception to the continuous residence requirement. In addition, applicants with a physical or developmental disability or mental impairment may be eligible for an exception to the English and civics naturalization requirements. 

Where to find the new test

The 128 questions and correct answers of the 2020 test can be found here:

Founded in 1930, Barst Mukamal & Kleiner is one of the oldest immigration law firms in the United States. The firm’s immigration and business lawyers provide comprehensive immigration and business law services. Clients should contact their Barst attorney with any questions regarding the naturalization civics test. For general inquiries or to set up a consultation, please visit

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