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UK citizenship test needs to change

  • Date

    Wed 6 Jan 21

British passport

Two-thirds of British nationals would not pass the UK citizenship test, and many support revising the test after completing it themselves, according to Essex academics.

Anybody moving to the UK and wanting to become a British citizen must pass the test – which covers topics such as UK values, history, law, and society. But researchers put over 270 people, nearly all UK citizens themselves, to the test and found  over two-thirds failed.

Before taking the test, many felt it should be made harder and conservative-leaning voters in particular over-estimated how well they would do - even though there were no significant differences in test performance across the political spectrum.

However, having sat the test most, regardless of their political leanings, changed their mind and felt it should be made easier.

Many countries around the world make passing a citizenship test a requirement of staying in the country, but what sets the British one apart is the level of criticism it has attracted.

Criticisms on the content include factual errors, the inclusion of trivia questions, such as who started the first curry house in Britain, the absence of practical information, such as how to access vital services, and the amount of work needed to pass the test, which has a 160-page study guide for those preparing to take it. There have also been concerns about the level of anxiety and stress involved, with some describing the process as an intimidating and fearful ordeal.

Dr Wijnand Van Tilburg, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex, led the study. He said: “This is a potentially life-changing test which sets those who pass it on the path to acquiring rights equal to those who hold citizenship already.

“While on the surface our findings may seem pessimistic, after all, our results suggest that the Life in the UK Test may be flawed in its purpose and cause unnecessary distress among applicants, we believe there is in fact reason for optimism.

“People agree the test is too hard, an attitude we found across the political spectrum. Thus, policy makers can likely advocate and pursue improvement of this test without being too concerned about negative public opinion.”

The test includes 24 multiple-choice questions. Typical questions include: How many members does a jury have in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland? Where is the Eden Project located? If you are a dog owner, which two things should your dog’s collar have when you go out for a walk? It is taken around 150,000 times each year – with those who fail, able to re-take, paying a £50 fee each time. The pass mark is 18 out of 24.

The research, carried out with Dr Nikhila Mahadevan, also from Essex, and Amina Saadi, from King’s College, London, is published in the British Journal of Social Psychology