2020 U.S. Citizenship test

Hello English Language Acquisition Colleagues,

You may be aware that the U.S. Citizenship test has been changed, and that after the December first registration deadline everyone who wishes to take the test will need to take the new 2020 version.  Those who are familiar with this change might like to know that the questions are now available online at https://www.uscis.gov/citizenship/2020test. Those who may not have known that there is a new version of the test may find the same link helpful.

I would like to hear how adult ESOL/ESL teachers/instructors/tutors and their students experience the differences in the new test. Are the increased number of questions and the percent needed to pass the test a serious or minor obstacle for students, or are they insignificant? Is the new test as fair as the 2008 version? What other changes do you and your students observe?

David J. Rosen


David and all,

As I understand it, while students who registers tomorrow and beyond will take a new test, students who have registered up to this point will take the current test. 

This means it may be up to a year before the new test is implemented. Is this information correct? 

I'd love to hear from more individuals and their experience.


Hello all,

To David's question, I am not  teaching citizenship currently but did so for four years until last March and this new civics test, if implemented, will be significantly more difficult for applicants. I say "if" because there are several problems with this test and I hope that there will be legal challenges and/or the new administration will be able to halt implementation of this test. Without going into detail, the new 128- question test retains several confusingly worded questions, adds others, and contains inaccuracies and slanted questions. It adds several questions about communism which I believe are outdated and reveal a political viewpoint. It changes the answer to the question "Who does a Senator represent?" (previous acceptable answer: all the people of the state) to "citizens" of the state, and adds a similar question about US Representatives. Clearly Congresspeople do not just represent citizens but lawful permanent residents (LPRs) and all people in their state or district, no matter their immigration status. The civics test is by law supposed to take into account immigrants' education level and English proficiency; the old test was already too hard in these respects and the new one is much harder. It will discriminate against poorer less-educated LPRs and add to the number of people who will have trouble attaining the last step in their citizenship process. According to Pew Research Center (2018), only 73% of all immigrants and only 46% of Mexicans (our largest immigrant group) have completed high school, and only 47% of immigrants who have been here 5 years or less (the required time to be an LPR  before naturalizing is 5 years, unless married to a US citizen in which case it is 3 years) are proficient in English.

Other issues are that USCIS may not have done the proper evaluation of the test questions (I don't have evidence of this, but if they consulted educators as they claim to have done, I do not believe the test would look as it does); they may not have done the proper piloting of the test (again I don't have evidence but they rolled this test out much more quickly than the 2008 test. also USCIS contacted my former organization in 2019 to have our students be a part of the pilot; they said they would email me more information but we never heard back from them); Cuccinelli is only the Acting Head and thus in his position illegally; and organizations that provide adult ed/citizenship classes were not given advance warning of the new questions. Also, I wonder if the test was really supposed to have 128 questions or if this was a last minute change after the election? When I was contacted in 2019, the USCIS rep told me the pilot would have more than 100 questions but that not all of these would be in the final version of the test. He implied that the test would remain at 100 questions (again, I do not have evidence of this except my recollection of the phone call and possibly my notes. I hope that we can get this information from organizations that participated in the pilot). 

Unfortunately I have not seen any news of challenges to this test except for a request for comments on the CLINIC website (search for new citizenship test under Action Alerts); we have until December 14 to comment. I plan to comment and to contact my Congressional reps, the new administration, and immigrant  rights orgs, and I urge you to do the same.

As Kathy pointed out, the test should not be administered for some time, so even though this will be confusing to people applying now, no one will have to take the new test until at least March 2021 if not much longer. Applicants rarely are called to their exams in less than 3 months from the time they apply, and more commonly and especially now with backlogs from Covid closure it will probably be much longer and possibly a year or more in some parts of the country. However, USCIS is notoriously unpredictable so I would not count on any wait time that they or anyone else tells you. If I were teaching citizenship now I would tell my students that there could be a change to the test, and that we will start studying for the English test (Reading, writing and speaking) and especially the N-400 application (the Speaking test is based on the N-400; this is another unfair/illegal part of the exam as applicants can be asked to define words like "genocide" which are clearly not the "basic English" that they are supposed to be able to speak to pass the test. This was true of the test prior to December 1, 2020 and I assume it will continue unless changed in a review of the test after January 20, 2021). We would also begin our civics study with the government section as most of what we study will prepare them for the past and new civics test; if the new test stands we would add the new questions. 

Thanks and I hope to hear from others, especially if you have information on organizations that participated in the pilot of the new civics test or ideas on who to contact to challenge the implementation of this test.


Thank you for sharing your insights on the new citizenship exam. Your account is full of good information for citizenship teachers. Do you have any links to information sources besides the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website that might be helpful to local adult education programs that provide citizenship preparation classes? Also, can you please share which are the main immigrant advocacy organizations that are leading the way with lobbying efforts on the issue?

Phil and all,

Bill Bliss has posted extensive information on the revised test, including side-by-side comparisons of the questions, at https://longmanhomeusa.com/blog/considering-the-new-citizenship-exam/

To read the National Coalition for Literacy's comment on the revised test, visit https://national-coalition-literacy.org/2020/12/comments-on-the-revised-naturalization-civics-test/



I greatly appreciate the links you shared in your reply. I read them both.

I liked your comments to USCIS on behalf of the National Coalition for Literacy. I noticed that you mentioned you had submitted a letter through the process provided by USCIS. When I searched the USCIS website for the comments that had been submitted I was not successful. Do you know where we can see them? Also, do you know whether they will provide an official response to the comments, like the USDOE Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education does to comments on adult education proposed changes? Given that it officially started to be administered to citizenship applicants on December 1 and the comments period was until December 14, do you have information on how the comments will be used by USCIS?

One more question, do you know of any publishers or immigrant support groups that have begun to prepare teaching materials for the new test? I looked on the USCIS website in their section of teaching materials and all I could find there were materials based on the previous (2008) test. It would be helpful for teachers if we were able to provide them with materials that are aligned to the new assessment.

Thank you,

Phil Anderson

Florida Department of Education Adult ESOL Program Specialist 

Hi, Phil,

The process for submitting comments on the new civics test was not through the Federal Register (the one you're referring to in re OCTAE). Instead, USCIS provided an email address where comments could be sent. As a result, there is no way that I know of to see the comments that have been submitted, and I don't know whether USCIS has any plans to make them public or to respond.

I also don't know who, if anyone, has begun preparing study materials. I'll see what I can find out, but in the meantime you might want to ask Bill Bliss about that.


Hi Deborah,

Thank you for the information about the process used by USCIS for comments. The link to the citizenship materials from Bill Bliss (https://longmanhomeusa.com/blog/considering-the-new-citizenship-exam) was also very helpful. The pdf that Bill created showing the comparison of the questions in the 2008 and 2020 civics exam versions was also enlightening: https://media.pearsoncmg.com/intl/elt/citizenship/Comparison_A_2008-2020.pdf