U.K. citizenship test: Too hard for most Britons
The fact that few Britons could pass the test has again raised criticism that the bar is set too high.
For Rose, a Jamaican woman eager to secure British citizenship, it was the questions about schooling that proved most baffling.Skip to next paragraph
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"Half the stuff I didn't know about," she confessed after taking – and failing – the citizenship test that immigrants here must pass to get a British passport. "They are things that are not relevant to me and my life, like how old a child is when it does tests at school."
If you think that question's tough (answer: 7, 11, 14, and 16), try answering these: What is the population of Wales? When is the national day for England? And what proportion of young people in the United Kingdom who became first-time voters in the 2001 general election actually used their vote?
If, like Rose (who didn't want to give her surname), you were lost for answers, you'll struggle to get a British passport. It's no disgrace. According to recent research, only 1 in 7 British citizens would pass the exam.
An online version of the test found Britons less knowledgeable about their own country than Poles, Finns, Swedes, or Germans. Of more than 11,000 Britons who took the mock test, only 1,585 achieved the 75 percent passing grade. The fact that few Britons could clear this last hurdle to citizenship has again raised criticism that the bar is set too high. Government data show that almost 1 in 3 people have failed the test since its introduction in November 2005. "This demonstrates that the test isn't straightforward," says Henry Dillon, the editor of a study guide that helps immigrants prepare for the so-called "Life in the UK Test." "It is something you have to study for in the same way you have to do for your driving test."
He adds: "We discovered if you average out the response into different nationalities, that the Brits were only sixth in the league tables."
Yet officials are sanguine. "It's got to be a genuine test," said a government spokeswoman. "We're comfortable with the fact that if people fail the test, they don't get citizenship. The idea is that people demonstrate that they have an understanding of British society and culture and that's what will enable them to integrate."
The response hints at a new, tough approach toward immigration in Britain, where the issue has become highly sensitive amid a surge of arrivals in recent years, and a sense that immigrants do not always assimilate comfortably with mainstream society.
An authoritative demographic study late last year predicted that the 60-million strong population would grow by 4.4 million over the next decade, and that almost half of the increase would be fueled by migration.
New way to evaluate arrivals
To face this challenge, the government is to roll out in the coming weeks a new system of evaluating would-be arrivals, which borrows from an Australian system of allocating "points" to migrants and only accepting those who score highly. Points reflect aptitude, age, experience, earning potential, and labor-market needs.