What history should be in the UK citizenship test?

From left to right: Nelson's Clumn, the Queen, poppies, the union flag and Stonehenge

A new version of the UK citizenship test, with a greater focus on history, has been announced by the Home Office. Which events should immigrants be quizzed on?

Most British children learn about Henry VIII and his six wives, the Industrial Revolution and the two world wars.

But there's rarely agreement about what particular events are essential to a well-rounded knowledge of history.

The Home Office has now announced that a new version of the UK citizenship test will have more questions on British culture, history and traditions. The handbook Life in the United Kingdom has been updated.

Who will feature in the new test?

Sir Isaac Newton

The Home Office says key figures will feature in their questions, including:

While some historical information was included in the old handbook, there was less focus on history, the Home Office argues.

"Migrants did not have to show they had an understanding of how modern Britain has evolved. The new book and test will focus on events and people who have contributed to making Britain great," says a spokesman.

But how does learning about key historical moments tie into citizenship?

"History tells us who we are, where we came from and where we are going. It is the adhesive that knits our society together," says Christopher McGovern, director of the History Curriculum Association.

Comparing sample questions from the old and new citizenship tests, McGovern says the old test was too focused on access to welfare provision, such as free prescriptions, free legal advice, free healthcare and free training opportunities.

The new focus on the identity, history and culture of Britain will help migrants to integrate more successfully, he believes.

"Knowledge of the landmarks of British history is fundamental to securing and maintaining an integrated society based on shared values."

McGovern says that landmark historical events such as the location of Stonehenge, or who fought in the Battle of Trafalgar will give those new to the UK a starting point to learn about important periods of history.

"They are the signposts that guide us to a fuller understanding of Britain," he argues.

Some however, argue that multiple choice questions do not give enough context.

Start Quote

Britishness comes with time - you learn to queue and to be able to talk about the weather at length”

End Quote Iain Aitch

Historian and author Neil Storey says the questions are too simplistic and need to include the history of freedom, democracy and mutual respect "that we have prided ourselves on in Britain".

"We cannot have citizenship based upon what I would describe as a trivia test. It is essential to have a basic understanding of our history - good and bad - and the experiences of our nation at peace and war, because it defines who British people are."

The test, Storey adds, is a good start but it is equally important to learn how Britain has got to where it is, and what it has cost men and women to get there.

For example, people should learn about those who lost their lives during WWI and WWII, or the suffragettes who fought for women's rights to vote.

But will questions on a test - be it a school exam or a citizenship test - really encourage those taking it to learn more about the subject matter?

Historian Andrew Roberts believes it will help people appreciate "the long and splendid history of Britain".

Winston Churchill

"Anyone attempting to walk down a street in the UK without having any concept of this country's past is going to have a poorer understanding of life in Britain. These historical questions will help enrich migrants' lives."

But Iain Aitch, author of We're British, Innit, says while learning about history may be useful, it would be more relevant to learn what rhubarb or mushy peas are, as well as pub etiquette - like the custom of ordering a round of drinks in a bar.

"With any test people will learn what they need to. There may only be a small percentage who become interested in history.

"Britishness is something that comes with time. You learn to queue, not complain about your poor lunch and to be able to talk about the weather at length without saying much at all. Some things are nuanced and not really testable," adds Aitch.

New test sample questions* Old test sample questions

Which landmark is a prehistoric monument which still stands in the English county of Wiltshire?

(Stonehenge, Hadrian's Wall, Offa's Dyke or Fountains Abbey)

In the 1980s, the largest immigrant groups were from the West Indies, Ireland, India and Pakistan. TRUE OR FALSE?

What is the name of the admiral who died in a sea battle in 1805 and has a monument in Trafalgar Square, London?

(Cook, Drake, Nelson or Raleigh)

Which TWO of these are names for the Church of England?

(Methodist, Episcopal, Anglican, Presbyterian)

In 1801, a new version of the official flag of the United Kingdom was created. What is it often called?

(The British Standard, the Royal Banner, the St George Cross, the Union Jack)

How many parliamentary constituencies are there?

(464, 564, 646, 664)

Who is the Patron Saint of Scotland?

(St Andrew, St David, St George, St Patrick)

Is the following statement TRUE or FALSE?

Ulster Scots is a dialect which is spoken in Northern Ireland.

What flower is traditionally worn by people on Remembrance Day?

(Poppy, Lily, Daffodil, Iris)

In which year did married women get the right to divorce their husband?

(1837, 1857, 1875, 1882)

*New test taken from a sample of 10 questions provided by the Home Office. The old test taken from a sample from the official practice citizenship test.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Maybe for an article like this the photo that accompanies it should show the Union Flag being held the correct way up.

    Or maybe they are making a subtle point....

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.


    Well that means I should be deported, I only know 2 answers.
    What does JR have to do with being British? I know it's from Dallas but I don't know who shot him. That episode happened several years before I was born. Never watched the "Sweeney" and don't live in London so don't know. I thought they were called the "Sweeney"

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    i don't see the point of an immigrant knowing the answers to these questions; its not really going to have an affect on their lives and prompt them into becoming an expert of British History.....yet again we'll be a soft touch on a basic test and over run. They may as well just be asked for their names and d.o.b.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    The whole principle of a written test of this type is flawed. They in the main irrelevant or badly formed questions which do not reflect on what it is to be a UK citizen. Are we expecting to raise the educational standards of the country by having immigrants who know more about the UK than many children who leave school?

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    @41: "Often called" doesn't mean "incorrectly called". It's the colloquial term for the flag, even if it did only apply to the ensign flown on a ship of the fleet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    31/33 that's why multiple choice is awkward (anyway, isn't it airspeed?)

    The questions listed in the 'old sample' look worse than the new to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.


    I got 100% on the new test and 58% on the old test.

    Looks like the dumbing down of education continues through the government.

    No wonder i failed all my O Levels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    They should be expected to know as much History as British people know French when we go to France.

    I thank you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    What is the correct pronounciation of the following:

    Practical exam 1: demonstrate how to queue properly at this simulated bus stop, without a load of pushing, shoving, shouting and arm waving. In short, without making a fuss.

    Practical exam 2: Tie a Windsor knot correclty

    Final question: Should Europe join the UK ? Discuss.


  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    It's another misguided desperate idea to entice back the UK Independence Party strayers. 'We are listening to middle England, honest'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    All MPs should be required to pass this test before taking up their seats.

    I wonder who would fail? It could act as an alternative way to reduce the number of MPs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    The Great in Britain? Why do people use such lazy language?
    The Great in Britain relates to Grande Bretagne - as in Big Brittany! It's an early geopolitical term to describe the celtic lands culturally connected to those of the NW European mainland.
    It has nothing to do with our greatness as a nation!

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.


    The crusades are much more of a continental European thing, please stop trying to take credit for other people's historical achievements.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    32. Joe Yellow

    "This is so silly. Why does history dictate how British you are? I am 33 and was born and raised in England and don't care about history at all, am I not British enough?"

    Perhaps it is silly & yes it is more important for newcomers to respect our values, but this debate aside, understanding your heritage is important & to quote Santayana "Those who do not learn from history..."

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.


    Write a 3000 word essay explaining why you want to come to UK, what you plan to do here on your successful application
    Just as well they dont ask you who qualifies to apply for citizenship.

    You have to have been here 5 years to apply.... Its NOT an entry test...

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    I was born here 57 years ago but I have some questions for 'None of the Above' Q35
    1. What is a JR?
    2. Where abouts is 'Met'?
    3. Are there really Hippos at the end of the rainbow?
    5. Who's Arthuer Daley?

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Dont know what its like now but at one time, you couldnt emigrate to Canada unless you had relatives who could sponsor you, plus you had to have qualifications that they could use. Anybody else was surplus to requirements and the doors were locked. I'd advocate an approach like that, i.e, the onus is on the person coming in being able to prove they are not here to become another benefit case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Ridiculous. If you can speak the language, get a job, and know the country's laws and customs that should be enough

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    I'm sure someone who hated the UK or wanted to commit a crime but knew history would be able to swing the test without a problem. Thats the issue, if you don't not believe in our tolerances and way of life or our customs and values why should you be allowed to enter? Watch the Truth about Saturday Night and see what happens when we tolerate Bigotry in the form of religion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    How about the following:
    Can you BBQ in the rain, ensuring food is burnt on the outside but uncooked in the middle?
    Can you hum the theme tune to Coronation Street & Eastenders?
    Do you moan regularly about (a) weather (b) sport (c) travel (d) the government (e) whats on TV?
    Can you hold a mobile phone whilst driving to a petrol station 10 miles away to save 2p a litre?
    If Yes, you're in!


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