The U.S. Citizenship test is the final step for a resident to become a citizen of the United States. According to CNN, the U.S. Citizenship test features 100 civics questions. Those hopeful to be American citizens are asked up to ten questions during an interview and must answer six correctly to pass. The national success rate of answering six out of ten questions correctly is 91 percent. Many aspiring citizens study American history days before to be prepared for the test. No one has any idea what particular questions will be asked. Every test is random, but the pass rate is still incredibly high. The CNN article aforementioned, as well as The Guardian and Washington Times, has a practice U.S. Citizenship test for those who want to test their knowledge.
This week, 25 PLNU students, all born and raised in the United States, were chosen at random to take a standardized U.S. citizenship test. The ten questions were:
- How many Senators are there in the United States?
- What month do we vote for the President?
- What year did we declare our independence?
- What ocean is on the West Coast of the United States?
- Who was the first President of the United States?
- What is the capital of the United States?
- What do the 50 stars on the U.S. flag represent?
- What is the economic system in the United States?
- How many justices are there on the Supreme Court?
- During the Cold War, what was the United States’ primary concern?
Despite studies showing one-third of Americans fail basic civics questions from the citizenship test, all of the sampled students passed answering six or more questions correctly. However, Dr. Lindsey Lupo, professor of political science at PLNU, said basic facts are not an accurate measure of political knowledge.
“In the 1950s, there was a man by the name of Dr. Philip Converse who stated we were innocent citizens and could not go beyond a knee jerk opinion,” said Dr. Lupo. “His argument was we didn’t go beyond straightforward facts and opinions to a more abstract way of thinking. We lack many critical thinking ideas.”
Lupo commented that if people only know fundamental facts, there could be a fallout in our democratic government, since we would not know how to appropriately represent our state.
After the 1950s, the number of college graduates in the U.S. skyrocketed and people started to debunk that argument more often. Dr. Lupo then offered her reason.
“Basic history questions do not measure political knowledge,” said Dr. Lupo. “Many of the students here at Point Loma came from well-educated schools, and that is why they are good at these historical questions. We shouldn’t be concerned about people failing random questions. We should be concerned about how much they engage in their communities and how much they want to participate in our political system.”
Dr. Lupo criticized how the test lacks critical thinking and, if she were to change the test, it would check on how politically engaged people are with the American system.
“I would give more open-ended questions to the respondents and I would want to see how much they would elaborate on certain topics.” Arguably, that would be too difficult to keep track of and to determine which answer is correct, but for a democracy to thrive, the citizens should not only know the country’s history but how to become a functioning and active member of political society.