Most Americans would fail a U.S. citizenship test if they had to take it.
Just one in three Americans can pass a multiple choice exam featuring questions taken from the U.S. Citizenship Test, according to a recent survey. And the bar isn't particularly high. Test takers must get a score of at least 60 percent — the equivalent of a "D" grade — to pass the exam.
The citizenship test is a part of the U.S. naturalization process for people not born in the United States. People who are legal permanent residents — known as "Green Card" holders — can normally apply for citizenship after living in the United States for a 5-year period.
Almost three-fourths of the Americans who took the test couldn't pick out the 13 original colonies in the multiple choice exam, 57 percent couldn't say how many justices serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, and more than half — 60 percent — didn't know which countries the United States fought during World War II.
“It really becomes troublesome," says Patrick Riccards of the non-profit Woodrow Wilson Foundation. "It points to a real need to begin to look at how we are teaching and learning history in this country, and what we can do to make history more relevant, more interesting, more engaging for today’s students so that we can reverse this trend.”
Ironically, 40 percent of people who took the test cited history as their favorite subject while they were in school.
Senior citizens achieved the highest scores, with 74 percent of people over 65 answering at least six out of 10 questions correctly.
Only 19 percent of people under the age of 45 managed to pass the exam.
The Woodrow Wilson Foundation, which works toward educational excellence, says it is assisting history teachers across the country in hopes of reversing this trend.
"We try to teach them gaming theory so that they can develop games - card games, board games - simple things in their classroom to make history a little more relevant for kids,” Riccards says.
An informed citizenry, which includes a knowledge of history, is critical to the proper functioning of a democracy, he adds.
“If we want individuals to be strong, contributing citizens, you know, be part of what makes America so great," says Riccards, "then we believe that they need to know that history, so that they’re having informed discussions and they’re making informed decisions.”