What happens during naturalization test?

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In order to become an American citizen, you will complete USCIS Form N-400 and provide evidence in support of your application.  If you complete your application properly, you will be asked to appear for a biometric appointment where your fingerprints, signature and picture will be taken.  Assuming that you were eligible, your application was complete with all the required documentation, and you are generally eligible for naturalizing, an important requirement is to pass a so-called naturalization test.

What to expect during the naturalization test?  There are essentially three components of this test:
  1. An English ability test:  If you have lived in America for 3-5 years (requirement for naturalization), any reasonable person expects you to have working knowledge of the English language.  As intimidating as it sounds, the test is really simple, and does not deviate much from the study material provided by USCIS.  Obviously, you will need to follow questions in English from the officer, who can be patient if she or he realizes that your English comprehension is poor, and then pass a simple test for reading and writing.  This test takes a few minutes.  You will meet with the officer all by yourself and cannot be accompanied by anyone.  Only an attorney, if you have one and has done the paperwork to represent you, can be present but will not be allowed to assist you in the test.  Expect to answer questions related to your identity followed by the test questions.  The officer will record in his notes whether you have passed the test.
  2. Civics Test:  Like the English test, if you have lived in the US for at least 3-5 years and taken an interest in the news, you will be aware of many questions.  Also, a lot of curious people ask around or go online to research topics related to the United States in the course of their lives.  Still, you may never come across some specific questions, related to history or government, particularly if your interest in civics/politics/news is limited.  That is where the study materials from the USCIS come handy.  The good news is that the study guide has both questions and answers and you will be asked only these questions and as long as you provide the answers listed in the booklet, you will pass.  It is okay to make a few mistakes but plan on knowing all the answers.  Now, if you memorized the answers like a six year old, you will do just fine, but if you want to live your life in America like a good, informed citizens, I strongly encourage you to take this opportunity to really delve into these topics.  Go online, check out Wikipedia, borrow a few books from the local library, and just get more informed about how our society works.  You will sound smarter when you talk to fellow Americans and will be able to follow the news better.  This test also takes several minutes.  Needless to say that you will need to be able to follow the instructions of the interviewer.  Except for your attorney you may not be accompanied by anyone and your lawyer cannot help you in answering the questions.  The officer will mark his decision in a document in your file.
Naturalization interview:  Once the English and Civics tests are completed (they may be conducted by the same officer or different officers and the order can vary), and if you have passed both the tests, you will be called for a final interview with an officer.  In this interview that can last for several minutes, the officer will go over your application with you, confirm your information provided in your application, check your documents, ask questions related to your family and job, confirm if you want to change your name, ask you to sign the oath in the application, and essentially question anything that is important to making a decision.  If everything goes well, you will be told by the officer, whether your application is approved or not.  The officer will most likely tell you that she is going to recommend your application for approval because the decision makers are elsewhere in the building, but if she recommends someone, the chances are close to 100% that you will be approved.  After that, you will need to wait for some more time in the waiting area and if your application is approved, you will be told what to do next.  In some cases, an oath may be administered by a judge the same day (generally you will need to wait for some time for all other applicants to finish their interviews because the oath ceremony is held in a group) or you will be told where and when to appear for the oath ceremony.  In case the ceremony is at a later time, you will also get a document that will be your proof that you have been approved for citizenship and should be allowed entry into the oath ceremony location.

What to expect at the Naturalization Interview location?  Like any other dealings with the USCIS and Federal Government, follow the directions in the letter you receive.  Bring the documents that you are told to.  Always arrive well ahead of time (if you live rather far, it is best to arrive the night before and stay in a hotel close to the building, and if you are coming the same day, make sure that you schedule enough time for traffic delays and parking problems) because the building has airport style security (so dress accordingly and leave any suspicious objects like scissors or nail cutters at home).  Even though you may have a time for an interview, be prepared for long waits.  It is a terrible idea to bring children, and unless you have strong reasons, it is best to go alone.  These buildings some times have small shops selling food, but if you want to save money and eat healthy, bring a sandwich.  I also always tell applicants to bring something to keep yourself busy.  The best option is to bring a paper book and leave most electronics at home.  Most buildings do not allow even cell phones so it is not worth taking the risk by bringing electronic gadgets of any type.

How to dress for the Naturalization interview?  Like the advice I gave for the fingerprint appointment, the dress code for this interview is business formal.  For men, I strongly recommend a suit.  If not, at least a good shirt with pants and necktie.  Dressy shoes are always a winner.  No caps or jewelry and you can bring your file in a briefcase.

For women, I suggest a good business suit with dressy shoes.  You do not want to show too much skin, or wear something skintight or show cleavage or wear see-through clothes.  Keep jewelry and accessories to a minimum.  Also, keep the makeup light.

How to behave?  Remember that impressions matter and if you dress well and treat the officers like a professional, things will go more smoothly.  Regardless of how rich you are, or what a tycoon you are now or were in your native country, the officers who will interact with you are in authority.  These are highly trained, smart professionals who can spot a liar from a mile.  They also like to be treated with respect.  So the right greeting is Sir or Madam or Officer.  Do what you are told and do not argue.

Conclusion:  For most people who have prepared for the test well, everything will go smoothly.  It is natural to feel nervous but the officers tend to be very courteous and understanding.  So, relax.  If you don't understand something, ask again politely.  If in doubt, before answering, ask the officer, "Do you mean if I have ever not filed a tax return?"  Plan on spending a whole day at the facility, though, most likely you will be out sooner than that.

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