Getting your U.S. citizenship involves not only meeting the general eligibility requirements but also passing two types of tests. One type of test covers the system of government in the U.S., as well as some basic American history. The other type of test involves the foreign national’s command of the English language, including speaking, reading, and writing. In 2019, USCIS announced that it would revise and improve the naturalization tests based on best practices in adult education assessments. It has decided to regularly revise the tests every 10 years.
The Civics Exam
The test on American history and government contains 100 questions, which USCIS publicly releases together with their answers. Studying for the test simply involves memorizing the answers to the questions. The USCIS official who interviews the foreign national will ask 10 of the 100 questions. They need to answer six questions correctly to pass the test. There are a few questions for which the answers change periodically, involving the names of current U.S. Senators, U.S. Representatives, and Governors, as well as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. A foreign national can look up their names online.
If you cannot learn the answers to these questions because of your advanced age, the 65/20 exception may apply. This means that you can take an easier version of the civics test if you are 65 or older and if you have held legal permanent resident status in the U.S. for 20 years. The 20-year period does not need to be uninterrupted. The question pool will be reduced to 20 questions, although you still will need to answer six of 10 questions correctly. If you bring an interpreter, you can even take the test in a language other than English.
Foreign nationals who cannot study the test materials due to a physical or mental disability may be able to get a waiver. They would need to submit Form N-648 with information from their doctor about their condition and its impact on their ability to study the test materials.
The English Language Exam
The USCIS officer at your citizenship interview will communicate with you in English, and they will expect you to understand their questions and instructions. In addition to their observations from the conversation, the English test will consist of reading a passage in English and writing a sentence that the officer dictates to you. The USCIS website provides materials to help you study for the English exam. As with the civics exam, some exceptions apply for people who are older or who have disabilities.
Either the 50/20 waiver or the 55/15 waiver may apply to a foreign national. The 50/20 waiver covers applicants for citizenship who are 50 or older and who have held legal permanent resident status for 20 years. They can ask the USCIS officer to conduct the interview in their native language. The 55/15 waiver covers applicants who are 55 or older and who have held legal permanent resident status for at least 15 years. You can have the interview and exam conducted in your native language if you fall within this category. However, if you use either type of waiver, you must bring your own interpreter rather than relying on USCIS to provide an interpreter.
Similar to the civics exam, the English language exam may be subject to a waiver for applicants who cannot learn English because of a physical or mental disability. This might involve a developmental delay or deafness, for example. Again, you would need to submit Form N-648 with information from your doctor about your condition and how it affects your ability to learn English. The interview will be conducted in your native language if USCIS approves the waiver.