Chapter 2 - English and Civics Testing

A. Educational Requirements

An officer administers a naturalization test to determine whether an applicant meets the English and civics requirements.[1]The naturalization test consists of two components:

  • English language proficiency, which is determined by the applicant’s ability to read, write, speak and understand English; and

  • Knowledge of U.S. history and government, which is determined by a civics test. 

An applicant has two opportunities to pass the English and civics tests: the initial examination and the re-examination interview. USCIS denies the naturalization application if the applicant fails to pass any portion of the tests after two attempts. In cases where an applicant requests a USCIS hearing on the denial, officers must administer any failed portion of the tests.[2]

Unless excused by USCIS, the applicant’s failure to appear at the re-examination for testing or to take the tests at an examination or hearing counts as a failed attempt to pass the test.

B. Exceptions

An applicant may qualify for an exception from the English requirement, civics requirement, or both requirements. The table below serves as a quick reference guide on the exceptions to the English and civics requirements for naturalization. 

Exceptions to English and Civics Requirements for Naturalization

Exceptions [INA 312(b)]

Educational Requirements

English:

Read, write, speak, and understand

Civics:

Knowledge of U.S. history and government

Age 50 or older and resided in the United States as a lawful permanent resident (LPR) for at least 20 years at time of filing

Exempt

Still required. Applicants may take civics test in their language of choice using an interpreter.

Age 55 or older and resided in the United States as an LPR for at least 15 years at time of filing

Exempt

Age 65 or older and resided in the United States as an LPR for at least 20 years at time of filing

Exempt

Still required but officers administer specially designated test forms. Applicants may take the civics test in their language of choice using an interpreter.

Medical Disability Exception (Form N-648)

May be exempt from English, civics, or both

1. Age and Residency Exceptions to English

An applicant is exempt from the English language requirement but is still required to meet the civics requirement if:

  • The applicant is age 50 or older at the time of filing for naturalization and has lived as an LPR in the United States for at least 20 years; or

  • The applicant is age 55 or older at the time of filing for naturalization and has lived as an LPR in the United States for at least 15 years.

The applicant may take the civics test in his or her language of choice with the use of an interpreter. 

2. Special Consideration for Civics Test

An applicant receives special consideration in the civics test if, at the time of filing the application, the applicant is 65 years of age or older and has been living in the United States for periods totaling at least 20 years subsequent to a lawful admission for permanent residence.[3] An applicant who qualifies for special consideration is administered specific test forms.

3. Medical Disability Exception to English and Civics

An applicant who cannot meet the English and civics requirements because of a medical disability may be exempt from the English requirement, the civics requirement, or both requirements.

C. Meeting Requirements under IRCA 1986

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) mandated that persons legalized under INA 245A meet a basic citizenship skills requirement in order to be eligible for adjustment to LPR status. An applicant was permitted to demonstrate basic citizenship skills by:

  • Passing the English and civics tests administered by legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS); or

  • Passing standardized English and civics tests administered by organizations then authorized by the INS.[4]

At the time of the naturalization re-examination, the officer only retests the applicant on any portion of the test that the applicant did not satisfy under IRCA. In all cases, the applicant must demonstrate the ability to speak English at the time of the naturalization examination, unless the applicant meets one of the age and time as resident exemptions of English or qualifies for a medical waiver.[5]

D. English Portion of the Test

A naturalization applicant must only demonstrate an ability to read, write, speak, and understand words in ordinary usage.[6] Ordinary usage means comprehensible and pertinent communication through simple vocabulary and grammar, which may include noticeable errors in pronouncing, constructing, spelling, and understanding completely certain words, phrases, and sentences.

An applicant may ask for words to be repeated or rephrased and may make some errors in pronunciation, spelling, and grammar and still meet the English requirement for naturalization. An officer should repeat and rephrase questions until the officer is satisfied that the applicant either fully understands the question or is unable to understand English.[7]

1. Speaking Test

An officer determines an applicant’s ability to speak and understand English based on the applicant’s ability to respond to questions normally asked in the course of the naturalization examination. The officer’s questions relate to eligibility and include questions provided in the naturalization application.[8] The officer should repeat and rephrase questions during the naturalization examination until the officer is satisfied that the applicant either understands the questions or does not understand English.

An applicant who does not qualify for a waiver of the English requirement must be able to communicate in English about his or her application and eligibility for naturalization. An applicant does not need to understand every word or phrase on the application.

Passing the Speaking Test

If the applicant generally understands and responds meaningfully to questions relevant to his or her naturalization eligibility, then he or she has sufficiently demonstrated the ability to speak English. 

Failing the Speaking Test

An applicant fails the speaking test when he or she does not understand sufficient English to be placed under oath or to answer the eligibility questions on his or her naturalization application. The officer must still administer all other parts of the naturalization test, including the portions on reading, writing, and civics.

An officer cannot offer or accept a withdrawal of a naturalization application from an applicant who does not speak English unless the applicant has an interpreter present who is able to clearly understand the consequences of withdrawing the application.[9]

2. Reading Test

To sufficiently demonstrate the ability to read in English, applicants must read one sentence out of three sentences. The reading test is administered by the officer using standardized reading test forms. Once the applicant reads one of the three sentences correctly, the officer stops the reading test. 

Passing the Reading Test

An applicant passes the reading test if the applicant reads one of the three sentences without extended pauses in a manner that the applicant is able to convey the meaning of the sentence and the officer is able to understand the sentence. In general, the applicant must read all content words but may omit short words or make pronunciation or intonation errors that do not interfere with the meaning. 

Failing the Reading Test

An applicant fails the reading test if he or she does not successfully read at least one of the three sentences. An applicant fails to read a sentence successfully when he or she:

  • Omits a content word or substitutes another word for a content word;​

  • Pauses for extended periods of time while reading the sentence; or​

  • Makes pronunciation or intonation errors to the extent that the applicant is not able to convey the meaning of the sentence and the officer is not able to understand the sentence.

3. Writing Test

To sufficiently demonstrate the ability to write in English, the applicant must write one sentence out of three sentences in a manner that the officer understands. The officer dictates the sentence to the applicant using standardized writing test forms. An applicant must not abbreviate any of the words. Once the applicant writes one of the three sentences in a manner that the officer understands, the officer stops the writing test.

An applicant does not fail the writing test because of spelling, capitalization, or punctuation errors, unless the errors interfere with the meaning of the sentence and the officer is unable to understand the sentence.

Passing the Writing Test

The applicant passes the writing test if the applicant is able to convey the meaning of one of the three sentences to the officer. The applicant’s writing sample may have the following:

  • Some grammatical, spelling, or capitalization errors;​

  • Omitted short words that do not interfere with meaning; or​

  • Numbers spelled out or written as digits. 

Failing the Writing Test

An applicant fails the writing test if he or she makes errors to a degree that the applicant does not convey the meaning of the sentence and the officer is not able to understand the sentence. 

An applicant fails the writing test if he or she writes the following: 

  • A different sentence or words; ​

  • An abbreviation for a dictated word;[10]

  • Nothing or only one or two isolated words; or ​

  • A sentence that is completely illegible. 

E. Civics Portion of the Test

1. Civics Test

A naturalization applicant must demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history, the principles, and the form of government of the United States (civics).[11] To sufficiently demonstrate knowledge of civics, an applicant for naturalization must pass a civics test by answering a certain number of questions correctly. USCIS is committed to administering a test that is an instrument of civic learning and fosters civic integration as part of the test preparation process.

A USCIS system randomly selects the test questions and an officer administers the test orally.[12] The officer stops the test when the applicant correctly answers the minimum number of questions required to pass the test.

On December 1, 2020, USCIS implemented a revised naturalization civics test (“2020 civics test”) as part of a decennial test review and update process. USCIS received approximately 2,500 comments from the public regarding the 2020 civics test and the policy. Multiple commenters noted that there was little advance notice before implementation of the 2020 civics test, which raised concerns about limited time for study and preparation of training materials and resources. Due to the comments and in keeping with the Executive Order on Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans,[13] USCIS will revert to the 2008 test.

There are currently two versions of the civics test: the 2020 civics test with 128 questions to study, and the 2008 civics test with 100 questions to study. The date the applicant filed the naturalization application and the date of the initial interview determine which test the applicant may take.

Applicable Test for Applications Filed Before December 1, 2020 or On or After March 1, 2021

An applicant who files for naturalization before December 1, 2020 or on or after March 1, 2021 takes the 2008 civics test.

  • Passing the 2008 Civics Test – An applicant passes the civics test if he or she provides a correct answer or provides an alternative phrasing of the correct answer for six of the 10 questions.

  • Failing the 2008 Civics Test – An applicant fails the civics test if he or she provides an incorrect answer or fails to respond to five out of the 10 questions.

Applicable Test for Applications Filed On or After December 1, 2020 and Before March 1, 2021

An applicant who files for naturalization on or after December 1, 2020 and before March 1, 2021 may choose to take the 2008 civics test or the 2020 civics test, so long as his or her initial examination (interview) takes place before April 19, 2021. If the applicant has already taken the 2020 civics test at the initial exam and failed, he or she may choose to take either the 2008 civics test or the 2020 civics test at re-examination or N-336 hearing, if applicable.[14]

In cases where the initial interview takes place on or after April 19, 2021, the applicant takes the 2008 civics test.

The table below serves as a quick reference guide on the applicable version of the test for applications filed during this time frame.

Applications Filed On or After December 1, 2020 and Before March 1, 2021

Date of Initial Exam (Interview)

Civics Test Version on Initial Exam, Re-exam, or N-336 Hearing

Before April 19, 2021[15]

2020 Civics Test or 2008 Civics Test (applicant’s choice)

On or After April 19, 2021

2008 Civics Test

An applicant who chooses to take the 2020 civics test (when applicable, as shown above) is subject to the requirements of the 2020 civics test. To sufficiently demonstrate knowledge of civics with the 2020 civics test, the applicant must answer correctly at least 12 of 20 questions.

  • Passing the 2020 Civics Test – An applicant passes the civics test if he or she provides a correct answer or provides an alternative phrasing of the correct answer for at least 12 of the 20 questions.

  • Failing the 2020 Civics Test – An applicant fails the civics test if he or she provides an incorrect answer or fails to respond to nine out of the 20 questions.

2. Special Consideration

An officer gives special consideration to an applicant who is 65 years of age or older and who has been living in the United States for periods totaling at least 20 years subsequent to a lawful admission for permanent residence.[16] The age and time requirements must be met at the time of filing the naturalization application.

An applicant who meets the criteria for special consideration passes either the 2008 or the 2020 civics test if he or she provides a correct answer or provides an alternative phrasing of the correct answer for at least six of the 10 test questions from the specially designated list of 20 questions from the applicable test.

Applicable Test for Applications Filed Before December 1, 2020 or On or After March 1, 2021

An applicant who files for naturalization before December 1, 2020 or on or after March 1, 2021 takes the 2008 civics test. The test for applicants given special consideration contains 20 specially designated civics questions from the list of 100 questions on the 2008 civics test for applicants to study.

Applicable Test for Applications Filed On or After December 1, 2020 and Before March 1, 2021

An applicant who files for naturalization filed on or after December 1, 2020 and before March 1, 2021 may choose to take the 2008 civics test or the 2020 civics test, so long as his or her initial examination (interview) takes place before April 19, 2021. If the applicant has already taken the 2020 civics test at the initial exam and failed, he or she may choose to take either the 2008 civics test or the 2020 civics test at re-examination or N-336 hearing, if applicable.[17]

In cases where the initial interview takes place on or after April 19, 2021, the officer administers the 2008 civics test version. The test for applicants given special consideration contains 20 specially designated civics questions from the list of 128 questions on the 2020 civics test for applicants to study.

3. Due Consideration

An officer should exercise “due consideration” on a case-by-case basis in choosing subject matters, phrasing questions, and evaluating responses when administering the civics test. The officer’s decision to exercise due consideration should be based on a review of the applicant’s:

  • Age;​

  • Background;​

  • Level of education;​

  • Length of residence in the United States;​

  • Opportunities available and efforts made to acquire the requisite knowledge; and​

  • Any other relevant factors relating to the applicant’s knowledge and understanding.[18]

F. Failure to Meet the English or Civics Requirements

If an applicant fails any portion of the English test, the civics test, or all tests during the initial naturalization examination, USCIS reschedules the applicant to appear for a second examination between 60 and 90 days after the initial examination.[19]

In cases where the applicant appears for a re-examination, the reexamining officer must not administer the same English or civics test forms administered during the initial examination. The officer must only retest the applicant in those areas that the applicant previously failed. For example, if the applicant passed the English speaking, reading, and civics portions but failed the writing portion during the initial examination, the officer must only administer the English writing test during the re-examination.[20]

If an applicant fails any portion of the naturalization test a second time, the officer must deny the application based upon the applicant’s failure to meet the educational requirements for naturalization. The officer also must address any other areas of ineligibility in the denial notice. An applicant who refuses to be tested or to respond to individual questions on the reading, writing, or civics test, or fails to respond to eligibility questions because he or she did not understand the questions as asked or rephrased, fails to meet to the educational requirements. An officer should treat an applicant’s refusal to be tested or to respond to test questions as a failure of the test.[21]

G. Documenting Test Results

All officers administering the English and civics tests are required to record the test results in the applicant’s A-file. Officers are required to complete and provide to each applicant at the end of the naturalization examination the results of the examination and testing, unless the officer serves the applicant with a denial notice at that time.[22]The results of the examination include the results of the English and civics tests.

Footnotes


[^ 1] USCIS coordinates with external stakeholders to provide instruction and training materials related to the citizenship educational requirements. USCIS provides these educational materials and a list of all naturalization civics test items to applicants for study through the USCIS Citizenship Resource Center site.

[^ 2] Only one opportunity to pass the failed portion of the tests is provided at the hearing. See Part B, Naturalization Examination, Chapter 6, USCIS Hearing and Judicial Review, Section B, Review of Timely Filed Hearing Request [12 USCIS-PM B.6(B)]. 

[^ 3] See INA 312(b)(3).

[^ 4] See Pub. L. 99-603 (PDF), 100 Stat. 3359, 3396 (November 6, 1986). The INS Standardized Citizenship Testing Program was conducted by five non-government companies on behalf of the INS. That program was established in 1991 and ended on August 30, 1998. See 63 FR 25080 (May 6, 1998). 

[^ 5] See INA 245A(b)(1)(D)(iii). See 8 CFR 312.3

[^ 6] See INA 312. See 8 CFR 312.

[^ 7] See 8 CFR 335.2(c).

[^ 8] See 8 CFR 312.1(c)(1).

[^ 9] See Part B, Naturalization Examination, Chapter 4, Results of the Naturalization Examination, Section D, Administrative Closure, Lack of Prosecution, Withdrawal, and Applications Not Held in Abeyance [12 USCIS-PM B.4(D)].

[^ 10] An abbreviation for a dictated word may be accepted if the officer has approved the abbreviation. 

[^ 11] See 8 CFR 312.2.

[^ 12] See 8 CFR 312.2(c)(1).

[^ 13] See Executive Order 14012 (PDF), signed February 2, 2021.

[^ 14] For information on re-examination, see Chapter 3, Naturalization Interview, Section D, Subsequent Re-examination [12 USCIS-PM B.3(D)]. For information on N-336 hearings, see Chapter 6, USCIS Hearing and Judicial Review [12 USCIS-PM B.6].

[^ 15] This includes interviews scheduled or to be scheduled.

[^ 16] See INA 312(b)(3).

[^ 17] For information on re-examination, see Chapter 3, Naturalization Interview, Section D, Subsequent Re-examination [12 USCIS-PM B.3(D)]. For information on N-336 hearings, see Chapter 6, USCIS Hearing and Judicial Review [12 USCIS-PM B.6].

[^ 18] See 8 CFR 312.2(c)(2).

[^ 19] See 8 CFR 335.3(b) (re-examination no earlier than 60 days from initial examination). See 8 CFR 312.5(a) (re-examination no later than 90 days from initial examination).

[^ 20] See 8 CFR 312.5

[^ 21] See 8 CFR 312.5(b).

[^ 22] Officers must use Naturalization Interview Results (Form N-652).

Current as of October 20, 2021