New test of American-ness

The pool of 100 questions unveiled today to be used on naturalization tests starting in October 2008 doesn't look all that different from the 96 questions they're replacing. At least not $6.5 million different, the reported sum spent on the revamp.

Some hard questions were simplified – applicants had to name both of their state senators and all three branches or government on the old test and just one of each on the new – while some of the more random fact type questions have merely been replaced by equally arbitrary ones. “Who said, 'Give me liberty or give me death?'” and “Who wrote the Star-Spangled Banner?” are out, “When is the last day to file your income tax forms?” and “Name one of the writers of the Federalist papers” are in. And lest we forget: “What major event happened on September 11, 2001, in the United States?”

The two metropolitan areas with the largest number of newly naturalized citizens were not included in a four month pilot program fine-tuning the new questions; 65,813 people naturalized in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Orange County area and 132,326 in greater New York City in 2006, according to Department of Homeland Security figures. Of the ten pilot regions, Miami and Denver had the most naturalizing citizens for 2006, ranking third and 26th respectively.

Some critics of the new questions perceive a shift toward conceptual rather than factual answers that adds an additional burden on poor immigrants with limited education or English fluency on top of a recent fee increase. In July, naturalization application fees were raised to $675 from $405. But maybe those critics didn't look at all the questions. If anything, I'd say the test looks easier and pass rates in the pilot group rose to 94% versus 84% with the old questions. See both the old and new questions here and judge for yourself. Whether the test actually measures anything useful is another story.

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