New Citizenship Test Designed to Thwart Memorization Begins Trial Run

A new citizenship test designed to make applicants think about questions rather than just memorize answers is beginning a trial run.

Volunteers will try out the new questions in San Antonio and El Paso beginning Thursday. Officials in eight other cities nationwide also are beginning to administer the pilot naturalization test this month, in an effort to revamp the exam for 2008.

The 140 or so draft questions on the pilot test cover U.S. history and government, but many are designed to be concept-oriented, as opposed to many current questions that require memorization of historical facts.

"You don't have to put a lot of thought process into something you could just memorize," said Myrna Garza, a district adjudications officer for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in San Antonio. "This will help you ... understand what's actually happening, the reason for it."

One question, for example, asks: "What does the judicial branch do?" The three answers accepted as correct are: "reviews and explains laws," "resolves disputes between parties" and "decides if a law goes against the Constitution."

The reading and writing portions of the exam are also being revamped, but only slightly, Garza said.

To pass, test-takers must orally answer correctly six of 10 pilot questions on the civics section of the pilot test. If they don't pass, they can take the regular test afterward.

The other cities that will start administering the pilot soon are Albany, N.Y; Boston; Charleston, S.C.; Denver; Kansas City, Mo.; Miami; Tucson, Ariz.; and Yakima, Wash.

After the question tryouts, the government will spend a year whittling the pilot test down to 100 questions, with consultation from community groups and educators.

"I want to make sure that people understand this is certainly not to make the test more difficult," said USCIS spokeswoman Maria Elena Garcia-Upson. "We will continue to accept immigrants literally from countries A to Z. We just want to make sure that when they're (reciting) the oath of allegiance, raising their right hand at the time of the ceremony, that they understand our process here in this country and what our forefathers stood for."

USCIS expects to spend about $6.5 million to revise the test.