A new citizenship test designed to make applicants think about questions rather than just memorize answers makes its debut Thursday in two Texas cities.
Volunteers will try out the new questions in San Antonio and El Paso, which are among the 10 cities nationwide offering the pilot naturalization test as part of a federal effort to revamp the exam for 2008.
The 140 or so draft questions on the pilot test cover U.S. history and government but are designed to be concept-oriented, as opposed to many current questions that require memorization of historical facts.
"You don't have to put a lot of thought process into something you could just memorize," said Myrna Garza, a district adjudications officer for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in San Antonio. "This will help you ... understand what's actually happening, the reason for it."
Garza said the pilot test covers the same general subject matter but requires "a little more thought process."
One question, for example, asks: "What does the judicial branch do?" The three answers accepted as correct are: "reviews and explains laws," "resolves disputes between parties" and "decides if a law goes against the Constitution."
The reading and writing portions of the exam are also being revamped, but only slightly, Garza said.
To pass, test-takers must orally answer correctly six of 10 pilot questions on the civics section of the pilot test. If they don't pass, they can simply take the regular test afterward.
"It doesn't affect them in any way if they do not pass the (pilot) test," Garza said.
The other cities that will start administering the pilot soon are Albany, N.Y; Boston; Charleston, S.C.; Denver; Kansas City, Mo.; Miami; Tucson, Ariz.; and Yakima, Wash.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services mailed letters to people eligible for the pilot test ahead of time and plans to administer it to 6,000 volunteers in the 10 cities. Other test-takers will continue to take the current exam.
After the question tryouts, the government will spend a year honing and whittling them to 100, with consultation from community groups and educators.
To design the new test, USCIS got input from scholars, test development contractors and English as a second language experts.
"I want to make sure that people understand this is certainly not to make the test more difficult," said USCIS spokeswoman Maria Elena Garcia-Upson. "We will continue to accept immigrants literally from countries A to Z. We just want to make sure that when they're (reciting) the oath of allegiance, raising their right hand at the time of the ceremony, that they understand our process here in this country and what our forefathers stood for."
USCIS expects to spend about $6.5 million to revise the test.
Story courtesy of the Associated Press.