Tell me about your U.S. citizenship exam and interview
July 29, 2019 7:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm tutoring a woman who has applied for U.S. citizenship. She is waiting for a date to take her exam and have her interview. She's a native Spanish speaker who has learned to speak and read English pretty well. I'd like to have a better idea of what she might expect so I can better help her prepare.

What is the interview like? Were you a native English speaker at the time? Should we be going over her N-400 application regularly? I'm a volunteer tutor with no special expertise, but I'd like to be a better resource for her. She does not use the internet often, so online resources are good for me but not her.
posted by gladly to Law & Government (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The US Citizenship podcast might be helpful. I only caught a couple of episodes but remember individuals talking about their experience with preparing for and taking the test.
posted by bunderful at 7:59 PM on July 29, 2019

It's ten years plus since my interview so my recollection is not fresh, and I'm British so had no specific language difficulties. As far as I remember the interview was not taxing but just a series of fairly standard questions. My wife was interviewed the same day and also had no difficulty.

The scope of the civics questions is well documented and I reviewed and rehearsed answers ahead of the interview; the rest of my application was straightforward as I'd been employed here with a green card for years. It seemed to me that the checking on who I was and whether I was a unsuitable candidate for citizenship had all be completed prior to the interview, and the interview was just a final once-over. I think that unless your tutoree has some special problems she'll find it quite easy and shouldn't worry.
posted by anadem at 8:43 PM on July 29, 2019

My mom, my stepdad, and myself have all had to go through the US naturalization process. I speak English fluently, my parents do not. The N400 portion, or the English speaking portion, was pretty easy for all of us. For your client, you can drill with her to make sure that she hasn't participated in any genocides, she knows her address, she understands what she why she is there, etc. Practice speaking for 8-10 minute segments.

here's a link to some sample practice notecards you could print for her

The civics part of the test is wholely dependent on who you get as your interviewer. My stepdad and I got asked very easy questions that were covered in the basic 100 civics questions that we were given when we applied for citizenship. We did study more than that, which was good, because my mom got asked "in the succession of Presidency, if both the Vice President and Speaker of the House die, who becomes President". She didn't know, and just repeated that she knew that it was Vice President, then Speaker of the House. But, she definitely got harder civics questions than myself or my stepdad (we all had different interviewers ). This part of the interview took longer, probably 10-15 minutes. Overall, it was probably maybe less than half an hour of talking? It was easiest for me, but I know both my parents struggled. They did say that they didn't feel pressured to answer quickly, and could repeat the question before giving an answer.

here's a link to the 100 civics questions you can print out for your client. Best of luck to her!!
posted by alathia at 10:32 PM on July 29, 2019

I used to teach this test. If she is fluent she will be okay--she should study the 100 questions linked above (I used this website to help my more advanced students) as well as the N400. She will also have to write down some sentences that are dictated to her. You should read these sentences aloud to her while she writes them to build her confidence--then check for accuracy.
posted by chaiminda at 6:17 AM on July 30, 2019

When I did my biometrics (digital fingerprints and photos) in 2013, I was given a packet with the list of 100 civics questions they can ask (with multiple choice answers) and a CD with the spoken questions and just the answers. These are available in both English and Spanish on the USCIS website, with audio in mp3 format. Some answers you will have to look up, such as who the Governor of you state or one of your elected US Senators are, but these should be easy to find. The audio version will say "Answers will vary." These answers will be based on where your client lives, not where the interview is conducted. Some questions have multiple answers, like name two federal holidays or recognized Native tribes. If they listen to these every day for an hour or so, the answers will become second nature to her. It would be fairly easy for you to make audio clips for her of the location specific answers if you wanted. It is a good idea to verify the variable answers on her interview date. For example, my interview was the day John Kerry replaced Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. They probably would have accepted either answer that day if I had gotten that question, but perhaps not the following day. It is also worth noting that while the written questions are multiple choice of four answers, the test is verbal and there are no answers given to pick from.
The English part should be fairly simple if she is conversational in English. There are only 100 words she needs to know, and will have to read one sentence, then write a sentence spoken to her with a combination of these words. A typical sentence would be "George Washington was the first President of the United States."
There are some random questions from the immigration form. These are mostly to verify the information is accurate. There is a section that outlines travel outside the US since receiving a Green Card or equivalent and they may match these up with her passport.
Note that the interview will be recorded and the interviewer has zero ability to be lenient if she gives the wrong answer. They also are basically checking off a list. For the civics questions, they will stop after you get the required number correct, they will not do all 10 if they do not have to. Also, I know two people (both from Eastern Europe) who have failed the first time because when essentially asked if they had ever been a member of a terrorist group replied something like "Terrorist, yeah?" to verify the question, but because there was an affirmative in their answer they could not proceed, even though it was obvious they intended a question and the follow up questions confirmed this. They had to retake the test later on.
I also had a few bizarre comments and questions. My answer to the two federal holidays were Thanksgiving and Christmas, and my interviewer commented those were not very "American" holidays. I also had questions concerning willingness for military service that my wife did not, some of which were normal and expected and others a little odd.
Another thing not really mentioned beforehand is that once you pass the test and interview, you will be assigned a time for the swearing in ceremony, which could be the same day or another day in the coming week or weeks. It seemed like it was a big deal to change this, possibly even having the interview again, so keep this in mind.
posted by Short End Of A Wishbone at 8:56 AM on July 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

And a few things I forgot. It should be pretty obvious, but the answers they are looking for are the textbook answers they supply, even if they may not be historically accurate. And I also read last week that USCIS is reviewing the test and likely to make changes soon.
posted by Short End Of A Wishbone at 9:09 AM on July 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Mine (in 2011) was super easy but I'm a practically-native English speaker who grew up in America. I got one of the questions wrong but it didn't seem to matter. Basically everything Short End of a Wishbone said matches my experience.
posted by Aubergine at 12:57 PM on July 30, 2019

Happy follow-up: My student took her citizenship test on Thursday and passed. Thank you, AskMe hive for all of your help!
posted by gladly at 6:43 PM on September 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

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