New Citizenship Test Already In The Works

Trial testing to begin in 2023

Yesterday USCIS announced that it will be conducting a nationwide trial of planned changes to the citizenship test in 2023. The trial will be conducted with students at community-based organizations that provide ESL and citizenship instruction, and is expected to take about five months.

The test redesign initiative is expected to take two years, and the new test will be implemented by late 2024. The redesign is a response to stakeholder feedback expressing concerns about the fairness of the current speaking test. At the same time, USCIS says that it needs to update the content and format of the civics test "to reflect best practices in test design."

Since the current reading and writing test is already standardized, no changes are being considered for that section of the test.

USCIS is developing a bank of speaking and civics test items, and will soon call for contract bids to facilitate a technical advisory group ("TAG") comprised of subject matter experts in the field of language acquisition, civics, and test development. The TAG group will be able to make recommendations regarding language level and content of the test items, and will review trial data to help USCIS finalize the test bank.

Here's what we know so far about plans for the new speaking test:

  • Personal background questions from the interview will no long be used to assess speaking and listening.
  • For the trail, students will look at three randomly selected color photographs and be asked to describe them. The images depict "everyday life" topics and situations such as daily activities, the weather, or food. The content areas depicted in the images are subject to change during the trial.
  • Ultimately about 40 images will be selected for inclusion in the final test bank.
  • Applicants will be scored on the ability to respond using vocabulary and simple phrases that are relevant to the image. (So far I have seen no mention of pronunciation or grammar, nor have I seen any a scoring rubric or sample test prompts, but I will be requesting more details on these matters.)

Here's what we know about the civics test:

  • It will change to a multiple choice format. In the trial, students will be given ten questions and choose from four answer options for each question. (One critical piece of information that we don't have is whether the questions and answer options are in print only, or also available as audio.)
  • Much of the content will be familiar to current citizenship students, with similar content to the current test. There will be some new test items based on input from "subject matter experts in the field of test development."
  • Applicants will be reading the questions on a tablet, and choosing their answers from the options displayed on the tablet.

USCIS promises to hold quarterly stakeholder engagements on the test redesign project, and will collect comments "on all apects of this trial testing." The first of these engagements will be held virtually on January 12th. They encourage interested CBOs to participate in the test trial and will post an announcement to the USCIS Citizenship Resource Center before the trial test period to notify CBOs of the opportunity to volunteer for the trial.

The Federal Register announcement includes more details. You can find it here:

You can register for the Jan. 12th stakeholder engagement here:

I will keep you posted with any new information that comes my way!