Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The UK Citizenship Test - e-Assessment at its worst

A close family friend is presently going through the process of applying for UK citizenship and thus has to pass the UK Citizenship Test. The Test is held up alongside the Driving Theory test as one of the triumphs of e-Assessment. I am not so sure.

The "curriculum" for the UK Citizenship test is broad-ranging and is intended to ensure that a potential citizen has "the knowledge of English and of UK life that you need for citizenship" UKBA website. Assessment is an online test consisting of 24 questions with a passmark of 18/24 [75%].

Topics include:
  • Migration to Britain
  • The changing role of women
  • Children, family and young people
  • Population
  • The regions of Britain
  • Religion and tolerance
  • Customs and traditions
  • How the UK is governed
  • Housing
  • Services in and for the home
  • Money and credit
  • Health
  • Education
  • Leisure
  • Travel and Transport
  • Identity documents
  • Looking for work
  • Equal rights and discrimination
  • At work
  • Working for yourself
  • Childcare and Children at work
[Before reading on you may like to do a sample UK Citizenship Test - you will probably complete it in under 10 minutes, although officially you have up to 45 minutes]

I have a huge sympathy with the idea that all UK citizens should have a knowledge and understanding of how British society works. I am comforatable with any measure that encourages those who want to live and work in this country to have a greater understanding of, and respect for, our traditions and culture. Indeed, I am often surprised at the widespread ignorance of what used to be called "British Constitution". Some of the questions in the UK Citizenship test fulfil this function, for example,
  • A By-election is held
    A halfway through a Parliament,
    every two years,
    when an MP dies or resigns,
    D when the Prime Minister chooses to call one
  • Which TWO of the following can vote in all UK public elections?
    A Citizens of the Irish Republic resident in the UK
    B Citizens of EU states resident in the UK
    C Citizens of Commonwealth resident in the UK
    D Anyone resident in the UK
or more obscurely
  • The official report of the proceedings of Parliament is called
    the Speaker's Notes,
    the Electoral Register,
    the Constitution
  • How many parliamentary constituencies are there?
    A 464,
Some of the questions test knowledge of Britain and some of its important institutions, for example,
  • Which TWO of these are names for the Church of England?
    A Methodist,
  • 'Ulster Scots is a dialect which is spoken in Northern Ireland.' True or False?
But other questions stretch the limits of what any citizen might be expected to know:
  • 'In the 1980s, the largest immigrant groups were from the West Indies, Ireland, India and Pakistan.' True or False?
  • In which year did married women get the right to divorce their husband?
    A 1837,
  • The number of children and young people up to the age of 19 in the UK is
    A 13 million,
    14 million,
    15 million,
    16 million
[Do the sample test if you want to check your answers]

I like to think that, as a paid up Today Programme listener, I have a reasonable general knowledge, but I must confess that many of the questions were beyond me. Indeed I suspect that most people living in this country would fail the test.

Did you [honestly] know that
  • Information in the Census is kept secret for 100 years?
  • Schools must be open 190 days a year?
  • Children aged 13-16 cannot work more for more than 12 hours in any school week?
  • The percentage of Muslims in the UK in 2001 who said they were Muslim was 2.7%.
I have no problem with this "curriculum" in general terms, although is does suffer at times from the left-wing political correctness that was endemic in the Blair-Brown Governments. However, I do find it surprising that we are setting a significantly higher bar for all potential citizens than we do for our own school-leavers.

My main gripe is with the nature of the examination. I can see that it makes good financial sense for the test to be online, but this sort of test does not really examine citizenship and gives a bad name to e-Assessment. Remember this is no pub quiz - the stakes here are high. The prize for passing the test is a British Passport and the right to vote in National elections. Sadly, the fantastic developments in e-Assessment over the past few years [See my previous blogpost Can e-Assessment maintain the Gold Standard?], have been ignored. The UKBA have reduced the assessment of citizenship to rote learning of, what must appear to most of those sitting it, random trivia. If the team at AQA were given the remit of producing a test for the same material, I believe that they would have come up with a much more meaningful process that would incorporates components of testing of understanding how our society works, rather than just knowledge of randomised decontextualised facts. The end result of the present vehicle is that the nature of the assessment undermines the good intention of having a Citizenship test and does little to inform those wishing to live in this country of the true way in which British society operates.

If you have got the bug for random trivia about Britain - try some more practice tests here


  1. I have been doing the practise test on line and to be honest I have a headache. I have lived in the UK since 1973(with indefinate leave to remain since 1977) and I found some of the questions preposterous. I am sure most of the MP's would have trouble answering some of the questions without looking them up first.


  2. British born to British parents going back all the way took the test 34% the test is retarded and has nothing to do with real British life! I have an IQ of 148 how about some real questions like name 3 ingredients from a full English breakfast

  3. When I was preparing to take the test, having a Master's Degree and being a UK qualified teacher, I found this test full of things that were ridiculous. There were many questions that my British born and bred husband and friends could not answer.