American-born Americans: Are You Smarter than a Naturalized Citizen?

I’m supposed to be finishing up an article on new moms on staff, but I got another notice in the mail that resembles a sweepstakes notification.

My naturalization interview is in January so I’ll be spending my winter break prepping for two speaking gigs and studying for my civics test. I’m not going to study for the reading and writing portion of the test where I will need to read one out of three sentences and write one of three sentences to prove language proficiency. Methinks I can pass the English proficiency test despite occasionally being asked, “Where did you learn your English?” 😉

There are 100 civics questions on the naturalization test, and I will be asked up to 10 of those questions. I must answer 6 out of those 10 correctly. For once in my life it’s OK to shoot for 60% but something inside of my cringes. Surely I can get an A+. Right?

American-born Americans do not need to study any of these questions before they are American. I am not at all taking for granted the freedoms afforded me as a legal resident alien, and I am not at all taking for granted the freedom to apply for citizenship. I am not all that excited about having to take a test. And I feel a bit uneasy about pledging my allegiance to a flag…I’ll write about that one later…

Back to the test. For all of my American-born readers, do you think you could pass the test without studying since you are already “American”?

Sample questions:

  1. How many amendments does the Constitution have?
  2. What is the “rule of law”?
  3. The House of Representatives has how many voting members?
  4. The Federalist Papers supported the passage of the U.S. Constitution. Name one of the writers.
  5. Who was President during World War I?
  6. What is one thing Benjamin Franklin is famous for?
  7. There are four amendments to the Constitution about who can vote. Describe one of them.
  8. What is one promise you make when you become a United States citizen?
  9. Under our Constitution, some powers belong to the federal government. What is one power of the federal government?
  10. How many justices currently sit on the Supreme Court?

No cheating. How did you do?

I don’t mind studying for this test. I believe it’s important to know and understand one’s history, and American history is a part of my story. After all of this I will hopefully have a piece of paper that makes it legal in a new way even if I’m certain I will still get asked, “Where are you really from?”.


  1. Kacie December 16, 2009

    Yep, those are tough questions. We should learn them in Civics and American Gov. and US History, but I imagine by adulthood we’ve all forgotten them except for politics buffs.

    How do you feel about being tested on those things? Do you think it’s fair? I understand wanting naturalized citizens to know our history and heritage, but it does grate a little.

    • Kathy Khang December 16, 2009

      Hi, Kacie!

      I’m still figuring out how I feel about the test. I know that the process of being fingerprinted was a bit unnerving (though the machine was really cool), and the idea of literally being “in” the system complete with my fingerprints isn’t necessarily a warm, fuzzy feeling.

      But being tested as part of the citizenship application does feel a bit odd, at best. I suppose it has more to do with the fact that I’ve lived my entire life (minus 8 months) in America, and in the end my legal citizenship still won’t make a difference to the Americans who ask me where I’m “really” from. I’ve heard a few folks talk about protecting “the American way of life”, and I’m not sure they would pass the civics test. I cringe when conversations hit on immigration and “those people who get their citizenship and then right away apply for welfare”. Isn’t an American citizen, American-born or naturalized, equally eligible? I suspect many would draw the line differently than I would.

      Is it fair? I don’t think applying for citizenship is necessarily a fair process. I’m a college graduate. I’m fluent in English. I had the $600 to spare to actually apply. I can navigate the system with relative ease. My parents did not have that luxury.

  2. t-hype December 16, 2009

    I think the test is ok because like Kacie said, everybody had to learn that stuff in Civics class anyways BUT I don’t get why someone who’s lived here as long as you would have to take the test since, well, you already took Civics class…it’s like ‘double jeopardy’!

    I hadn’t realized that until a friend of mine who came to the US at age 3 or so told me about taking the test.

    The cool thing is, once you get done, you’ll ALWAYS be American. If I lived the rest of my life in Korea, married a Korean, had 10 Korean babies, I’d still never be Korean. 😉

    I’m sure you’ll ace it. Good luck!

  3. SueAtGraceCorner December 16, 2009

    I think that the $600 fee bothers me more than the test. I assume that other states are like mine and require a course in US government for high school graduation, which means that about 70% of us actually have been tested on such questions before we were old enough to vote. (And clearly the intention is for 100% of the populace to take such a course, but our high school dropout rate is appalling).

    Whether we retained the information is another story altogether. I certainly didn’t; I can answer maybe 4 of the questions you’ve listed! Whether it’s important to retain it is still another question. I have yet to encounter a situation in which it was useful for me to know exactly how many members sit in the House of Representatives, especially since that number varies as our population changes. I think it’s a lot more important for me to be familiar with my own district’s representative or any candidates for that office.

    But I’m sure that my parents didn’t have to pay $600 to register my birth, at which point I became a citizen. I didn’t pay $600 for my US Government class test either. That’s a lot of money, and it seems grossly unfair. I had no idea there was such a high price tag on naturalized citizenship.

    • Kathy Khang December 16, 2009

      I don’t know what it cost my parents to get naturalized, but honestly that was one reason I kept putting it off. Not too long ago it was less than $600, and my dad encouraged me to get the application in before the price increase. But life kept happening. I remember pulling up the application after 9/11 and then giving birth to my third child just a few weeks later. Citizenship application or diapers?

      Fortunately I have some flexibility during my workday so I was able to go get my fingerprints taken care of without taking time off of work. I’ll take advantage of that flexibility again in January when I have my interview. I’m not sure if I’ll luck out and get to take my oath that day (assuming I can remember that we currently have 435 members of the House of Representatives). If not, that would require most people at least three days of work. Oh, and we have a digital camera and computer-access so I had my husband take my fabulous photo.

      I don’t take any of this process for granted. I’m blessed. And I can’t wait to vote.

  4. tori December 17, 2009


    As an American born American, I do not think that I would be able to pass the test without studying either. Although I obiviously had classes on American History, they were not on my favorite pastimes of learning. I was rather bored and disappointed of all of the glory and pride my teachers had in teaching American History. I mean, how can the history of such a young country that is so great and mighty now, with foundations in slavery, killings and displacements of Native Americans and other blood shed and oppression of people be taught so postively to students. Also, European American history seems to be what is taught, not inclusive American history.

    I look forward to your post about pledging to the flag. Even as a student in junior high I knew I could not fully understand or feel comfortable as a black female to give honor to what the flag represented. I think that if I had been exposed to a more inclusive American History I would have felt more connected, maybe…to being an American…

    I wish you the best on your test! 🙂

  5. eliseanne December 18, 2009

    i knew before i looked at the questions that i couldn’t pass the test as american-from-birth.

    I really don’t understand the point of it. Maybe, what makes more sense to me would be to take a class on how the government functions in the US, or be able to test out of class. That seems practical, because if anyone gets involved in politics, advocacy, or needs advocacy, it is good to understand the system. And for those who learned it all already you could test out. But an easy test, not this ridiculousness you are studying for.

    What’s the point of studying history? Our egocentric western and american history is taught so much outside of the US anyway. I feel ya, if you already have a high school degree, let alone college one, what is the point?

    But in all that, i send you encouragement and blessings for taking the test. 🙂


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