Realpolitik (see also Political realism; from German: real “realistic”, “practical” or “actual”; and Politik “politics”) refers to politics or diplomacy based primarily on practical considerations, rather than ideological notions or moralistic premises. In this respect, it shares aspects of its philosophical approach with those of realism and pragmatism.
"Manchmal werden Leute den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht sehen."

Sunday, 21 November 2010

003 - The Invalidity of the British Citizenship Test

Since the year 2005 the 'Life in the United Kingdom test' has been a mandatory computer based test under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, designed for individuals seeking indefinite leave to remain in the UK, or British Citizenship. However, does the test serve any purpose or is its existence simply a bureaucratic exercise?

This is an interesting question, since for 1 in 3 immigrants every year this test effectively prevents them from claiming British citizenship. The test is designed with the intention of assessing whether immigrants arriving on British shores or wishing to claim indefinite leave to remain have the necessary skills and knowledge required for everyday life and function in the country. The test was introduced on 1 November 2005 for naturalisation, and on 2 April 2007 for settlement. It claims that the test simultaneously fulfils the requirement for adequate knowledge of the English language.

However having tried the test myself this morning after discussing it briefly with an acquaintance, the test actually shows some shocking flaws which threaten its validity, especially considering it's importance. Having been raised, and having lived the duration of my life in the United Kingdom, you can imagine my surprise when post-examination the results indiciated that if I were to take the test for real, I would fail. I had managed to answer approximately just over two thirds of the questions correctly, when the pass mark was 75%. Considering I had not practiced for the test like a large number of immigrants do (with a plentiful number websites dedicated to supplying resources for the cause), I considered the result reasonable, but it was a failure nonetheless. What surprised me however was not that I had failed at the test but the type of questions which had led to my unsatisfactory demise.

This test appears at times to be almost ruthless in its invalidity. The reason for which it isn't centred around day-to-day culture and the examination of the individual's depth of knowledge of useful English language baffles me. The test is based largely around historical semantics, which although indicative of some cultural practices in modern British life are little more to the immigrant than excessive knowledge. The acquaintance with which I initially discussed the test had received a question on a US custom. How can it possibly be justifyable that historical demographics and US customs are more important to immigrants than the ability to converse in the native tongue or seek out required services with ease? Whilst everday services are mentioned in the test, for my attempt at least they were referred to in a shocking minority. That 1 in 3 immigrants fail then is perhaps a void statistic, since if the test were based more around necessary services and 'must-know' laws for example on insurances and age restrictions along fluency of the English language, this statistic may rise or fall.

One of the questions I received on my attempt at a practice test was: 'A married woman had no right to divorce her husband until the year...: (Followed by 4 options). It confuses me as to how this information is useful to living an every day integrated life in the UK now? Whilst it may be an important part of our history, and an important chapter of an equal rights movement which is not to be sneered at, it lends no help to immigrants looking to understand the native tongue, cultural 'expectations' or services available to them, that is, unless they're planning on getting
divorced the moment they arrive. Other questions I was asked included the name of a famous UK tennis tournament and 1880 and 1910.

If then this examination is not to be considered valid then the question must be raised of whether it should be allowed such an important influence over the fate of those who take it. Also the markets providing resources and practice equipment for this test are also questionable in their motives. I have to admit that the cynic in me has debated over whether the test is valid and designed to assess British citizenship potential, or whether it is constructed as simply a bureaucratic exercise to satisfy the demands of ever continuing debates over immigration figures. That the test simultaneously tests ability in written English is somewhat agreeable, though the syntax is not that which may adequately reflect everyday English, particularly that of a spoken variety.

The test has also been criticised previously of containing factual inaccuracies, such as:

Claim: The law states that children between the ages of 5 and 16 must attend school.
Fact: According to Section 7 of the Education Act 1996, children between the ages of 5 and 16 must be educated. This education may be provided at school or otherwise (for example, home education or private tutoring). Many questions state or suggest that school attendance is compulsory, which is untrue.

Claim: Births must be registered within 6 weeks (42 days).
Fact: Births in England, Wales and Northern Ireland must be registered within 6 weeks. In Scotland this figure is 21 days

Perhaps I am missing the point, and perhaps the test does adequately prepare and assess people for life in Britain, though with the distinct lack of focus on holistic linguistic ability, and a tendency to ask questions on statistics and demographics which may bear little use to the life of the immigrant in day-to-day functioning, is it credible to use this test in its current format to award British citizenship?



  1. The year in which divorce was legalised? I don't even know that, but why should I? To demonstrate an awareness of legislation in this country? I suppose that has some use -if you're a solicitor- but it certainly isn't the type of information that you need to function. As you put it, it is excessive knowledge.

    The test is a farce. I can guarantee that most 16 year olds sitting GCSE would not be able to answer many of the questions on that test, and a C grade at that age is apparently the benchmark for functioning in society, or at the very least, the bare minimum qualification requirement for seeking employment.

    You know what, this all follows the idea that paper examinations are a valid way of determining an individual's capability...anyone can work to pass a test.

    If the aim is to make new entrants aware of so-called British customs, then this is a flawed method, since that is something that one can only be sensitised to by regular contact. And even then, customs vary on an individual basis, rendering this attempt at defining a societal benchmark of habitude a fruitless endeavour. But it doesn't even do that, so in short, it's completely pointless.

    Deal with the actual problem, by encouraging communities to inter-mingle, by firstly limiting the institutions which promote social separatism, like faith and gender-segregated schools.

  2. You should make an attempt at the test yourself and see what you come out with, keeping an eye on the selection of questions you are provided. I am aware that the test I used was a far scaled down practice version of the official final test that people sit, but questions are lifted from previous incarnations and so bear relevance to the final product.

    I struggle to see how this test based on its unapologetic bias towards excessive knowledge and basic service knowledge can successfully claim to be firstly an adequate assessment of an individual's ability to integrate, and secondly a valid measure of English ability given it's strong (and largely informal) written focus. As for becoming aware of local customs, I'm in total agreement that integration and regular interaction is the key rather than knowledge of (many long out-dated) policies.

    It would be interesting to sample a group of British born/educated people and investigate how many were able to pass this test. I would suggest many would struggle.