Would-be citizens can choose to take the new citizenship exam, which is supposed to require knowledge of concepts, not just memorization. Possible questions include: “What is the rule of law?” or “What are two rights of everyone living in the United States?”
Other questions require a fuller understanding of the people and events that shaped American history. So rather than asking “Who was president during the Civil War?” the new test asks: “What was one important thing that Abraham Lincoln did?”
Sample questions from the old test:
1. How many stars are there in our flag?
2. How many states are there in the Union?
3. What color are the stars on our flag?
4. What do the stars on the flag mean?
5. How many stripes are there in the flag?
6. What date is the Day of Independence?
7. Independence from whom?
8. What country did we fight during the Revolutionary War?
9. Who was the first president of the United States?
10. What do we call a change of the constitution?
From the new test:
1. Name one war fought by the United States in the 1900s.
2. What did Susan B. Anthony do?
3. What is one thing Benjamin Franklin is famous for?
4. There were 13 original states. Name three.
5. What is one responsibility that is only for United States citizens?
6. What does the judicial branch do?
7. Name your U.S. Representative.
8. Who makes federal laws?
9. What does the Constitution do?
10. What is the supreme law of the land?
To pass, applicants must answer six of 10 questions, picked randomly from a list of 100. They also have to read and write simple sentences in English and get through an interview in English.
I’ll never forget going out to dinner with my aunt and uncle and a young friend of theirs from Hong Kong who’d just passed her citizenship test. My aunt and uncle had helped her study for it. The three of them recited the chain of succession to the presidency down to the postmaster-general.