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One of the most crucial checkpoints on your path to citizenship is the citizenship test. Before you take the oath of allegiance and become a citizen of the United States, you have to show the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that you are familiar with the country’s history and language.

In this article, we’ll tackle everything you need to know before taking the United States citizenship test. If you have any problems with the exams or the citizenship process, our experienced North Carolina & California immigration attorneys can help you solve them! Call our law office now to schedule your consultation.

Citizenship Examination Overview

A USCIS officer will administer the naturalization test to see you in both English and civics. To become a naturalized citizen, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) requires that you:

  • Can understand, speak, read, and write proficiently in English; and 
  • Have adequate knowledge of the US government and history. 

You’ll have two chances at passing these tests: the initial examination and the re-examination. If you fail any of these parts twice, then USCIS will reject your application for naturalization. You can appeal this decision and request a hearing with USCIS, then you’d have to retake the parts that you’ve failed. 

If you fail to show up for your initial examination, your re-examination, or hearing, then that counts as one failure.

Exceptions for Taking the Test

There are certain categories of applicants that can be exempted from taking any or both requirements of the test according to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) 312.

Medical Disability Exception

A medical disability can exempt you from either or both of the requirements. File N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions with the help of our North Carolina & California immigration lawyer to ensure that everything goes smoothly.

Take note that this is the only category that can exempt you from taking the civics test. All other categories below are required to take the civics test, although they can ask to take it in their language of choice. 

Residence and Age Exceptions

If you’re over a certain age and have been a lawful permanent resident (LPR) for a certain period, you are exempt from taking the English language portion of the citizenship exam. You are still required to take the civics part, but you can request an interpreter for this. 

If you meet these conditions, you qualify for exemption:

  • You are at least 55 years at the time of filing and you’ve been an LPR for 15 years or more;
  • You are at least 50 years at the time of filing and you’ve been an LPR for 20 years or more. 

Special Considerations

If you’re at least 65 years old and your total time as an LPR is at least 20 years, then you can ask for a special test form for the civics part of the exam. 

How the English Exam Goes

You need to show that you’re able to understand, speak, read, and write words in ordinary usage. 

To demonstrate proficiency in English in common usage means you have to communicate clearly and appropriately using simple words and grammar. The test questions will gauge your pronunciation, sentence construction, spelling, and comprehension. 

You’re allowed to ask the officer to rephrase or repeat what they said. You’re also allowed to make small mistakes and still pass the English requirement. 

Speaking Test

Here you’ll be asked questions about your citizenship application and your eligibility for naturalization to determine your English proficiency. The officer will repeat and rephrase any question until they are certain that you understand what they said or that you cannot speak English at all. 

How to Pass

You will pass if you’re able to demonstrate that you understand the questions and can respond to them meaningfully. 

How to Fail

If the officer determines that you can’t speak enough English to answer the eligibility questions or to be placed under oath, then you fail. Even so, you will still have to take all the remaining parts of the citizenship test. 

The officer is not allowed to accept a withdrawal from an applicant who cannot speak English. There has to be an interpreter present to explain the effects of withdrawal.

Writing Test

The writing test determines whether you can write in English before you can proceed with the naturalization process. 

The officer will read a sentence out of the standardized test forms. Once the test taker has successfully written one sentence out of the three, the officer will stop the test. 

How to Pass

As long as you successfully convey one sentence, you will pass.

A test can be successful even if:

  • There are minimal errors in capitalization, spelling, and grammar;
  • There are small omissions that do not change the meaning;
  • There are numbers written out as digits instead of spelled.

How to Fail

If the mistakes significantly alter the meaning of the sentence, then that’s a failure of the written portion of the English test. 

A significant mistake can look like this:

  • An abbreviation for a whole word;
  • Writing nothing;
  • Writing only one or two words;
  • Writing a different sentence or different words;
  • A completely ineligible sentence.

Reading Test

You’ll be given a standardized test form with three sentences. You only have to read one to pass the test. 

How to Pass

You’ll have to successfully read at least one of the given sentences.

A successful read means there were no big pauses and you’ve read all the content words. You can omit short words or make minimal pronunciation mistakes so long as it doesn’t affect the meaning and still pass the test.

How to Fail

If you cannot read at least one of the given sentences, then you fail the English reading test. If you do any of the following, then that means you failed to read the sentence:

  • Omission or substitution a content word;  
  • Significant pauses while reading;
  • Incorrect intonation or pronunciation affects how the meaning of the sentence is conveyed.

How the Civics Exam Goes

Civics covers the fundamentals of the principles, the history, and the form of the United States government. For an immigrant to become a US citizen, they have to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of civics.

The USCIS system will randomly select questions that will be read aloud by the USCIS officer. Once you’ve answered the minimum number of questions correctly, the officer will stop the exam. 

There are two versions of the Civics exams: the 2008 test and the 2020 test. If you filed between December 1, 2020, and March 1, 2021, then you have the option to take either. If you applied for citizenship before December 1, 2021, or on or after March 1, 2021, then you have to take the 2008 version.

How to Pass the 2008 Civics Test

You’ll have to study 100 questions. You’ll need to answer 5 questions correctly out of 10 to pass.

How to Pass the 2020 Civics Test

You’ll have to study 128 questions. You’ll need to answer 12 questions correctly out of 20 to pass.

Final Thoughts

Before you become a United States citizen, you have to pass the citizenship test and the citizenship interview. The USCIS office will test you on your English skills and knowledge of American history and government. Once you successfully pass this, you’re only a few steps away from becoming a citizen and enjoying the rights and responsibilities that come with it!

Our skilled North Carolina & California immigration attorneys at Diener Law are more than happy to help you with any questions and issues you may have with the citizenship tests. We’ve also successfully solved problems involving permanent residence, citizenship status, fingerprinting and biometrics, and other issues with immigration laws.

If you have any questions about immigration and naturalization, give our North Carolina & California law office a call!

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