Regional accents tested in 'Britishness' exam

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The Independent Online

Details of the new "Britishness test" were revealed by ministers on the day before the examination becomes compulsory to people who apply for naturalisation.

However, candidates will not be tested on British history.

The questions will be multiple choice.

To become British, applicants will have to pay £34 to sit the 45-minute exam.

They will have to answer 24 questions in the "Life in the UK" test and answer about 75% correctly to pass, a Home Office spokeswoman said.

Examples of areas which will be tested include:

* Where are the Geordie, Cockney, and Scouse dialects spoken?

* What are MPs?

* What is the Church of England and who is its head?

* What is the Queen's official role and what ceremonial duties does she have?

* Do many children live in single parent families or step-families?

Candidates who fail the exam will be able to re-take it as many times as they wish.

From tomorrow, the computer-based examination will be available at 90 test centres around the country.

Candidates will not be allowed to refer to the source book for the exam, the Life in the UK Handbook, during the test.

Immigration minister Tony McNulty said: "Becoming a British citizen is a milestone event in an individual's life.

"The measures we are introducing today will help new citizens to gain a greater appreciation of the civic and political dimension of British citizenship and, in particular to understanding the rights and responsibilities that come with the acquisition of British citizenship."

The test will not be compulsory for applicants with poor standards of English.

Those whose English abilities are below the official English for Speakers of Other Languages entry three standard will take a less rigorous test.

Last year more than 110,000 people were awarded British citizenship.

When the Government previously introduced new requirements for applicants to pass an English test there was a sudden rush to beat the deadline.

But a Home Office spokeswoman said there was no evidence that people were applying ahead of tomorrow's date to avoid taking the exam.

Mr McNulty said the Government plans to extend the test to refugees who have been granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and consultation is currently taking place on the proposals.

Mr McNulty revealed that he had taken a practice test and passed.

"I looked at random through 20 questions and managed to get 19," he said. "I'm not telling you which one I didn't get."

He said he expected the test to be self-financing from application fees and added that there was "no suggestion" that there had been a spurt of applications to avoid having to sit the exam.

Asked what he expected the overall pass rate to be when results start to come in, the minister said: "It will be interesting to see but it's hard to judge.

"I think we would have to give it a good six months to a year for it to bed in."

He added that he did not think there was a case for extending the test to asylum seekers.

Current plans to require successful asylum applicants to sit the test when they are awarded indefinite leave to remain are sufficient, he said.

Mr McNulty said that it was the right decision not to include British history in the test, although the subject is part of the wider curriculum.

"This is not a test of someone's ability to be British or a test of their Britishness," he said.

"It is a test of their preparedness to become citizens, in keeping with the language requirement as well.

"It is about looking forward, rather than an assessment of their ability to understand history."