Would You Pass the U.S. Citizenship Test?

Professor Greg Jackson joins Tim to talk about what it takes to pass the American citizenship test, what’s on it, and what all means. Do you think you could pass the test? You may be surprised. You may know Greg from previous episodes where we discussed George Washington, the history of the American Flag, or the history of the U.S. Capitol building. Greg is a historian and history professor at Utah Valley University. And he’s the host of the very popular podcast called, “History that Doesn’t Suck.” In this episode, we explore the test to become an American citizen.

Less than two years ago, The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation decided to conduct a test to find out just how much Americans actually know about their country, its history and what it means to be a citizen. The country failed.

But let’s be more specific. The survey found that two out of three Americans would not pass the test that’s required to become a U.S. Citizen.

First, a little background on that test.

Before an immigrant to the United States can take the Oath of U.S. Citizenship, he or she must pass a naturalization test that’s administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

It’s a two-part test. There is a civics test. And there is an English language test.

While some accommodations may be made for age and physical limitation, applicants for citizenship are expected to demonstrate they can read, write and speak words in ordinary and daily usage in the English language. And they have to demonstrate that they have a basic knowledge and understanding of American history, government and tradition.

So, when the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, conducted its survey, here are some highlights – or lowlights – of what it found.

  • Only 13 percent, or almost 1 out of 10 Americans knew that the Constitution was ratified in June 1788. Most thought it was 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed.
  • 60 percent, that’s 6 out of 10 Americans, did not know the countries the U.S. fought against in World War Two.
  • More than half of those surveyed did not know how many justices are on the U.S. Supreme Court. There are nine.
  • People who were 65 years old and older scored best with 74 percent answering at least 6 out of 10 questions correctly.
  • Those 45 years old and younger did the worst. Only 19 percent were able to pass the exam.

I know what you’re wondering right now. You’re wondering if you could pass the exam yourself.  Well, before you try to answer that, we decided this may be a good time to take the mystery out of the test.


About this Episode’s Guest Prof. Greg Jackson

Dr. Greg Jackson is best known for being the Creator, Head Writer, and Host of History That Doesn’t Suck and contributing as a historical consultant to the podcast American Elections: Wicked Game. Greg is Associate Professor of Integrated Studies and Assistant Director of National Security Studies at Utah Valley University, where he teaches courses spanning US, European, and Middle Eastern history. Greg earned his Ph.D. in history from the University of Utah.

When Greg isn’t researching, teaching, or podcasting, he’s usually hanging with his family, cycling, rock climbing, or indulging his love of languages. Greg speaks fluent French, rusty-but-conversational Spanish, and has some working ability in Arabic and Classical Latin.