New Citizens Will Need Deeper Knowledge

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The federal government rolled out a new citizenship test Thursday to replace an exam that critics say has encouraged prospective Americans simply to memorize facts, rather than fully understand the principles of a democracy.

The exam will be assessed in a pilot program in 10 cities beginning early next year.

Gone are these questions: “How many stripes are there in the flag?”; “What color are the stripes on the flag?”; “What do the stripes on the flag represent?”; and the obvious, “What are the colors of our flag?” The new exam rephrases the questions to focus on what the stripes represent, asking, “Why do we have 13 stripes on the flag?” or “Why does the flag have 13 stripes?” (The answer: Because the stripes represent the original 13 colonies).

“Our goal is to inspire immigrants to learn about the civic values of this nation so that after they take the oath of citizenship they will participate fully in our great democracy,” said Emilio Gonzalez, director of the Citizenship and Immigration Services, which has been working since 2000 to develop a new test.

The result is 144 questions on civics and history, including 57 rephrased questions from the current exam. (All the questions are available on the agency’s Web site,

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