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What Happens if You Fail the US Citizenship Test?

Written By The Shapiro Law Group on January 21, 2022

If an applicant for U.S. citizenship fails the U.S. citizenship test, he or she will only be able to take it one more time before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) denies citizenship. Because of this restriction, it’s important for individuals to sufficiently prepare for this test before taking it. 

What Does the U.S. Citizenship Test Involve?

In a naturalization interview, an assigned USCIS officer asks the interviewee questions about his or her background and application. In addition, applicants must take and pass a naturalization test that consists of two core components, including an English and civics test.

The English Test

The first section of the citizenship test will gauge the applicant’s knowledge of the English language. It consists of three parts, including:

  • Speaking — This part will test the individual’s ability to understand and speak English.
  • Reading — Individuals will need to read one of three sentences correctly out loud to the USCIS officer, which shows their ability to understand written English.
  • Writing — Applicants complete the test by writing three sentences in English, at least one of which must be correct. This indicates that the individual can correctly write in English.

The Civics Test

The civics portion of the test will determine if the applicant has a good understanding of the fundamentals of U.S. government and history. It comprises two main versions that individuals may take, depending on their specific circumstances.

The first version is the 2008 version, which is an oral test in which the USCIS officer asks individuals as many as 10 questions from a list of 100 different civics questions. The individual must then answer at least six correctly to pass. Applicants who filed their Form N-400 either before December 1, 2020, or after March 1, 2021 will need to take this version at their initial exams, re-exams, or N-336 hearings.

In the 2020 version, which is also an oral test, USCIS officers will ask 20 out of 128 civics questions. The applicant will need to correctly answer a minimum of 12 questions to pass this version. Individuals who file applications for naturalization before March 1, 2021, or on or following December 1, 2020, with interviews taking place before April 19, 2021, will be able to choose whether to take this version or the 2008 version of the exam.

What Happens if Applicants Fail the U.S. Citizenship Test?

A citizenship test failure may occur during either the English or civics portion. If an individual fails either part of the test, he or she will need to retake failed portions no later than 60 to 90 days after the date of the initial exam and interview. If he or she fails these portions a second time, he or she will be unable to retake the exam and USCIS will deny citizenship.

Other Reasons for Failing the U.S. Citizenship Test

In addition to failing either part of the U.S. citizenship test, there are other potential reasons why USCIS officers may decide to deny citizenship upon administering the test. 

One key reason may be the applicant’s failure to provide additional information pertaining to his or her application, such as relevant documents in the initial application. If this is the case, the officer will provide applicants with a written request, Form N-14, that requests the missing document or piece of information. 

The completed Form N-14 will also detail how to correctly respond to the request. Individuals have the option to respond via mail, typically within 30 days of receiving the request. They can also choose to respond in person during their follow-up interview. 

If applicants don’t understand what type of document or information the request is asking for, they can ask their assigned officer for clarification.

Sending Additional Information Through Mail

If applicants need to send information via mail, they must include a copy of the completed Form N-14 request. They will then need to mail this form early enough to enable USCIS to receive the form before reaching the deadline. Individuals should also use an express or certified mail service to ensure they receive proof of mailing.

USCIS may deny the individual’s application if applicants fail to follow these instructions.

Other Reasons for Having Citizenship Permanently Denied

Other circumstances may lead USCIS to permanently deny applications for U.S. citizenship. If this occurs, individuals won’t be able to reapply or take the U.S. citizenship test. These reasons include:

Failure to Meet Continuous Residence and Physical Presence Requirements

One reason why USCIS may deny citizenship is due to the failure to meet requirements in place regarding continuous residence and physical presence in the U.S.

When it comes to continuous residence, individuals must prove that they have either lived in the U.S. for five consecutive years before applying or for three consecutive years if they’re qualified spouses of U.S. citizens. If an individual is marrying an immigrant with an expired visa, the future spouse would need to renew the visa and be a U.S. citizen before his or her spouse could meet the continuous residence requirement.

Criminal History

If individuals have a history of aggravated felony or murder charges, USCIS will likely permanently deny their applications. USCIS officers conduct a thorough background check of every applicant, which means they’re likely to discover all prior convictions in the U.S. or abroad. 

If an applicant has a history of arrests in the U.S. or another country, they may want to seek some assistance when applying for citizenship to ensure they meet requirements regarding criminal backgrounds. An Illinois naturalization attorney would help individuals understand their options and advise them before filing Form N-400 and beginning the application process for U.S. citizenship.

Failure to Pay Taxes

Applicants may have citizenship permanently denied if they fail to pay necessary taxes and are unable to show that they are working to correct this problem.

Making False Statements or Lying

If an individual makes false statements or lies at any point during his or her application and interview, USCIS may permanently deny his or her application. Even if false statements are unintentional in nature, they could put the applicant at risk. This is why it’s critical for individuals to ensure that the information they provide to USCIS officers is accurate and truthful. 

Applicants should keep in mind that they may have their citizenship permanently denied if USCIS discovers that they lied in the past to recover immigration benefits.

When to Speak with an Immigration Attorney

Prior to initiating the application process or engaging in an interview with USCIS officers, immigrants may benefit from speaking with an immigration attorney to discuss the requirements and find out how to avoid permanent denial. 

An experienced attorney will be able to provide guidance and help immigrants understand their rights when applying for U.S. citizenship.

The Importance of Studying for the U.S. Citizenship Test

To avoid experiencing first-hand what happens if they fail the U.S. citizenship test, applicants should take the time to study for both portions of the test. The USCIS website provides resources to help individuals sufficiently study all the materials that the test covers, including the English sections and civics test. These study materials include flashcards, videos, pocket study guides, and interactive practice tests that can help individuals memorize and understand the topics that test questions will cover.

If an applicant initially fails the citizenship test, he or she should invest more time in studying the topics he or she failed before retaking the test. The more applicants prepare for their retake, the more likely they’ll be to pass any previously failed portions of the test. If they pass the second time, they may still qualify for U.S. citizenship, provided they meet all other requirements in place for seeking naturalization. If an individual fails the test both times, USCIS will issue a denial of citizenship, which applicants may then be able to appeal.