Can Meghan Markle ace England’s arcane citizenship test?

By Steven Lubet

Meghan Markle has announced that she plans to become a British citizen following her marriage to Prince Harry. Among other requirements, she will need to take a 24-question written test, with a minimum passing score of 75 percent. The British test has been described as arcane and unnecessarily difficult, including questions about the Statute of Rhuddlan (annexing Wales to England) and Vindolanda (an ancient Roman fort). The answers are provided in a booklet, and the test is multiple choice, so it should be manageable for Markle, a 2003 graduate of Northwestern University. Applicants are allowed only 45 minutes for the test, so Markle may have to employ her rusty SAT skills to finish on time.

If Prince Harry were to apply for U.S. citizenship, he would find the American test less demanding than the British one. There are only 10 questions required for applicants, administered orally, with a passing score of six. The 10 are drawn from a set of 100 questions issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, available online, along with the approved answers. There are no questions as obscure as the Statute of Rhuddlan, but some seem far from essential for establishing citizenship.

Here is Question 67:

The Federalist Papers supported the passage of the U.S. Constitution. Name one of the writers.

— (James) Madison

— (Alexander) Hamilton

— (John) Jay

—Publius Here is Question 68:

What is one thing Benjamin Franklin is famous for?

—U.S. diplomat

—Oldest member of the Constitutional Convention

—First postmaster general of the United States

—Writer of “Poor Richard’s Almanac”

—Started the first free libraries

Franklin was a charismatic figure, but he was not really pivotal in U.S. history. Still, knowledge of Franklin is probably more basic than the authorship of the Federalist Papers. There are no questions about the authorship of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.

Publius and Ben Franklin are downright crucial compared to some other questions on the test, such as: “Name one of the two longest rivers in the United States” or “Name two national U.S. holidays.”

More troubling than the trivial questions, are the USCIS-approved answers that are incomplete, misleading or incorrect, especially given the official instruction that “applicants are encouraged to respond to the civics questions using the answers provided below.”

With that in mind, here is Question 51:

What are two rights of everyone living in the United States?

—Freedom of expression

—Freedom of speech

—Freedom of assembly

—Freedom to petition the government

—Freedom of religion

—The right to bear arms

Missing are freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, the privilege against self-incrimination, the right to counsel and reasonable bail, protection against cruel and unusual punishment, and the rights to due process and equal protection of the law. Anyone studying from the approved answers will miss learning about most of the Constitution, and may get marked wrong for mentioning anything after the Second Amendment.

And here is Question 83:

During the Cold War, what was the main concern of the United States?


The single approved answer would give 20th-century historians fits. Yes, the U.S. was concerned about communism, but there was also a good bit of geopolitical rivalry unrelated to ideology. And the greatest concern during the Cold War was keeping it from turning into a hot war with nuclear weapons, say by achieving disarmament. But that answer would be considered incorrect by USCIS examiners.

If the Cold War had only one “main concern,” according to USCIS, the Civil War was more ambiguous.

Here is Question 74:

Name one problem that led to the Civil War.


—Economic reasons

—States’ rights

Well, you could say that the insistence on states’ rights to slavery led to the Civil War, or that the economics of slavery expansion played a role, but the multiple answers enshrine historical revisionism at its worst.

Some answers are simply wrong. Question 87 asks for the name of “one American Indian tribe in the United States,” followed by a list of “federally recognized” tribes. The last entry is “Inuit,” thus making three mistakes at once. Although they are a native people, the Inuit don’t consider themselves Indians, they are not a tribe and they live in Canada (their Alaskan counterparts, the Yupik and Inupiat, are not among the USCIS answers).

Other answers are equally incomplete or misleading, including one that might make Prince Harry balk.

Here is Question 53:

What is one promise you make when you become a United States citizen?

—Give up loyalty to other countries.

—Defend the Constitution and laws of the United States.

—Obey the laws of the United States.

—Serve in the U.S. military (if needed).

—Serve (do important work for) the nation (if needed).

—Be loyal to the United States.

It is true that the required oath reads: “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen.”

In fact, the U.S. recognizes dual citizenship, and allows naturalized Americans to retain citizenship in their homelands. Prince Harry, however, is fifth in line for the British crown, and he is unlikely to forswear allegiance to himself as “potentate” (even potentially). But just in case, he should note that our two longest rivers are the Mississippi and the Missouri, and we celebrate Independence Day on the Fourth of July.

By Steven Lubet

Steven Lubet is a law professor at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and director of the Bartlit Center for Trial Strategy. He wrote this for the Chicago Tribune.

Steven Lubet is a law professor at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and director of the Bartlit Center for Trial Strategy. He wrote this for the Chicago Tribune.