The free app that helped me gain my American citizenship

Who wrote the Federalist Papers? How many voting members does the House of Representatives have? What did the Emancipation Proclamation do? Who is the governor of your state?

These are just some of the questions the United States of America expects you to know the answers to when you’re vying for citizenship—a feat that takes around three to five years to achieve if you do everything on schedule and by-the-book.

Here’s the only thing you really need to know about my personal journey to becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen: I was born and raised in the Philippines, and apart from the connection my homeland has with this country dating back to the Spanish-American war, I didn’t really have a lot of reasons to study American history intensively.

Until now.

To gain citizenship, applicants must—among many other things—pass an exam that covers some of the finer points of American history and politics. The test is administered in the form of an interview, with questions being asked and answered orally, which can be nerve-wracking to say the least. 

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) actually does a great job in preparing applicants for the process of naturalization. After taking my fingerprints, USCIS gave me a booklet to help with exam preparations. 

Jam Kotenko

This pamphlet contains a hundred civics questions focusing on American history and government. Not only does it have all the possible queries that might come up during the interview, it also has all the acceptable answers and a detailed explanation for better understanding and information retention.

I went through everything once, and it wasn’t a horrible read. But if you’re easily stressed out by exams like me and are looking for additional help, rest assured: There’s an app for that.

I downloaded an iOS app developed by Pixerian called US Citizenship Test Questions: Civics Knowledge Self-Study Guide for USCIS Naturalization Test – Learn & Review. While the title is certainly a mouthful, the app does an amazing job translating the official USCIS pamphlet into smaller, digestible bits of information. It breaks down the hundred questions into four single-topic practice tests, with an additional test that focuses on state-related topics (like the name of your senator or your state capital). All tests are multiple choice and come with audio versions that you can play, in case you wanted to simulate the oral interview.

After taking a practice test, you get awarded a badge that depends on the number of questions you answered correctly. 

Jam Kotenko

The good thing about this app? You don’t have to feel bad about getting so many questions wrong at first. You can retake the practice tests as many times as you want. In fact, the more tests you take, the more the correct answers get seared into your long-term memory.

Once you’ve gone through all the practice tests a bunch of times, you can challenge yourself with the Mock Test option, which basically asks you 15 questions randomly selected from all tests. Like all other available tests, you can keep retaking the same mock test or generate a new one. This feature I found especially helpful in ensuring that I actually remembered all the right answers. Acing every mock test I generated made me feel more confident. After all, for the real interview, you only get asked a maximum of 10 questions from the 100 provided, and you only need to get six right to pass.

Jam Kotenko

While the multiple choice format of the app helped me easily isolate the right answers from the wrong ones, for certain questions, it didn’t really help. Here is a sample question that tripped me up:

Jam Kotenko

I wouldn’t mind memorizing 16 cabinet positions if I was required to for the interview, but I’m only required to remember two and, well, frankly, seeing all of the wrong answers just complicated matters. 

An awesome alternative to this problem is the app’s Questions & Answers feature. It lists all of the questions and answers in a simple feed, which you can view either by topic or all at one. No paragraphs to read through—just straight up checks and exes.

Jam Kotenko

Scrolling down to the next question without exposing the answers mimics the way flashcards—which are actually available online or to print yourself—would work during a study session. Having the app is a lot more convenient and cost-effective though, since it’s completely free.

Fifteen minutes before my interview, I ran the app one last time and went through all 100 questions. I knew the answer to each one. (I still didn’t bother memorizing the 16 cabinet positions, but I remembered more than five, which is above the requirement.) At the interview, the officer had a printout with 10 randomly generated civics questions all ready to go.

Here are the questions that I ended up with:

“That’s it. You’ve gotten six answers right. You passed the test, congratulations! I will be submitting your application for approval.”

“That’s it. You’ve gotten six answers right. You passed the test, congratulations! I will be submitting your application for approval.”

Jam Kotenko

I’m technically not an American citizen yet until I get the official invite to the oath-taking ceremony and actually swear in. But after over three years of waiting and filing paperwork, getting through that last humpwas a huge relief. And it’s thanks in part to this wonderful study app.

Illustration via Fernando Alfonso III

Jam Kotenko

Jam Kotenko

Jam Kotenko is a technology reporter and graphic designer who specializes in coverage of Instagram, Facebook, and other social media apps. Her work has been published by Digital Trends, Bustle, and Gotta Be Mobile.