I Took The U.S. Citizenship Test Live In Front Of Thousands Of People. Here's How It Went.

In order to become a citizen., you have to be able to get 6 out of 10 questions right.

In recent weeks, presidential candidate Donald Trump has proposed issuing a test to potential U.S. immigrants to see if they "share American values." 

This proposal, which is short on details but still causing some controversy, is not a totally original idea. In fact, in order to immigrate to the United States, potential U.S. citizens already take a civics test to get in. The test, which is composed of questions about U.S. history and the function of government, is something most immigrants spend time studying for before getting in. As USA Today reported, 95 percent of them pass it, but a study found that only 65 percent of American-born citizens surveyed were able to.

After Trump floated his idea, Senate minority leader Harry Reid challenged the candidate to take the immigration test himself. While Trump may not engage in that kind of theatrical politics, I would. And that's why I decided to take the civics test live on A Plus' Facebook page.


As it turns out, the test isn't so easy.

About two minutes before we went live on the air, A Plus' managing editor Cate Matthews told me the test was an oral exam, not multiple choice. This bit of news immediately raised my nerves before we went live. Even before realizing I wouldn't have a list of answers to choose from, the prospect of thousands of people watching me fail the test was enough to make me uneasy.

And just like that, the cameras were rolling and the first question was out.

The real exam has 100 questions immigrants are supposed to study, and they are quizzed on 10 of them. You have to get six right to be eligible for naturalization.

Cate, showing some mercy, gave me a softball question to start: "What stops one branch of government from being too powerful?"

Easy enough, right? Well, when thousands of people are watching you live, things you learned in fifth grade suddenly seem like they are a solar system away. Imagine, though, that the test would determine whether you would be able to stay in your newfound home? Imagine if your family was relying on you to pass this test so they could escape a war zone or start a new life? 

Cate stumping me during the live stream.

Put on the spot, the concept of "checks and balances" completely escaped me. Instead, a panicked logic told me that "the president can stop other branches of government from doing things" rather than recalling something I knew and learned when I was 10. I answer incorrectly: "the executive branch."

And this became the theme of my live exam. I would know I knew some answers, but not be able to recall them. Others I would guess and guess correctly by sheer luck. Yes, in the end, I passed by getting six of the first nine questions right. I passed in part because I was well read enough to know things like the United States bought Louisiana off of France and had travelled to Puerto Rico without a passport so I knew it was a U.S. territory.  I also passed because when I got two of the first four questions wrong, my editor threw me a bone and asked, "what do the 50 stars on the United States flag represent?"

When I was done, though, it became apparent to me that this test — much like a test to see if someone "shared American values" — didn't seem very American to me. 

Is there value in knowing American history? Of course. Some of the greatest lessons of our country come from our history, and some of the greatest thinkers of our time are historians. Is it important for someone to know how our laws work, and what's in our Constitution? Of course. We have freedom in our country that many other people won't know and should when they live here.

But should a civics test be a prerequisite to admitting someone into our country? Is it an indication of whether they'd be a productive citizen or a proud American? I'm not so sure. I have been living in this country — and loving it, and working for it, and paying taxes to it — since my birth, and I barely passed.

More concerning is Trump's proposal: filtering down immigrants so the ones that join us are only the ones who already share our values. But what's the value in having a nation built on immigrations if all future immigrants are just like us? What is the point of being one of the most diverse countries on Earth if we don't embrace each other's cultures and points of views?  

I'm not sure I have the answers to those questions, either.

Watch me take the test below:


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