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2 of 3 Americans Wouldn’t Pass U.S. Citizenship Test

U.S. News & World Report logo U.S. News & World Report 10/12/2018 Alexa Lardieri
Constitution of the United States.: Only 13 percent of people surveyed knew the Constitution was ratified in June 1788. © (Tetra Images/Getty Images) Only 13 percent of people surveyed knew the Constitution was ratified in June 1788.

About two-thirds of Americans would not pass the test required to become a United States citizen, a new survey says.

Just 39 percent of Americans can pass a multiple choice test with questions taken from the U.S. Citizenship Test, according to a report by The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. The test has a passing score of 60.

On the mock exam were questions about the United States Constitution, World War II and the Supreme Court.

Only 13 percent of people surveyed knew the Constitution was ratified in June 1788, with most respondents thinking it was 1776, the year the Declaration of Independence was signed. Sixty percent of people did not know which countries America fought during WWII. And, despite the recent spotlight on the Supreme Court, more than half, 57 percent, did not know how many justices are on the court. There are nine.

Additionally, according to the survey, 72 percent of respondents were unsure of or incorrectly identified the original 13 states and only 24 percent were able to identify correctly one thing Benjamin Franklin was famous for (37 percent said it was for inventing the lightbulb). About one-quarter, 24 percent, knew why the colonists fought the British, and while most knew the cause of the Cold War, 2 percent said it was climate change.

Woodrow Wilson Foundation President Arthur Levine said the findings were embarrassing and that being informed is important, especially with upcoming elections.

"With voters heading to the polls next month, an informed and engaged citizenry is essential," Levine said. "Unfortunately this study found the average American to be woefully uninformed regarding America's history and incapable of passing the U.S. Citizenship Test. It would be an error to view these findings as merely an embarrassment. Knowledge of the history of our country is fundamental to maintaining a democratic society, which is imperiled today."

Although many Americans didn't know their country's history, some age groups were more informed than others. People aged 65 and older scored the best, with 74 percent answering at least 6 out of 10 questions correctly. People aged 45 and younger, however, did not do as well. Only 19 percent passed the exam, with 81 percent earning a score of 59 percent or lower.

Despite the evidence of the lack of knowledge, many respondents said they enjoyed U.S. history as a subject in school. Forty percent said it was their favorite subject, while 39 percent said the subject landed in the middle of their favorite subjects in school.

Levine said it is vital that Americans understand history so they can "make sense of a chaotic present and an inchoate future."

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