Originally created 07/04/99

Test of citizenship



Nearly half a million immigrants became U.S. citizens last year. To do so, they had to pass a citizenship test that may leave many American-born citizens puzzled.

"The Test," as it is generally referred to, is a quiz on the fundamentals of U.S. history and government. It is the final step in a lengthy naturalization process that includes a 27-month wait.

To become citizens, immigrants must pay a $225 application fee, plus $25 for fingerprinting.

Applicants must have lived in the United States for five years, be of good moral character (meaning no felony convictions), be of sound mind (in the interviewer's opinion) and be able to read, write, speak and understand English.

Each applicant must take an oath of allegiance. By doing so, the applicant swears to support the Constitution and obey the laws of the United States; renounce any foreign allegiance and/or foreign title; and be willing to bear arms for the armed forces of the United States.

Most naturalization applicants see The Test -- a source of great anxiety -- as the final stumbling block between themselves and freedom.

According to Elaine Komis, public affairs officer for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the interviewer determines if the applicant has a good understanding of the English language and U.S. history by asking about 15 standard questions from a list of 100. The alien never knows which questions will be asked.

"We try to provide the alien with the kinds of questions we will be asking to reduce their anxiety," Mrs. Komis said. "Immigrant groups also provide classes to help prepare for the test."

The questions and their answers are available on the INS Web site (www.ins.usdoj.gov) under the Naturalization/Am I Eligible heading. The site also offers civics exam study guides and an online test.

Augusta resident Jose Ayala moved to the United States from El Salvador in search of greater opportunities. He took the test four years ago and is now a U.S. citizen.

"I went to school in my country and in America to prepare," Mr. Ayala said. "They asked me some questions, and I had to write a sentence and read a sentence.

"Some of the questions were hard and some were easy, but I knew all of them."

Several of the citizenship test questions do seem ridiculously easy, such as "What are the colors of our flag?"

Others are more difficult, for example, "How many amendments are there to the Constitution?"

The answer is 27.

Chris Bourdouvalis, a political science professor at Augusta State University, took a look at the 100-question sample test and concluded that it should apply not only to naturalized citizens, but to American-born citizens as well.

"If I judge from my U.S.-born students, I will conclude that only 15 percent of the questions will be answered by students who never took the basic course in U.S. politics and history," Dr. Bourdouvalis said. "For that reason, I think it is unfair to demand so much from a naturalized, non-educated citizen while there are no requirements for those who were born here."

According to the INS, 10 percent to 15 percent of naturalization applicants fail the test the first time. They are given one more chance before they have to reapply for citizenship.

We asked some American-born Augustans random questions from the standard 100-question U.S. Citizenship Test.Most of the people we queried could ace the U.S. history category on Jeopardy, but some were a little rusty.

When we asked 22-year-old Lucious Gamble III, "Who was the president during the Civil War?" he replied, "That guy with the mustache and beard."

When asked to name two senators from Georgia, Phillip Douglas replied, "Bob Young and Zell Miller.' He also thought Vernon Jordan was chief justice of the United States.

When we told Kathy Bonham that "John Adams" wasn't president during the Civil War, she laughed and said, "I have a hard time remembering my children's names."

It seems the goofy film character Austin Powers has had more of an effect on Jess Evans than his U.S. history teacher. He said the pilgrims came to America to "get away from those English people with the ugly teeth."

Standardized questions on U.S. Government and History

As a test of their knowledge of the English language and U.S. history, applicants for citizenship are asked about 15 questions from a list of 100 standardized questions on U.S. history and government. Here are 50 of the questions. The complete list is available on the INS Web site (www.ins.usdoj.gov).

1. What are the colors of our flag?

2. How many stars are in our flag?

3. What do the stripes on the flag mean?

4. What is the Fourth of July?

5. What country did we fight during the Revolutionary War?

6. Who is the president of the United States?

7. Who is the vice president of the United States?

8. Who elects the president of the United States?

9. For how long do we elect the president?

10. What is the Constitution?

11. What do we call changes to the Constitution?

12. What are the branches of our government?

13. What is the legislative branch of our government?

14. Who makes the laws in the United States?

15. What special group advises the president?

16. How many senators are there in Congress?

17. Name the two senators from your state.

18. For how long do we elect each senator?

19. How many representatives are there in Congress?

20. For how long do we elect the representatives?

21. What are the duties of the Supreme Court?

22. What is the Bill of Rights?

23. Who is the current governor of your state?

24. Who becomes president of the United States if the president and vice president should die?

25. Who is the Chief Justice of the United States?

26. Name the 13 original states.

27. Which countries were our enemies during World War II?

28. How many terms can a president serve?

29. Who was Martin Luther King Jr.?

30. According to the Constitution, a person must meet certain requirements in order to be eligible to become president. Name one of these requirements.

31. Who selects the Supreme Court justices?

32. How many Supreme Court justices are there?

33. Why did the Pilgrims come to America?

34. What is the head executive of a state government called?

35. Who was the main writer of the Declaration of Independence?

36. When was the Declaration of Independence adopted?

37. What is the basic belief of the Declaration of Independence?

38. Where does the freedom of speech come from?

39. What is the minimum voting age in the United States?

40. Who signs bills into law?

41. What Immigration and Naturalization Service form is used to apply to become a naturalized citizen?

42. What is the name of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to America?

43. Name three rights or freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.

44. Who has the power to declare war?

45. In what year was the Constitution written?

46. Name one purpose of the United Nations.

47. Name one benefit of being a citizen of the United States.

48. Who is the Commander in Chief of the U.S. military?

49. How many times may a senator be re-elected?

50. How many times may a U.S. representative be re-elected?

Click here for the answers

Staff Writer Mark Mathis contributed to this article.

Katie Throne can be reached at (706) 823-3332 or katie.throne@augustachronicle.com.