The British citizenship test is like a bad pub quiz

The British citizenship test is like a bad pub quiz

(12 June 2013)

Research into the new Life in the UK citizenship test has exposed major flaws in the exam.

The test, which is taken by some 150,000 would-be British citizens each year, has been scrutinised by Durham University academic Dr Thom Brooks, a US immigrant who has combined first-hand knowledge about the test with his expertise in citizenship and politics.

Today he publishes the first comprehensive report into the test – which he likens to a “bad pub quiz” – to draw attention to what has been a central component of British immigration policy for the last decade, raise awareness of serious problems with it and to recommend solutions.

He said: “The Life in the UK test is an integral part of immigration policy and a requirement for any non-EU citizen seeking permanent residency or citizenship, yet it is unfit for purpose because it goes too far to include information about British culture and history at the expense of practical knowledge.

“The biggest surprise is the lack of attention successive governments have paid to ensuring the test is fair and not out of date – a surprise even bigger than the sometimes shocking questions that can be found on the test.

“Many citizens that were born and bred in the UK would struggle to know the answers to many of these questions.

“Britain will not be more cohesive because more have heard about the Battle of Trafalgar, but rather if future citizens understand better how to participate in daily British life and make a contribution.”

The Rev Lord Roberts of Llandudno, a vice-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration, said: “Dr Brooks’ report is a welcome addition to the sensible immigration debate.

“I am delighted to echo his call that the test, which is both impractical and irrelevant as it stands, be reformed. Surely future Britons should better understand how to participate in daily life, instead of knowing by rote which Emperor invaded Britain in AD 43?

“Dr. Brooks’ research into the new Life in the UK citizenship test has exposed major flaws, and we must make Government wake up.”

Dr Brooks also expressed concern at what he said was a failure by those preparing the test to consult with recent immigrants.

“This report does not conclude that the test should be abandoned. I recommend that the Life in the UK test should be reformed so that it is no longer impractical, inconsistent, trivial, gender imbalanced, outdated and ineffective. The test has become an integral part of immigration policy although it has evaded sufficiently close scrutiny.”

* The report: “The ‘Life in the United Kingdom’ Citizenship Test: Is it Unfit for Purpose?” will be launched tonight [8.30pm, Wednesday, June 13] as part of Durham University’s Castle Cutting Edge series of lectures. Further details about the event are available here.

Dr Brooks is Reader in Law at Durham Law School at Durham University. Originally from New Haven, Connecticut, he came to the UK in 2001. He sat and passed the Life in the UK test in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 2009 and became a British citizen in 2011.

What’s wrong with the test?

According to Dr Brooks, the new test does not require or mention practical necessities in everyday life, such as how to contact an ambulance, report a crime or register with a GP. There is no information about GCSEs or A-levels. However, it is required that new citizens know the year Emperor Claudius invaded Britain, the year that Sake Dean Mahomet launched the first curry house in Britain and the London street in which it could be found, the age of Big Ben and the height of the London Eye – in both feet and metres. As such, it includes facts that are purely trivial and lack practical significance.

The new test is inconsistent in what it requires new citizens to know. They are not required to know the number of MPs in Westminster. However, they are required to know the number of representatives in the Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly. New citizens are required to know the contact telephone numbers for the House of Commons, Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament, but not the Northern Ireland Assembly. 999 is not one of the five telephone numbers included in the official handbook.

The new test suffers from gender imbalance. It requires that new citizens know the dates of birth and death for nearly 30 men in British history, but only four women – and neither of the Queen’s birthdays. No women artists, musicians or poets are mentioned. New citizens must know that Damien Hirst and Richard Wright have won the Turner Prize, but not Tracey Emin.

Much of the information included in the official handbook does not appear to be part of the test. The handbook contains about 3,000 facts including 5 telephone numbers, 34 websites, 278 historical dates and several brief excerpts of British poetry. Of the 400 Official Practice Questions and Answers in one of three official test handbooks, no telephone numbers, no websites, no poetry and only a few dates are mentioned.

The previous test handbook contained a glossary with over 400 terms. The new handbook has removed more than 300, including the terms ante-natal care, asylum, bursary, discrimination, emergency services, free press, harassment, legal aid, maternity and paternity leave, mortgage, racially-motivated crime, torture, tuition fees and welfare benefits. New terms added to the current handbook are civil war, House (defined as ‘a family (for example, House of York’), Protestants (no other religious affiliation is included), rural and sonnet.

The Government claims it is introducing new requirements for English language proficiency that will better ensure new citizens can communicate effectively in English. These reforms are impractical and ineffective because they have at least ten different exemptions. It will remain possible to avoid the English requirement by passing the citizenship test in Welsh or Scots Gaelic. It will become possible to avoid this requirement by earning a qualification in a non-English speaking country so long as it was conducted in English.

About the test

The Life in the United Kingdom test, which was introduced in 2005, must be passed in order to qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain, settlement or citizenship. There are 24 questions and applicants must provide at least 18 correct answers in 45 minutes. Some 150,000 people took the £50 test in 2012. About 70% passed.

The latest edition of the test took effect from March 25 this year and was based on the third edition of the handbook Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents, which was published last January. Two further books of guidance were published shortly afterwards.

How would you fare?

Ten things you need to know for the test (selected from the Life in the United Kingdom Official Practice Questions and Answers book)


Which of the following statements is correct?

A – Charles, king of Scotland, was restored as King Charles II of England in 1660.

□ B – Bonnie Prince Charlie became King Charles II of England in 1660.



Which of the following statements is correct?

□ A – Richard Arkwright developed new farming methods in the UK.

B – Richard Arkwright developed efficient and profitable factories.



Which language was spoken by people during the Iron Age?

□ A – Latin

B – Celtic

□ C – English

□ D – Anglo-Saxon



Which TWO religions celebrate Diwali?

□ A – Buddhists

B – Hindus

□ C – Christians

D – Sikhs



For approximately how many years did the Romans stay in this country?

□ A – 50 years

□ B – 100 years

C – 400 years

□ D – 600 years



Which TWO are 20th-century British discoveries or inventions?

A – Cloning a mammal

B – Cash machines (ATMs)

□ C – Mobile phones

□ D – Walkmans



How many people serve on a jury in Scotland?

□ A – 8

□ B – 11

C – 15

□ D – 20



When walking your dog in a public place, what must you ensure?

□ A – That your dog wears a special dog coat

□ B – That your dog never strays more than 3 metres away from you

□ C – That you dog does not come into contact with other dogs

D – That your dog wears a collar showing the name and address of the owner



What is the highest-value note issued as British currency?

□ A – £20

□ B – £70

C – £50

□ D – £100



Is the statement below □ TRUE or □ FALSE?

Catherine Howard was the sixth wife of Henry VIII (she was the 5th)