Can You Pass This U.S. Citizenship Test?

By: Torrance Grey

What are the two main political parties in the United States?

OK, this one was a bit of a softball. Though we use "the Left" to refer to the Democrats and "the Right" to refer to the Republicans, these are not, of course, official names. Other parties, like "Peace & Freedom," are even farther to the political left than the Democrats.

America has a "bicameral" Congress. What does this mean?

This word is taken from the Latin word, "camera," which means "room or chamber." (The Kodak kind of "camera" gets its name from the small, light-proof chamber in which film is exposed).

What is the overarching blueprint for government in the U.S.?

The Constitution lays out how the American government is organized and which branches have which powers. That is why, in the courts, debate often arises about whether laws are, or are not, "Constitutional."

How many branches does the federal government have?

The federal government is divided into an executive, legislative and judicial branch. The plan is laid out in the Constitution and provides for a balance of powers, which is a very important concept in American politics.

The highest court in the land is known as what?

The answer, of course, is the Supreme Court. Fun fact: Newspaper editors, when pressed for headline space, sometimes refer to the justices as "the Supremes," calling up unfortunate comparisons to the girl group of the 1960s.

What are the two houses of Congress called?

The East Wing and the West Wing are divisions of the White House, the presidential residence. "Parliament," meanwhile, is a common name for a legislative body in other countries, like England. It's England's Parliament which has a House of Commons.

How many senators are in the U.S. Congress?

Americans elect two senators from each state. This creates a total of 100. Because this is an even number, the vice president is called upon to cast a tie-breaking vote when there is a 50-50 split.

How many members of the House of Representatives are there?

House members represent congressional districts, not states overall. The Congress is a complicated legislative body -- in the House, representation is based on raw population numbers, but in the Senate, each state has equal importance (because each state gets 2 senators). This is one of the ways that power is kept in balance.

What is significant about the year 1776?

The year 1776 was only the beginning of America's struggle to become a new nation. It was essentially the shot fired over the bow of the British monarchy, a declaration that America now considered herself an independent country.

What is the official title for a judge on the Supreme Court?

"Justice" is the poetic name for a judge on the Supreme Court. The head of the court is called the Chief Justice. The first one was John Jay, also considered one of the Founding Fathers.

What does each star on the U.S. flag represent?

There are 50 stars on the flag, on for each state. If the stars represented each of the Armed Forces, there'd only be five; if it represented fallen soldiers in the Revolution ... well, that'd be far too many! Interestingly, U.S. presidents would be about a match; we're on our 45th at present.

Who is third in the presidential line of succession?

The speaker of the house is the highest-ranking member of the House of Representatives. If you're wondering why the president of the Senate doesn't fill this role, it's because the Senate president is also the vice president, who is second in line.

For how long a term is a president elected?

An American president serves a minimum of four years. Almost all political offices in the United States have terms of even years: two, four or six. However, a rare few offices are held until the official decides to retire, like Supreme Court justices.

Which of these was NOT one of the original 13 colonies?

West Virginia did not exist at the time that the Declaration of Independence was signed because it was part of the state of Virginia. West Virginia seceded during the Civil War. It was an impoverished, mountain region with very few slaveholders and its residents saw little reason to fight for the South.

Who has the power to veto bills?

The president can veto Congressional bills that are not to his (or, someday, her) liking, but that's not the end of the story. The bill goes back to the House or Senate, where it must get 66 percent support from members. If it does, the president's veto is overridden. So a veto doesn't give the president ultimate power; it's just a way of saying, "Show me you're serious about this one."

The "Founding Fathers" were a vital group of men who charted the new nation's course. Which of these was NOT one of them?

Other founding fathers include Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. Nelson Rockefeller was a captain of American industry. He came later in the nation's history books.

What are the first three words of the Constitution?

This might be the most famous phrase in all of American politics. With its first three words, the Constitution makes clear that the United States was going to be a democracy (notwithstanding that women and slaves were denied the vote. Democracy in America was a slow process).

How many amendments to the Constitution are there?

To date, the Constitution has been amended 27 times. It might again be amended in the future. The amendments are what makes the Constitution a "living document," and not one frozen in time.

In what year was the Constitution written?

The Constitution was written well after the Declaration of Independence. America celebrated the bicentennial of the Constitution in 1987 (presumably New Coke and Zima were involved).

Which branch of the federal government has the power to declare war?

Only Congress has the power to declare war. This question might be confusing to immigrants preparing to take their citizenship test, as the president is called the "Commander in Chief" of the armed forces, a role that sounds like it should confer the power to declare war.

Who delivered the Gettysburg Address?

Lincoln made his famous speech at the dedication of a military cemetery in Gettysburg. It also commemorated the hard-fought victory of Union forces over the Confederacy at Gettysburg. The address remains one of the best-known speeches in American history.

In what part of the Constitution would you find the phrase: "We the people, in order to form a more perfect union ..."

It's worth repeating in full here: "We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States."

The first 10 amendments to the Constitution make up what?

It might be hard to explain to an outsider, but as important as the Constitution is to the government, the first 10 "exceptions" or changes to the Constitution are equally important to the American way of life. They preserve essential things like free speech and freedom of religion.

What does the Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantee Americans?

The Second Amendment is a hotly-contested issue in America right now. Gun-control advocates point out that it was written in an age of single-action muskets whereby the shooter had to add powder, tamp it down, drop in a musket ball, cock the weapon and fire. What would the Founding Fathers have thought of gun rights in the age of semi-automatic weapons? We really don't know.

Who nominates justices of the Supreme Court?

This is the duty (or privilege) of the president. For this reason, nominations always favor the party to which the sitting president belongs. Because justices can serve for decades, a single nomination can influence the workings of the court for a long time.

Which of these Founding Fathers did NOT become president?

Benjamin Franklin never held the highest office, but let's give him some credit. He was a Renaissance man whose diplomacy got France into the Revolutionary War on America's side, who thought deeply about politics, philosophy and science, and whose daily schedule is still inspiring productivity gurus to this day.

True or false? Only one president has ever been impeached.

Most people think this is true because of Richard Nixon, who resigned during impeachment hearings. He wasn't even impeached, to be literal. The two presidents who actually were, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were both acquitted in Senate trials and their political careers survived.

Which state is the most recently admitted into the Union?

Beautiful Hawaii has been a state since August 1959, following on the heels of Alaska, which was admitted in January of the same year. Guam is a U.S. territory, not a state. New Mexico, however, is a state (which, sadly, many people are confused about!).

Other than John Adams and John Q. Adams, which of these families has put a father and a son in the White House?

The Bushes are a Texan, conservative political family. George H.W. Bush was a WWII hero, head of the CIA, senator and then president. George W. Bush was a businessman turned governor, then president. They were the 41st and 43rd presidents, respectively.

Who was the second president of the United States?

John Adams was the second president. John Quincy Adams was the sixth. Bear in mind, being elected to a second term does not change one's numerical order in the presidency — Barack Obama, who served two terms was the 44th president, not the 44th and 45th.

Before the Constitution, what document governed the new nation?

Though "Confederation" would take on a different meaning during the Civil War, from 1777 to 1787 it just meant a joining together of states. The Articles of Confederation proved to be too weak a document to govern the young nation of America — a key weakness was that it didn't allow the federal government to collect taxes. Oops.

Who was president during World War I?

Wilson kept the United States out of the war for some time but when the British intercepted a telegram outlining a German plan to urge Mexico to attack the United States, that was the last straw. The late entry into the war inspired a Marine's famous line at the Battle of Belleau Wood: "Retreat? (Expletive), we just got here!"

How many electoral votes are needed to win a presidential election?

This is why, on election night, states are "called" rather than overall numbers of votes being counted. There are 538 electors. Their role is to balance out the power between populous states, like Ohio, and sparsely populated ones, like Wyoming, where the people would have little incentive to vote if not for the Electoral College.

Who is the current chief justice of the Supreme Court?

Roberts has held this role since 2005. The most recent addition to the Supreme Court, in general, is Justice Brett Kavanaugh. A President Donald Trump nominee, he underwent a contentious confirmation hearing that few of us are likely to forget anytime soon.

Who is the current vice president of the United States?

We're sympathetic if you chose the fourth option (though not sympathetic enough to give it to you). The vice presidency has long been considered a largely ceremonial role. In fact, person-on-the-street interviews have revealed that many Americans don't know the name of the person filling the office.

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About This Quiz

Every few years, it comes around again: The embarrassing news that some academics administered a citizenship test to a group of native-born Americans and the majority failed. To underscore the problem, whoever is reporting this news usually points out that these are people who've been voting since they were 18, thanks to no special knowledge, but just a birthright. Shouldn't all Americans know the things that immigrants have to know in order to become citizens?

Well, we can't disagree. That's why we've created this mock U.S. citizenship test. It's longer than the one given to aspiring Americans by the government. Actual applicants are asked 10 questions and must answer six correctly to pass. We should note here that the civics test isn't the entire process; there's also an interview, a conversational-speech test and a reading test. But when most people refer to the U.S. citizenship test, they mean the civics test. So that's what we're going to quiz you on -- the branches of government, the Constitution, the founding fathers and important aspects of American history. 

Ready? Hopefully, you'll come away from this quiz satisfied that you know a lot about our young, great nation. And if not, maybe you'll be inspired to go back to the books and learn some more!

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