U.S. Citizenship Interview: What to Know Before You Go

Are you nervous about your upcoming naturalization Interview and Exam? That's normal. But knowing what to expect and how to prepare will ease your mind. Here is a detailed article that covers everything you need to know.

If you’re on the path to U.S. citizenship, then you’re probably aware of the U.S. Naturalization Interview and Test. Like a lot of you, for me, interviews can be anxiety-inducing. That is why this blog will not only cover tips for interviewing, but a guide to the U.S. Naturalization Interview and Test.

Before we get started, please note: no two interviews are exactly alike because different interviewers have different styles. Thankfully, United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) works to be transparent and helpful to applicants by providing a generalized scope of their interview process.

The Interview: A Basic Outline

  • An overview of the information you’ve provided in your N-400 application.
    • During this process, the officer will determine if you are a person of good moral character and have been one for at least five years immediately before the date you filed your application.
    • You must demonstrate an understanding and support for the U.S. Constitution.
    • The officer will assess your English communication skills. If you qualify for a language exception, you may interview in your native language. You must bring an interpreter with you to your interview.
  • Have knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history and of the principles and form of government of the United States.
    • This test consists of 100 civics and history questions provided by USCIS.
    • At the time of your test, you will be asked 10 out of the 100 questions. These questions are randomly selected by the USCIS officer. See here.
    • The test is NOT multiple choice. 
    • You must answer 6 out of the 10 questions correctly to pass. The officer will stop asking you questions once you have answered 6 correctly.
    • During your N-400 overview, the officer began assessing your English-speaking skills. The officer will continue to assess you throughout the entire interview and test. That means you must understand and respond to the questions in English.
    • If you qualify for a language exemption, you may answer these questions in your native language. You must bring an interpreter with you to your interview.
    • Depending on your age and length of lawful permanent residency, you may be eligible for a shortened exam. This exam consists of 20 questions, which are labeled with an asterisk. See here.
  • Be able to read and write basic English.
    • You must complete a reading and writing test to demonstrate your knowledge of the English language.
    • This test will take place using an electronic tablet. I recommend you practice using a device to avoid any potential mishaps and struggles.
    • The officer will give you a sentence in English to read out loud. Read the sentence slowly and clearly, to the best of your ability.
    • If you are unable to read the first sentence, you will be given two more. You must read at least one of the three correctly to pass.
    • The officer will dictate a sentence for you to write. Your spelling does not need to be perfect, but the meaning must be apparent. Make sure your handwriting is also legible.
    • If you are unable to write the first sentence, you will be given two more. You must write at least one of the three correctly to pass.
    • The order of the written/reading portion will vary by the officer, but they will be administered together. Your officer may ask you to read first or write first.
    • If you qualify for a language exemption, you will not do this portion of the test.
  • The officer will explain your results.
    • Pass:
      • The officer will tell you they are recommending you for U.S. Citizenship. They will ask you to sign your application.
      • You will receive an invitation in the mail for your Naturalization Ceremony.
      • Please note, you are NOT a U.S Citizen until you have taken the Oath of Allegiance at your Naturalization Ceremony. Do not claim to be a Citizen until then.
    • Fail:
      • If you failed any part of your interview and test, the officer will let you know which areas you will need to retake.
      • You will receive another invitation in the mail for the portions you failed. You do not need to retake the interview and test in its entirety.
      • You only have one additional chance to test with the same application. If you fail, you will need to resubmit an application and start the process from the beginning, including submitting a new payment.

What to bring to your interview: 

  • Please bring your own black or blue ink pens
  • Your interview appointment notice
  • Form I-551, Permanent Resident Card
  • A state-issued identification such as a driver’s license
  • All valid and expired passports and travel documents issued to you that document your absences from the United States since becoming a permanent
  • For a list of other documents that you may need to bring with you, read Form M477, Document Checklist.

Security screening procedures

  1. Take everything out of your pockets. Place it in the plastic basket or container.
  2. Turn off your cell phone.
  3. If you have a laptop, leave it in the case and give it to the security guard.
  4. Any bags or purses will need to go through the baggage scanner.
  5. Make eye contact with the security guard, they will let you know when to step through the scanner. Follow their directions.
  6. Pick up ALL of your belongings.
  7. Head to the front desk and explain why you are there. Make sure to have your interview appointment notice with you as they will ask to see it. 

Please note: 

  • No firearms or weapons are allowed in the building!
  • This includes mace, pepper spray, or keychains that are designed as a weapon.
  • No cameras, iPads, or tablets are allowed.
  • Only the applicant, a legal representative (if you have one), and an interpreter (if applicable), will be allowed in the building.

How to prepare for your interview:

  • Read over the information you submitted in your N-400 application. Knowing this information will make the interview process less intimidating and run as smoothly as possible.
  • Learn English before applying. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you should be able to communicate clearly with the officer. While we offer Citizenship classes, which will be beneficial to studying the material, I recommend you start with an ESL class first. We offer various classes throughout our 26 branches completely free. See here.
  • Study the 100 Civics questions using free resources at your local HCPL branch.      
    • Visit our Citizenship Corner at each of our 26 locations for handouts, flashcards, and more.
    • Find a Citizenship class near you! See here.
    • Check out study materials with your Library Card. See catalogue here. Don’t have a library card? Apply here.
  • Schedule a Mock Interview at your local HCPL branch.
    • Call your local branch to inquire whether they offer Mock Interviews. See here for branch information. 
    • Mock Interviews give you the opportunity to simulate the real interview experience. HCPL  staff will not ask you to disclose any information provided on your N-400 form that you are not comfortable with providing. Our focus is in helping you practice your English conversational skills as well as the reading, writing and Civics portions of the exam. 
  • Download the free USCIS Civics Study App at Google Play or the App Store.USCIS has a free app you can download to study the questions on the go!
    Get USCIS App for iPhoneGet USCIS App for Android  
  • Practice using a tablet and stylus to avoid mishaps the day of your test.
  • Drive to your interview location beforehand so that you become familiar with the route, ensuring you arrive on time the day of your interview. Currently, all Harris County applicants are being interviewed at the USCIS Houston Field Office. This will change following the construction of a new building.   

Tips for your interview:

  • Listen to the officer carefully before replying. Make sure you are focused on the question.
  • Talk slowly. Don’t worry about your accent. Just speak slowly and clearly; this will allow the officer to understand you better.
  • It is perfectly okay to ask questions to make sure you understand what the officer is asking. While the interview may be in English, that doesn’t mean you have to understand 100% of what the officer is saying. You can ask them:     
    • “Can you repeat the question?”
    • “Please repeat that.”
    • “Please spell that.”
    • “Can you speak more slowly?”
    • “Can you speak more loudly?”
    • “Can you rephrase that sentence?”
    • “What does _____ mean?”
  • You can also ask the officer for some time to answer, it’s normal to be nervous and need a moment to clear your head. Ask:
    • “Can you give me a moment?”
    • “Let me see...”
    • “Let me try to remember.”
  • If you don’t remember the answer to one of the Civics Questions, try your best guess; it may turn out to be right. Remember, you only need to answer 6/10 correctly, so you have an opportunity for mistakes.

Everyone here at HCPL wishes you luck on your journey to naturalization and we're here to help.