Updates to the U.S. Naturalization Test for 2020: What Applicants Can Expect

For many permanent residents, the test for United States citizenship is one of the culminations of their life’s work. The test very rarely changes, and has been the same for the past decade. Last year,  USCIS naturalized over 750,000 people, the highest number in five years, with an overall pass rate of 90% for the test.

But this year, some changes are coming down the pike. More details about the updates were supposed to be released earlier this fall, but no new information is available yet. What we do know is that the new version will be piloted extensively before being officially adopted across the board.

The most recent revision before this one was in 2009, which implemented a standardized test for the Civics and English proficiency portions of the test. In a way, the upcoming revision to the test is a normal process that happens every decade, and we hope nothing major will change.

The new version will still comply with the statutory requirement to provide special consideration to applicants who are over age 55 and have been living in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for a period of at least 20 years before their application for citizenship was filed. The revision will also comply with the regulatory provision regarding due consideration of applicants’ education, background, age, length of residence in the United States, opportunities available, and efforts made to require the requisite knowledge, and any other relevant factors.

The exam currently asks applicants ten randomly chosen questions from a list of 100 questions applicants prepare for the civics and history portion of the exam. These questions focus on three main topics: American government, American history, and integrated civics, a catchall category which includes things like geography and American holidays. Applicants need to get six out of the ten questions correct to pass the test.

In addition to the changes to the civics portion of the test, the agency is also considering changes to the English proficiency part of the test. The current rules require the applicant to be able to “write simple words and phrases”. This administration’s attempts to make citizenship harder to obtain might be a sign that the English proficiency requirements will get harder, but it is impossible to tell which way this will go.

For now, we will keep on top of any changes that are made. As we get more news on the pilot version of the new test, we will update you on any changes you need to be aware of as you file your application for naturalization.