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February 4, 2015

Are You (And High Schoolers) Smarter Than Immigrants Taking A Citizenship Test?


Arizona has become the first state in the country to require high school students to pass the basic civics test given to immigrants applying to become U.S. citizens. Students will have to correctly answer 60 of the test’s 100 questions. Can they do it? Can you?

And Arizona may not be the only state to take this step; the Associated Press reports that several others are considering similar legislation.

If you want to see how you might do on the test, I’ve selected 15 of the 100 questions, including each question’s four answer options.

  1. How many amendments does the Constitution have?

12; 27; 35; 42

  1. We elect a U.S. Senator for how many years?

4; 8; 6; 10

  1. We elect a President for how many years?

4; 12; 8; 5

  1. If the President can no longer serve, who becomes President?

Chief of Staff; Vice President; Secretary of State; Lead General

  1. What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution?

The Bill of Rights; Ten Commandments; Bill of Lading; List of Ten

  1. Which is a right or freedom from the First Amendment?

Vote; avoid taxes; free exercise of religion; bear arms

  1. What was the purpose of the Declaration of Independence?

Form an alliance with South America; announce independence from Great Britain; announce our independence from Germany; free the slaves

  1. What is one purpose of the U.S. Constitution?

Declare war; define state laws; protect basic rights of Americans; establish treaties

  1. What happened at the Constitutional Convention?

The Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution; USA became independent; Founding Fathers discovered the Red Coats might be approaching; John Hancock Died

  1. Who was President during the Great Depression and World War II?

Franklin Roosevelt; Harry Truman; Calvin Coolidge; Richard Nixon

  1. Who was President during World War I?

Woodrow Wilson; George Washington; Abe Lincoln; John F. Kennedy

  1. What territory did the United States buy from France in 1803?

New York; Louisiana; Mississippi; California

  1. Who is the “Father of Our Country”?

Obama; Washington; Lincoln; Jefferson

  1. When was the Constitution written?

1802; 1787; 1802; 1998

  1. When was the Declaration of Independence adopted?

1962; 1776; 1600; 1998

(More questions with possible answers can be found here; and all 100 questions with the correct answers are available on the federal government’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.)

There are more difficult questions, requiring a knowledge of U.S. geography. Even so, it’s a pretty simple civics test, and yet I suspect a lot of Americans would have trouble getting a passing grade of 60 correct answers. In fact, I suspect that many of the immigrants applying for citizenship would do better on the test than many high school students.

And Newsweek magazine might agree, based on a 2011 survey it sponsored:

When Newsweek recently asked 1,000 U.S. citizens to take America’s official citizenship test, 29 percent couldn’t name the vice president. Seventy-three percent couldn’t correctly say why we fought the Cold War. Forty-four percent were unable to define the Bill of Rights. And 6 percent couldn’t even circle Independence Day on a calendar.

The problem with civics ignorance is that well-functioning democratic institutions depend on an informed electorate. And if voters aren’t informed, well, that may explain why some political candidates managed to win their elections—twice.

So congratulations to Arizona, and here’s hoping other states will follow. If you spend 12 years in taxpayer-funded public schools, you ought to know something about how your government works (or doesn’t work) and who the U.S. president and vice president are. You just don’t have to like it.


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