Only One in Seven Brits able to pass the UK’s Citizenship Test

2009 August 4
by Henry

union jack

According to our survey, only one in seven Brits are able to pass the government’s British citizenship test. The mock test was completed by 11,118 British people – only 1,585, or 14 per cent, achieved a pass score.

Earlier this week, the government proposed to increase the difficulty of the test and add extra topics on history and politics. However should this be happening when so few native Brits are able to pass the test already?

So how do we fix this? The citizenship test should be something that anyone who has lived here is able to pass. Anything but this is making a mockery of the process. If you’ve got a suggestion for a question that every good citizen should know, then share it with us by adding a comment to this post.

Update: Corrected the headline to match the stats. Tip of the hat to Next Left for telling us about this.

Photo: flickr.com/lwr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
45 Responses leave one →
  1. 2009 August 5

    If someone wants to become a citizen of Britain they should by default be willing to embrace the British ethos.

    The test should be an opportunity for applicants to learn about a) what influences have created the Britain of today? b) why are there concerns about specific issues today? and even the more conceptual c) why it is a privilege to be a British citizen.

    I add the last point because this concept is stated several times throughout the citizenship literature and I suspect there might be a discrepancy between the authors’ opinions of what this means and many applicants’ opinions. Dare I say the test provides an opportunity for people to understand the deeper meaning of why it is a privilege?

    What is the point in making the test more difficult? Increased difficulty means fewer applicants? I’m not sure if this is the strongest method of immigration control if that is the intent! Most people can learn by rote a series of facts if coached enough. Why is there even a test, if not for the reasons I outlined at the beginning? If the tests exist for the reasons I have suggested, I cannot see from the questions how it promotes a greater understanding of Britain and the British and of what it means to be British.

    Apologies, I have no specific questions just yet… but I will think on it!

  2. 2009 August 11
    Severs permalink

    “…should by default be willing to embrace the British ethos.”

    A common thread in many discussions of the methods of measuring “Britishness” that might be chosen from is this idea of a “British ethos” (although there are plenty of other words used to summon the concept to mind).

    I worry that the commonly-held belief that there is a unifying British ethos, or even a single British ethos at all, is a false belief.

    Britishness, as a parameter that exists in Britons, is not a single set of values at all. It varies enormously. And let’s not get too involved in why this is the case; I suspect it is more important to notice that it is so, than to over-analyse why (it has probably been the case for ages and ages and maybe for reasons that vary with time).

    I agree that the test fails to promote understanding, and instead creates a situation where rote-learning will lead to a pass. But if the rote-learning can be made extensive enough to be actual learning, then is this such a bad thing? Do most Brits understand their own society, laws, history, culture, or even UK geography?

    I think that the test should be turned around. Or at least partially turned around. It should test whether the applicant has gained enough knowledge to survive independently in British society without falling foul of illogical bureaucracy or inconsistencies of local regulations. Or other wise, to check if the applicant is equipped to handle being in Britain, rather than “qualified” to be awarded the “privilege”.

    Most applicants for the test will probably already have the right to be in Britain; maybe they already have indefinite leave to remain or even full right of abode. So the test is wasted if it is intended as a barrier to immigration (quite apart from whether that sort of usage is justifiable on moral grounds). Instead, it should test whether the applicant can weave their way through the mire of responsibilities that a citizen might have, but which a mere resident might not. I think the test fails in achieving this too.

  3. 2009 August 11
    David A. Guberman permalink

    Having passed the test as an educated American, I’m astonished by the report that so few British citizens succeed.

  4. 2009 August 11

    David, that test isn’t British, it’s a load of randomly assorted facts. If so many British people are failing the test – something we should all be able to pass instinctively – then that test is off.

    Manners, mannerisms and British peculiarities are infinitely more important to fitting into this country than knowing how many days of holiday the average school child has a year (useful? Oh enlighten me, please) or what two religions the C of E subscribes to (Christian. That will do. Go on a bit about Henry VIII if you must).

    These are some of the quintessential British things that I, for one, think everybody coming into this country, whether on holiday or to live, should understand.

    – Knowing the words and tune to the first verses of Jerusalem and God Save The Queen. Mandatory. Nobody gives a crap about verses two or thereafter, but there’s nothing that unites a country more than singing.

    – You don’t spit in the street. Ever. That’s just fucking disgusting.

    – Being able to identify, and have tasted – but not necessarily enjoyed – the following: Marmite, crumpets, beans on toast, shepherds pie, proper fish and chips, lemon curd, homemade jam, steak and kidney pie

    – Identifying a Pearly Queen or King. Knowing what the hell they’re there for is another thing.

    – Understanding why people don’t talk on the Tube. It’s in order to unwind and zone out, it’s not a sign of unforgiveable rudeness.

    – Not eating on the Tube unless it’s last Tube, in which case everyone else will be expecting manners Armageddon thanks to the drinking.

    – Knowing the basic rules of queueing: that includes patience, not pushing in, and tutting in companionable unison when waiting increases exponentially.

    – Respecting the sanctity of a secular Christmas, but bear in mind even a secular Christmas must and shall include carols and a school Nativity – that’s just the way it’s done.

    – Understanding the basics of British popular culture: the Beatles, EastEnders, Jeremy Clarkson, Radio 4, should all send a lightbulb off in the head.

    – Knowing who the three main political parties are, and be able to give the Queen’s first name.

    – Naming at least one major British newspaper – broadsheet or tabloid, doesn’t matter. You should have one brand that’s yours, even if you never actually buy it and just look at the website every now and then.

    – Knowing who Nelson, Wellington and Churchill were. Not personally, even a vague “he lost his arm didn’t he?” will do.

    – And on that vein, knowing a bit of history about Britain wouldn’t go amiss. Even if it’s primary school level, you should know something more about a country than that it’s busy, proud and occasionally mad and sulky. There is a long, proud history behind the proud, mad sulkiness and that will go a long way to learning why the British can be both generous and expansive, and utterly irrational.

  5. 2009 August 12
    Mike Price permalink

    This ‘test’ is a load of rubbish!

    A few randomly assembled ‘facts’ that, for the most part, mean little, if anything, to most Brits is hardly a test of citizenship.

    “What percentage of people declared themselves as Muslim in the 2001 census?” – who cares.
    How many days holiday do schools have? – too many is what most people I know would answer.
    How many people attend church services – didn’t have a clue before I took the test.

    What we should have are questions that ask how our Justice system works or how our Parliamentary democracy is set up and the relationship between the Monarchy and the Government. Or who are the best premier league footballers or English cricketers – not because there is a difinitive list but so you can join in the discussion. An understanding of the geography of the UK and of its current and historical roles in shaping the world as we know it is vital.

    All in all a very poorly designed test that simply checks a potential citizen’s ability to rote learn a set of answers rather than their understanding of the several very diverse British cultures.

  6. 2009 August 12
    Victoria permalink

    What a load of rubbish! Legal voting age, fine. How many people go to church, school days and getting divorced in 1857, less so. I think Kat is right, crumpets, Jerusalem and tube etiquette are all very important, but where is the cricket knowledge?…and what about stamps and Elgar for that matter? They’re pretty British.

  7. 2009 August 12
    Jeremy Marchant permalink

    Few, if any, of the questions are about Britishness.
    You are not more British if you know that 112 is also an emergency number.
    Crass.

  8. 2009 August 14
    William Taylor permalink

    I hope that in the very near future the Brittish state will cease to exist, as Scotland votes to re-establish it’s independent status.

  9. 2009 August 14
    Rosemary Rathbone permalink

    I think that too many questions are irrelevant.

    Common sense questions like emergency services and where to go when there is an accident are sensible, but some of the other questions seem to have little relevance to life in this country today!

  10. 2009 August 17
    Alex Fisher permalink

    Questions such as ‘How many people [say they] attend religious services?’ reveal more about the intelligence of the examiner than the ‘Britishness’ of the examinee. While we might not all agree exactly what constitues a fair and sensible test, we could probably all agree on what doesn’t. I ‘passed’, by the way, so this isn’t sour grapes.

  11. 2009 August 26
    Millie permalink

    What is the point in the test if only 1 in seven Britons can answer. Surely the to make this test proper more than half of britons should be able to answer or nearly all. In my opinion it is a bit of a waste of time and unfair.

  12. 2009 September 3
    Heather permalink

    I failed and I was shocked at how irrelevant the questions were. Who needs to know how many people take drugs? Does it make you more British if you know that?

    They should include questions about behaviour/sense of humour of the British (a volume in itself) manners (how many times you have to say please and thank you), how to order rounds in pubs, queuing, how to make tea and more importantly, cultural things like Only Fools and Horses, Fawlty Towers, Coronation Street, marmite, Branston pickle and cricket.

    Learning a list of facts from a book isnt a test that you understand a culture. My husband will soon have to take this test and I have been filling him full of dvds of Are you being served and Benny Hill, far more entertaining. He already drinks tea, I cant get him onto marmite or Branston though! Guess you have to have been brought up with that!

  13. 2009 November 28
    Dave permalink

    Flawed questions. I challenge the purpose of some of the questions. Like all exam questions – they are thought up by some numptie who needs to get out more and actually engage the population then you would actually see and learn that to be a British Citizen – you don’t actually have to know how many people attend religious services. Who gives a stuff, does anybody care?
    How about, do women have to cover themselves up when out of the family home? How many wives can a man have? What side of the road do we drive on? What are indicators on vehicles for? Why do we queue instead of fighting or who can shout loudest? Why can we choose to drink alcoholic drinks without having a doctor’s letter stating we’re alcoholics? Is it possible to drink tap water without being ill?

  14. 2010 February 21
    sippy permalink

    I’m Scottish, and many of the questions only in the British test were about English Laws. There’s a surprise.

  15. 2010 April 10
    Ron permalink

    As a Scot and living in what is supposed to be the UK – where are the relevant parts to someone who wants to live in Scotland? As usual mainly relevant to south of the border! Besides, does it really make you British knowing about drugs, religion and English prescription eligibility? Some of the questions require knowledge of current affairs and history and I doubt the majority of “Brits” can answer any test correctly on these subjects.

  16. 2011 February 23

    oh mano -.-.-.-.- 🙁
    so komm ich nie nach england, gleich nochmal den test machen 😉

  17. 2011 December 3
    Julia permalink

    I’m American but, wished I lived in Britain. I was born in California and now live in Oregon. But, I’ve got family almost everywhere in the world. I took “How British Are You?” wondering if anything rubbed off but, it didn’t I got only 8 right. I still want to live there because I don’t fit in here. Reasons:I drink tea and almost hate pop,I’m allergenic to cinnamon so I don’t eat apple pie, I’m not big on beef, 4th of July is boring, I wrote Father Christmas once and I want to wear a crown on Christmas , I like long walks, hate metal and love The Beatles, I write and read poetry, I love Sherlock Holmes, I never picked a voting party they’re all screwballs,Obama is lazy; give me a Queen , and I watch Doctor Who on my computer more than any other videos.

  18. 2012 January 13
    Fliss permalink

    dude i am Biritish!

  19. 2012 January 13
    Fliss permalink

    i ment British!

  20. 2012 March 1
    barbara permalink

    completely irrelevant questions, I’m British because I was born here my forefathers were born here my father died defending this country and defending the right of any good honest person to live in Great Britain, with out having to answer a lot of questions designed to make jobs for idiots in government.

  21. 2012 March 2
    Martyn permalink

    Sorry, but the test is complete nonsense. There were questions which are only of interest to people in certain circumstances. There is absolutely no need to know most of the trivia asked. I could set a test that people couldn’t answer too. I have three degrees and would do a lot better than most. It is not a test of Britishness; more it is a test to ensure a high level of failure.

    I am very cross about this because of the small mindedness of the project.

  22. 2012 March 2
    Martyn permalink

    I just did. The test was nonsense. I have three degrees and would have done much better than most people. The questions were trivial and small minded.

  23. 2012 March 3
    RHW Arguile permalink

    The questions were reasonably fair but, as has been widely noted, somewhat random. What percentage of the populace has taken illegal drugs is a matter of how well informed you are not how British you are. The pass mark is too high. I would be happier if the test were based on command of spoken English. Too many people in the country lack the ability to speak coherently in relatively unaccented English so as to be understood. (How they speak on the terraces does not matter; how they speak on the telephone does. – I am somewhat deaf.0

  24. 2012 March 21
    Tony Wilson permalink

    Sorry but it has nothing to do with being a British Citizen. I got 18 out of 24 and I’m into history and politics and take an interest in my country after serving 40 yers in the army. This test is just not representative of the background knowledge of being a member of our great nation. You nead to get real.

  25. 2012 March 22
    Chris Baker permalink

    Complete Rubbish – I agree totally with Mike Price and many of the others!

  26. 2012 April 23
    Kay Ellis permalink

    If only 1 in 7 Brits can pass the test, it proves that we either know nothing about our Country or that the questions are just ridiculous – I suspect it is more likely the 2nd scenario!

    My husband is English speaking, has lived in the UK for 11 1/2 years (we have been married for 11 years), has never claimed a single penny from the Government, has worked & paid tax and NI contributions since the day his visa allowed, as a bus driver has taken untold racial abuse from ignorant people, yet to get a British passport simply to allow him to travel easily with me & our son he has to take this ludicrous test.

    I think in situations like ours when the person is clearly adding to the country and not taking from it, they should not have to take this test, but be allowed a British passport by default.

  27. 2012 May 29

    test is to hard, even british people can’t do it let alone imigrants

  28. 2012 June 16

    I failed the test.
    I’m 100% British.
    Born & bred in England. English parents, grandparents, great-grandparents etc. etc.
    A large number of these questions are about the results of some survey. Getting those answers right does not prove Britishness, it just shows whether you’ve read the answer guide (and have a good memory) or not.
    How can knowing the number of people who go to church make you British?
    Absolute cobblers!

  29. 2012 August 12
    albert davison permalink

    several of these questions are best guesses,% drug takers etc .I suspect the smart arse american is a good guesser!

  30. 2012 September 4
    Linda-Teresa Merwood permalink

    This test is utterly absurd! I am British, have lived in Britain all my 56 years of life, have an IQ in the genius range (over 155), a 2.1 degree and a post-graduate qualification – and I failed it! The intention should be to equip incoming citizens to fit into the British way of life. With a test like this they will be some geeky, freaky set with heads crammed full of peripheral factual data of no pragmatic application and a warped idea that this has something to do with being British. If I had to pass this test to be allowed to stay here, I wouldn’t bother to even take it as Britain would no longer be Britain. It does not in any way reflect the country I know and love. I am furious with its originators for thus so perfidiously misrepresenting me and mine to the rest of the world. Shame on you, whoever you are.

  31. 2012 October 28
    Daisy permalink

    It just annoyed me that the correct answer for the constitution was “unwritten” when, allthough it is often reffered to as that, it is incorrect and inacurate as many parts ARE written, just not in one place. The answer is , an Uncodified Constitution.

    Oh and I failed the test 😀
    It struck me you needed to be educated in specific areas, the questions werent things you knew simply because you ive in britain, they were things people would learn through newspapers and random exposure- not a very good test.

  32. 2012 December 20

    2012 October 28 Daisy permalink
    It just annoyed me that the correct answer for the constitution was “unwritten” when, allthough it is often reffered to as that, it is incorrect and inacurate as many parts ARE written, just not in one place. The answer is , an Uncodified Constitution.

    Oh and I failed the test
    It struck me you needed to be educated in specific areas, the questions werent things you knew simply because you ive in britain, they were things people would learn through newspapers and random exposure- not a very good test.

    JHAM

  33. 2012 December 20

    2011 February 23 Sascha Schurkan permalink
    oh mano -.-.-.-.-
    so komm ich nie nach england, gleich nochmal den test machen

    seaBASS

    JJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJ

  34. 2012 December 20

    2012 January 13 Fliss permalink
    dude i am Biritish!

    .2012 January 13 Fliss permalink
    i ment British!

    .2012 March 1 barbara permalink
    completely irrelevant questions, I’m British because I was born here my forefathers were born here my father died defending this country and defending the right of any good honest person to live in Great Britain, with out having to answer a lot of questions designed to make jobs for idiots in government.

  35. 2013 January 7
    SAN permalink

    I’m am British by birth and have lived here all my life. If I failed (miserably) then how can we expect others to pass??

  36. 2013 January 8

    I am not british but breton, well french to make it easier! I run a B&B and small bar in France, Picardy.

    British customers are always puzzled about my english as I was partly educated in Surrey decades ago! Foreigners simply think I am british when speaking to them! At least for a while untill I make some franglais mistakes!

    I read that in 1940, Sir Winston and général de Gaulle thought of joining both our countries as one nation against facism. Many british would have failed and many french too but tests where not the idea then. It was about idealism and civilisation that made you French, British, European… free.

    By the way, I failed….

    Longue vie au Duc!

    B J Guilloux

  37. 2013 April 21
    ellyn permalink

    I passed! 21/24 correct!

  38. 2013 August 3
    Govinda permalink

    I failed, therefore I am VERY British – if only one out of seven Brits pass!

  39. 2014 April 6
    Alan permalink

    Since being born in Britain, I’ve only ever been out for a week. This test is so stupid

  40. 2014 May 1

    Hahaha I’m Brittish and don’t know half of these questions, so how are foreign people meant to know this 😀

  41. 2014 June 8

    I guess there must be some sort of course where you learn these answers beforehand and you are tested on how well you have learnt and understood. If not then it’s basically just a general knowledge quiz (very hard one at that I only got 50%). After 38 years of thinking I was British turns out I’m only half British. Should I leave the country?

  42. 2014 June 8

    @ David A. Guberman. Good try mate. Take it you are the question/ quizmaster yes?

  43. 2014 June 11
    Mike Ozanne permalink

    Well I passed, not dure why so many of the questions are to do with minor details of H&S and Social Security though. If you need to check that shit you’d go look it up…

  44. 2014 June 17

    Hurray! I passed the test. 🙂
    Alas ! I was removed from UK three years ago being Del boy Character (Only Fools and Horses) serving the community branded clothing knock off prices . No worries Hope fully some day I will be back again.

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