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.

You can follow the Magazine on Twitter and on Facebook


More on This Story

In today's Magazine

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    First, define 'history.'
    Next, define 'britishness.'

    Say how these two concepts relate to real cultural adaptation, since mere knowledge of history doesn't mean agreeing with it nor ensure compliance with it.

    This'test' likely stems from removing the welfare issues mentioned than real assimilation procedures.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    My Turkish born daughter in law cannot name the England World Cup Team of 1966!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I've set her homework.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    Well, knowledge on the Dark Ages would be good. Like where the English came from, where the Britons went (Wales Cornwall) the fall of Rome in UK. BATTLE OF HASTINGS. you know the most important pieces of history!

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    The flag is called the Union Flag, not Jack. I'm sure the people who devised this test know that. Perhaps they shoudl take the test themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    66. LeftLibertarian
    told Spike Milligan to apply to the Pakistan Embassy for a new passport because he had been born in Poona where his father was serving with the Indian Army.

    Presumably the Pakistan embassy said "Go away, Poona is in India"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    The older questions seem far more relevant to actually living here which suggests two explanations:

    A) whoever has written the new questions is an idiot who hasn't a clue what he's doing.
    B) the BBC has been selective in which questions it shows to make the test writer look like an idiot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    its beyond many immigrants to understand the proud and superb history of great britain, compared say to france and poland who collapsed like a pack of cards in 3 weeks against hitler. yes there is much to learn about this superb country called great britain ,the finest country in the world bar none.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    The Union Jack in your picture is upside down!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    I'm hoping that people will also learn how to read English from this test... Question 3 does have a correct answer. Technically the flag is called the Union Flag, but it is often referred to (as the question asks) as the Union Jack.

    I'd also like to see them test a newcomer's ability to speak and understand the English language, to understand the law, and how it differs from their home country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    It's just plain daft to ask questions about our history. Half of the people who's families have have lived here for generations have little or no knowledge of it. Most people can just about name the years of the Battle of Hastings 1066 and the year England won the World cup 1966 and thats about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Presumably, this test will be published in multiple languages.

    If not, it might be unfair to those appliying for UK citizenship, but who speak absolutely no word of English.

    After all, the NHS, HMRC etc spend millions of pounds of tax-payers money producing all their document in multiple languages.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    What history? How about world history?

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    The third question doesn't contain the correct answer at all!

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    They made the questions too easy. If they really want migrants to know English history, they should request them to pick up a history book and then test them after blasting it though. Also what's the point of multiple choice when you can probably guess an answer and will not help them learn. It should be filled in the blank and short answer questions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    @41.m59e - "In 1801, a new version of the official flag of the United Kingdom was created. What is it often called?
    Shouldn't that be the Union Flag?"


    Actually, the answer Union Jack would have been correct too. The question was "what is it often called".

    I'd warrant there are more people who don't know it is called Union Flag than do, and when to make the distinction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    A Union Flag may only be referred to as a 'Union Jack' when it is flown on the jackstaff of a ship; and it should only be flown upside-down as a signal of distress.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    So if you know a few bits of history on a multiple choice test easily crammed for you are in.

    How about somthing useful like a sit down interview when you have a conversation about the events in the news in the past week? No right or wrong anwsers, just the ability to hold a conversation, in English, for 30 mins.

    That would be a nice start!

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Written and oral exams would prove someones likelihood of being able to find employment (or at least be able to correctly fill in benefit forms). I don't see how a multiple choice exam is the way forward.

    RE: 80.1geoffski
    Yes, Geoff, there is..... sigh.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    All of it, in outline at least; not just "topics" which re-inforce current government dogma regarding economics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    @35 Why should questions be about certain memorable events in peoples era?

    90% of the questions posted here are utterly pointless, focus should be more on the attitudes of the immigrants and how to act in our society. Simple.


Page 24 of 29



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.