Matt Knutson: A final hurdle to become a United States citizen

Published 9:44 pm Thursday, June 7, 2018

Things I Tell My Wife by Matt Knutson


“What is the ‘rule of law’?” I asked my wife as we studied for her upcoming civics test. In just a week we’ll cross one of the final hurdles on her path to U.S. citizenship, and she’s going above and beyond to make sure she is prepared. There shouldn’t be any surprise questions — all 100 of them are available in advance with answers, but it’s still a bit nerve-wracking.

Email newsletter signup

A lot of these questions we learned as students, but it has been a long time since I took my U.S. history course during my freshman year of high school. The United States Citizen and Immigration Services has the test questions broken down into several sections, including: American government (principles of American democracy, system of government, rights and responsibilities), American history (colonial period and independence, 1800s, recent American history and other historical information) and integrated civics (geography, symbols and holidays). Overall, it seems like a good baseline of information for someone of voting age to know about our nation.

The questions vary from easy to challenging. I think just about everyone would get, “Who was the first president?” correct, but some may struggle on, “What did Susan B. Anthony do?” The test does plant some seeds that acknowledge some difficult portions of America’s past. I was surprised to see, “Who lived in America before the Europeans arrived?” on the list, as well as “What group of people were taken to America and sold as slaves?” Acknowledging Native Americans and Africans in the civics test is an appropriate way to begin the exploration of the complex and challenging past that allowed America to prosper into what it is today.

One of my favorite questions asks, “What is one responsibility that is only for United States citizens?” As someone born here, I wasn’t sure what that could be and if I was doing my due diligence to meet my responsibility. The recommended answers? Serve on a jury and vote in a federal election. Those are pretty simple to do, but they are likely things we take for granted. I know my wife is looking forward to participating in both of those opportunities when the time comes.

When Sera takes the test, it will be given orally, and she will only be given 10 of the 100 questions. This takes the pressure off a bit, but it will still be one of the most important tests of her life. I remember being nervous taking the ACT and SAT in high school, knowing that those results could forever change the next few years of my life. Surely the civics test will have an even more profound impact on our family.

If you want to take the practice test yourself, you can find it on the USCIS website: They’ve got a helpful, random 20 question version with multiple choice answers so you can see exactly how much you might have forgotten from your grade school days. Most of us could use a refresher. In fact, it probably wouldn’t hurt to have all of our public servants take the same test right before they are sworn into office. And if you’re wondering about the first question I shared with you, “What is the ‘rule of law’?”, the accepted answers include: Everyone must follow the law, leaders must obey the law, government must obey the law, and no one is above the law.

Matt Knutson is a communications specialist in Rochester.