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Administration redesigns test for citizenship

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- Can you name one of the American forefathers who wrote the Federalist Papers? Or cite the number of constitutional amendments?

Those are among the questions on a redesigned citizenship test unveiled yesterday after seven years of laborious research and an expenditure of $6.5 million. If you answered James Madison, Alexander Hamilton or John Jay to the first question and 27 to the second you might be on your way to a passing score.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, will begin conducting the new tests in October 2008. The revisions will encourage prospective citizens to have a better understanding of the "basic civic values that unite us as Americans," said the agency's director, Emilio Gonzalez.

More than 6,000 applicants took a pilot version of the test over the past four months at 10 sites across the country. After making final revisions, the bureau came up with 100 questions that cover the framework of government and decades of history from the American Revolution through the march for civil rights.

Candidates must correctly answer six of 10 questions drawn from the list when they take their tests before one of 1,600 immigration officers known as adjudicators. They also must be able to converse and write in English.

The questions cover much of the same material that's been drilled into the heads of students since the dawn of the republic. The average American probably would know that the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776, and that George Washington was the first president.

But even college graduates might not be able to ace all the answers without brushing up on basic civics. Question 79, for example, asks who was president during World War I (Woodrow Wilson).

The test, which is available online at www.uscis.gov for applicants to study, replaces the current batch of 96 questions, which critics had complained were irrelevant or too simplistic in many cases. For example, seven questions about the colors, stars and stripes of the American flag were compressed into two questions: "Why does the flag have 13 stripes?" and "Why does the flag have 50 stars?"

With the new test in place, the agency will begin a yearlong effort to train personnel and conduct outreach sessions at immigration centers where prospective applicants learn English and prepare for the exam. The first training session is scheduled for Oct. 26 in Miami.

Nearly 1 million legalized immigrants apply for citizenship each year, and about 700,000 became citizens in 2006. Among other things, applicants must be legal permanent residents for at least five years, abide by the law and demonstrate an ability to read, write, speak and understand basic English. The spouses of U.S. citizens can be eligible for citizenship in three years.

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