Casual Fridays: Who's qualified to be a U.S. Citizen?

The U.S. Department of Immigration unveiled its new U.S. citizenship test today. Whenever these tests come out, news organizations inevitably send reporters out to find out if actual U.S. citizens know the answers we expect immigrants to know. The results, as you might expect, are generally not impressive.

But these reporters generally aren't tackling the issue in a very scientific manner: typically they just ask random people in a train station or on the street, then report the most amusing answers.

We thought we'd be a little more systematic about it. This week, our casual study asks our readers to take the ten sample test questions printed in the New York Times today, then answer a few questions about citizenship status and education. Do people who've lived longer in the U.S. have an advantage? Or does that just give them more time to forget what they should have learned in Civics class? What about naturalized citizens, who actually had to study for a citizenship test at one time?

Click here to participate in the study

[If you've already seen the sample questions in the New York Times, just respond the way you did when you first saw the questions]

The survey is relatively short, with about 25 questions. It should take only a couple minutes to complete. You have until the morning of Thursday, October 4, to complete your response. There is no limit on the number of respondents.

Don't forget to come back next Friday to see the results!

Once you're done, you can see how well you did. I'll post a link to the answers below.

Answers from the Citizenship test. (No cheating!)

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Huh, I did better than I thought. Guess it's that Davidson education...

You're sure this isn't secretly an overconfidence experiment?

I just watched brave Tonga lose to England, with the assistance of several pints during the game, and some fine French wine beforehand. Should I take the "test" now, or when I'm not so "tired"?

Like every test, I got one wrong since I didn't read it correctly - I answered for WWII instead of WWI. Whoops

I've long wondered what immigrants think of the 7th Amendment, both parts of which were 'rendered inoperative' long ago, and the 5th Amendment's protection against double-jeopardy being nullified by judges declaring mistrials when juries fail to convict. I feel sorry in advance for anyone who struggles to become a US citizen who then gets denied their right to vote by dirty tricks.

The question I have is who in the right mind would want to be a US citizen at this time?

What's the pass mark on the citizenship test? I got 60%, which isn't bad for someone who wasn't educated in the US and lived there for all of six weeks, but it probably wouldn't be enough to become a citizen.

9 of 10 - damnit, I thought that there were 29 amendments, and my 4 year-old hasn't gotten to civics yet! (non-citizen, moved here for grad school). I would bet that very few folks who don't go through the US education system get that one, with probably the authors next (I assumed I needed to give amendment numbers to go with their actions, so it's significantly easier without that need).

Speaking of not handling things scientifically, only a certain demographic would be visiting a site like this. I would assume that most people here are more educated than the average American. It's a fairly poor sampling.

Another problem with web-based questionnaires is attrition. Most web users drift off fairly quickly from web sites that aren't interesting.

For example, I did the first two questions of this questionnaire, then I realized that I wasn't doing well, so I closed that tab and went off to read Slate.

I know this particular questionnaire doesn't claim to be "scientific", but I think this problem applies to much research where data is gathered online.

8 out of 10 for me, I missed how many representatives(I said 425) and what keeps one branch of the government from getting to powerful(I said the constitution) still I think I did pretty well for a 15 year old who was educated in Canada.

5 right, and I'm currently getting my PhD. Educated in public schools in Hawaii, however, and had 6 years of Hawaiian history and one year of combined US and World history. Sad state of affairs.

I didn't know about the Federalist Papers. It doesn't seem to answer the important questions for Americans today -- what channel is Dancing With The Stars on? On what day did Anna Nicole Smith die?

One of the questions from the last test asked for the name of the form used when applying for naturalization.

By Jeffrey Simpson (not verified) on 30 Sep 2007 #permalink

Isn't this comment true for most adults?

Most adults couldn't pass the driving test they sat 20 years ago.
Most adults couldn't pass simple school tests that 16 year olds sit.

These skills could be re-acquired with a little effort if required. They are just not needed for adult daily life.

hmm, maybe I misread but I just named one of the four amendments, unlike Julianne above

8 outta 10, just misunderstood the "rights" one and WW1 pres, havin a g'pa in WW2 kinda biases my world war knowledge, I don't feel TOO embarassed, and feel rather stoked about the Federalist Papers and having read a fair number of them :)

I got 8 out of 10. In my school district, we ended up studying colonial history in-depth four or five times, and the World Wars were covered in a blur during the last two weeks of the year.

Here's a comparison between the old and new questions on the citizenship exam.

Off by one amendment.

Guess I'll have to read what the 27th amendment says, seeing as I was unaware of its existence.

By chancelikely (not verified) on 27 Nov 2007 #permalink

Picked up a 7.5 out of 10. Missed the number of amendments and our WW1 president. Wrote one of the amendments as just enfranchising black males (when it was actually *all* males).

By Xanthir, FCD (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink

I got all ten. I'd marked most of them as "not very confident", though. :)

The wording was tricky in some cases... For the voting rights question, I knew my answer, but I went back and forth on how to put it. I eventually settled on "The 19th ammendment provided for women's suffrage". I'm counting that as correct, although by Xanthir's standards, I dunno -- the answer sheet says only "Any citizen can vote (women and men can vote)." Which, BTW, isn't even correct, since there are lots of citizens who can't vote. The 19th just ensures that gender isn't the reason they can't.

Also, some women had the vote before the 19th, which makes me and the answer sheet both wrong. (I knew that, but like I say, how elaborate should my answer be?)

I got 8 out of 10. In my school district, we ended up studying colonial history in-depth four or five times, and the World Wars were covered in a blur during the last two weeks of the year.

Speaking of not handling things scientifically, only a certain demographic would be visiting a site like this.

thought on the Grimms v. Disney style? The Grimms tales were hand-me-down distillations, so probably closer to what most people want and need. The Disney versions were one person's work with one aim in mind, so don't have so much human 'applicability', as JRRT would have termed it.