Tab Tries: Citizenship

GEORGINA PHILLIPS is underwhelmed by the UK citizenship test so she’s created her own one instead.

British Citizenship citizenship English language Life in the UK Test Permanent residency School citizenship classes tests

Citizenship is one of those words that had buzzed around me for quite a while before I bothered to really learn what it was.

Citizenship was a Year 7 lesson that we didn’t get examined in and in which we seemed to talk about our ‘feelings’ a lot. Later I learned that there was more to citizenship than drugs, sex ed and charity work; citizenship was a status that entitled one to many rights and privileges as a citizen.

And in these times of ‘floods of illegal immigrants’ and revoked student visas à la London Met, the question of citizenship has become more and more prominent.

I had heard of the existence of a so-called citizenship test for some time but it was only when looking at citizenship critically as a Geography student and simultaneously following my friend’s progress through the British citizenship application, that I actually paid it any attention.

Before you can gain British citizenship, you have to gain permanent residency. The ‘Life in the UK’ test is one of the procedures that must be completed to obtain this, if your English language skills are deemed high enough (if not, you have to have both English and citizenship classes). As an Indian national who has lived here for many years, my friend’s English is obviously fine (in fact, quite often better than my own), so the test was her next step. And so on top of her first year Law work, she had to sit down with handbooks and study guides and ‘learn’ Britishness.

Intrigued by the possible consolidation of all that is the UK into a multiple-choice, 45-minute test, I wanted to try it out. Surely, as a born and raised Brit, I would have no problems.

40 minutes later, I had changed my mind.

Somehow I had managed to fail the test that was supposed to be representative of MY life. The pass rate is set at 75% (a good 2:1) and I had got 54% which isn’t really a pass even at GCSE standard. Am I just completely out of touch or is the test? Apparently I’m not alone, with only 14% of British participants passing this test on average, compared to 70% of actual applicants.

I thought I had been pretty good at living in in the UK without knowing birth registration protocol or what a quango is. Evidently not. I was, however, impressed that I did know the year in which women were first legally permitted to divorce their husbands (1857) and the percentage of the population that is Muslim (3.4%), but then again, not really on my top ten things you should know about the UK.

In response to my apparent inadequacies (or rather those of the test), I have prepared my own improved version (a tactic I wish I could extend to my Tripos exams).

The ‘Real Life’ in the UK test
Made by real British people, about real British things that you will need to know if you intend on becoming British in Britain. Certified to be much more useful in day to day Britishness.

1. What is always acceptable as a dinner party conversation topic?

A – Politics

B – Religion

C – Weather

D – Football

2. Which of these are respectable political parties?

A – The Labour Party

B – The Conservative Party

C – The Liberal Democrat Party

3. When is the appropriate time of day to have a cup of tea?

A – In the morning

B – With elevenses

C – At lunchtime

D – In the afternoon

4. What is the appropriate response to someone cutting into a queue?

A – Tell them off

B – Call the police

C – Seethe inwardly but say nothing

5. What makes Britain (and Northern Ireland) great?

A – Our long held democracy

B – Our generous public healthcare system

C – Our fine educational establishments

D – Our diverse population


1 – C of course! The weather is an endless source of amusement, derision and intellectual discussion in Britain; be prepared to enter long conversations about whether it’s the right type of rain.

2 – Trick question! None of the above parties are respectable, but until someone else pulls their socks up (come on Green Party), we will have to put up with these rapscallions.

3 – Another trick question, except this time any of your answers is acceptable – here in the United Kingdom, any time is time for tea. Except when it’s time for Pimms.

4 – C. As much as it is tempting to tell them off, this level of social interaction with a stranger just wouldn’t be deemed appropriate and, so I’ve been told, involving the police is a little excessive. So the answer is most definitely a good dose of silent contempt.

5 – Well I think that’s really up to you – either way, I don’t think it’s something you can find in a test.