How Do I Prepare for the U.S. Citizenship Exams?

As with everything else in life, practice and study will prepare you best for your U.S. Citizenship exam. Below we provide an overview of the information you need to be familiar with to be successful at your Naturalization interview.

How Do I Prepare for the U.S. Citizenship Exams?

Passing the U.S. Citizenship exams is one of your last steps before you can become a United States citizen and it is quite natural if you are nervous and would like to prepare for the tests.  Keep in mind that so many immigrants have been in the same position as you are now. The experience can be long and intimidating but it is definitely worth it.

The United States citizenship exams will test your knowledge of the English language, United States history and the United States government in two exams: the English exam and the Civics exam.

We will discuss each of the exams below and will also include some practice material for you to begin studying.

Brief Overview: When Will I Take the Exams?

There will be two tests: an English test and a civics test. The English test will quiz you on reading, writing, and speaking English. The civics test will quiz you on important events in U.S. history and the general structure of the U.S. government.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will administer the English and Civics exams during your naturalization interview.  Your naturalization interview is scheduled by USCIS after you submit your Form N-400 Application for Naturalization (you will receive a notice that tells you when and where your interview will take place).  The naturalization interview usually takes place about 4-6 months after filing your application.

During the naturalization interview, the USCIS officer will begin by going over your application and making sure everything is up to date.  Your ability to understand the officer, answer his questions, and follow his directions is a part of your English comprehension exam.  Additionally, the officer will ask you to read and write a sentence in English and this will complete your English test.  Afterwards, the USCIS officer will administer your civics exam on U.S. history and the U.S. government.

Are There Any Exceptions to the Exams?

USCIS offers two exceptions to the English test: the 50/20 exception and the 55/15 exception.

  • 50/20 Exception: You are at least 50 years old at the time of filing your naturalization application and have lived in the U.S. for 20 years as a green card holder.
  • 55/15 Exception: You are at least 55 years old at the time of filing your naturalization application and have lived in the U.S. for 15 years as a green card holder.

If you qualify for either of the exceptions, you do not have to take the English exam but you do have to take the Civics exam (which can be in your native language.)

Tell me more about the English Exam

How Do I Prepare for the English Exam?

The English exam is made up of three parts: speaking, reading, and writing.  Since the USCIS officer will speak to you in English and expect for you to understand and respond in English, the speaking portion of the English exam will take place immediately during the interview.

The reading portion of the exam will require you to correctly read one of three sentences out loud.  The best way for you to prepare for the reading part of the English exam is by familiarizing yourself with the reading vocabulary list provided by USCIS.

Reading Vocabulary for the Naturalization Test:

  • People: Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, John Adams
  • Civics: American flag, citizen, President, White House, Bill of Rights, capital, Congress, city, right, Senators, Father of Our Country, government, states
  • Places: United States of America, America, U.S.
  • Holidays: Thanksgiving, Columbus Day, Labor Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day
  • Question Words: Why, How, When, Where, Who, What
  • Verbs: can, come, do, does, want, vote, pay, name, meet, lives, is, are, was, be, have, elects
  • Function words: a, for, here, in, of, on, the, to, we
  • Other words: colors, dollar bill, south, north, second, first, people, one, most, many largest, red, blue, white

The writing portion of the English exam is similar to the reading section but instead of reading a sentence correctly, you must write one out of three sentences correctly.   The best way to practice for the writing portion of the exam is by reading, writing and saying common English words.

The Reading Vocabulary list above is a great place to start.  Also, here are some additional words provided by USCIS:

Writing Vocabulary for the Naturalization Test:

  • Places: Alaska, Canada, California, Delaware, Mexico, New York City, Washington, D.C.
  • Months: February, May, June, July, September, October, November

Tell me more about The Civics Exam

How Do I Prepare for the Civics Exam?

The civics exam is an oral test administered by the USCIS officer.  USCIS has published 100 history/government questions that you may be asked during your civics exam, along with their answers. During your naturalization interview, 10 questions will be selected from the 100 published questions and you will need to get 6 of the 10 questions correct to pass.  So ideally, if you study the 100 questions and become familiar with the correct answers, you will be able to pass the test.  (If you have been a permanent resident of the U.S. for more than 20 years and you are 65 years old or older, you only have to know certain questions.)

Below you can find some of the actual questions so that you can get an idea of the type of questions that may be on your civics exam. We also included the answers so that you can begin studying.

Sample Civics questions from the list of 100 questions

American Government Questions:

  • What is the supreme law of the land?
    • The Constitution
  • What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution?
    • The Bill of Rights
  • What are one of the rights from the First Amendment?
    • Speech, Religion, Assembly, Press, Petition the Government
  • What did the Declaration of Independence Do?
    • It announced and declared our independence from Great Britain.
  • Name one of the three branches of government?
    • Legislative, Executive, Judicial
  • What stops one branch of government from becoming too powerful?
    • Checks and balances or the separation of powers
  • Who is in charge of the executive branch?
    • The President
  • What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress?
    • The Senate and the House of Representative
  • How many U.S. Senators are there?
    • One hundred (100)
  • What is the name of the President of the United States now?*
    • Barack Obama
  • If the President can no longer serve, who becomes President?
    • The Vice President
  • What is the name of the Vice President of the United States now?*
    • Joseph Biden
  • What does the judicial branch do?
    • Review and explains laws by resolving disputes
  • What is the highest court in the United States?
    • The Supreme Court
  • How many justices are on the Supreme Court?
    • Nine (9)
  • What is one responsibility that is only for United States citizens?
    • Serve on a jury and vote in a federal election

*Keep in mind that these answers may change due to elections.  Make sure you know the most current official at the time of your naturalization interview.

American History Questions:

  • Who lived in American before the Europeans arrived?
    • The Native Americans (or Indians)
  • What group of people was taken to America and sold as slaves?
    • Africans
  • Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?
    • Thomas Jefferson
  • When was the Declaration of Independence adopted?
    • July 4, 1776
  • Name three of the 13 original states.
    •  Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts
  • Who is the “Father of Our Country”?
    • George Washington
  • What territory did the United States buy from France in 1803?
    • Louisiana
  • Name one war fought by the United States in the 1800s.
    • War of 1812, Mexican-American War, Civil War, Spanish-American War
  • Name the U.S. war between the North and the South.
    • The Civil War
  • What did the Emancipation Proclamation do?
    • It freed the slaves in most of the southern states
  • Who did the United States fight in World War II?
    • Japan, Germany, and Italy
  • What major event happened on September 11, 2001 in the United States?
    • Terrorists attacked the United States
  • What did Martin Luther King, Jr. do?
    • Fought for civil rights and equality for all Americans
  • Name one war fought by the United States in the 1900s.
    • World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War
  • Who was President during the Great Depression and World War II?
    • Franklin Roosevelt

Other Civics questions that deal with geography, symbols and holidays:

  • Name one of the two longest rivers in the United States.
    • Missouri River or the Mississippi River
  • What ocean is on the West Coast of the United States?
    • The Pacific Ocean
  • Name one U.S. territory.
    • Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Why does the flag have 13 stripes?
    • The stripes represent the 13 original colonies
  • Why does the flag have 50 stars?
    • The stars represent each of the 50 states
  • What is the name of the national anthem?
    • The Star-Spangled Banner
  • Name two national U.S. holidays.
    • New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas

We did not include all of the questions but if you were able to answer these questions correctly, you are definitely on a good start.  The entire list of questions can be found on the USCIS website here.

What If I Fail My English and/or Civics test?

Failing either or both of your tests can be upsetting.  If you failed your tests, USCIS gives you another chance to pass.   You will be retested only on the section that you fail the first time.  The second test will take place between 60 and 90 days after your interview.  During this time, you should study the sections you failed so that you can pass your exam and become a United States citizen.

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