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Archive for Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Citizenship test gets new focus

October 1, 2008

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— Quick: What is one power of the federal government? What stops one branch of government from becoming too powerful? What does the president's Cabinet do?

Get those right and you only have seven more questions to answer. Get six out of 10 correct and you match the minimum score immigrants need to become U.S. citizens.

Those questions are part of a new citizenship test that goes into effect today. Many immigrants seeking citizenship fret most over the oral exam, when they may be asked one of the above questions. The new exam gives them an added dose of anxiety because, for the first time, many of the questions focus on history and civic concepts instead of on their ability to memorize facts.

For example, instead of asking how many stripes are on the American flag, the new test asks: Why does the flag have 13 stripes?

But immigration officials say there's no need to worry: During the 10-city pilot phase more people passed the new test than did the old one.

"Every time there's change people get anxious," said Alfonso Aguilar, chief of the citizenship office for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

"I think it's important to say the test is not harder," he said. "For some, it may be easier."

Overall, 84 percent of applicants passed the old exam on the first try. That jumped to 92 percent with the new test during the pilot phase, Aguilar said.

Davie, Fla., resident Argentina Pavone, originally from Honduras, became a citizen Sept. 19 after taking the class. "It gave me the confidence and courage that I could do well," Pavone said.

Which means she probably knows the answers to the questions at the beginning of this story: The federal government can print money, declare war, create an army or make treaties. Checks and balances or separation of powers keeps the branches of government in check. And the Cabinet advises the president.

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