The test that most migrants are required to pass before they can secure permanent residency or citizenship in the UK has been likened to a “bad pub quiz” and is littered with errors, omissions and “mundane trivia”.
That is the verdict of the law professor who conducted a detailed analysis of the Government’s Life in the UK test, which applicants for indefinite leave to remain and British citizenship must sit in order to demonstrate they understand British customs, traditions, laws and the political system here.
There are “serious problems” with the test and material candidates are advised to consult in preparation, according to Thom Brooks, a professor of law and government at the University of Durham.
The academic – who describes the quiz as “the test for British citizenship that few British citizens can pass” – claims to have uncovered “factual mistakes” in the official test handbook and test materials and warned that test information has become “increasingly outdated”.
Could you pass the Life in the UK test?
1. Catherine Howard was the sixth wife of Henry VIII – true or false?
2. What are two buildings designed by the 17th century architect Inigo Jones?
A. Durham Cathedral
B. Queen’s House at Greenwich
C. Banqueting House in Whitehall
D. The Tower of London
3. What is a fundamental principle of British life?
A. Actively supporting your local football team
B. Participation in community life
C. Ignoring your neighbours
D. Eating fish on a Friday
4. In which country of the British Empire did the Boer War take place?
B. Falkland Islands
D. South Africa
5. What did the Habeas Corpus Act introduce?
A. That every prisoner has a right to a court hearing
B. A salary for MPs
C. Financial help for the unemployed, old-age pensions and free school meals
D. Measures to improve the conditions of workers
1. False, she was his fifth wife
2. B & C
Plans for the test were first introduced under Labour in 2002 by the then home secretary David Blunkett with the intention of ensuring that new citizens had a sound knowledge of life in the UK.
It was brought in for citizenship applications in 2005 and for indefinite leave to remain applications in 2007. People under the age of 18 and over 65 are not required to take the test. Candidates must answer 24 multiple choice questions and require a score of at least 75 per cent to pass. They can sit the test as many times as they wish but must pay a £50 fee each time.
However, its contents have become increasingly “impractical” over the years and the materials and questions are in need of overhauling, professor Brooks believes.
The Life in the UK test “appears to be the only such test in the world that does not even ask, nor require, new applicants to know who is the head of state, how many MPs sit in Parliament nor which court sits atop the judiciary”, he noted.
“There is perhaps no clearer example in the test of triviality” than the two dozen facts that must be memorised about the life of Sake Dean Mahomet, who opened London’s first curry house and popularised the use of shampoo above Europe, the academic added.
Other “mundane” information candidates must be able to reel off includes the height of the London Eye (443 feet) and approximate age of the Big Ben clock tower (over 150 years), as well as the dates when Boris Johnson and Theresa May became prime minister – though “no one else in British history”.
Yet, the report found, “no one need know how to contact emergency services, report a crime or register with a GP”.
Professor Brooks said: “The Life in the UK test is essential for permanent residency and citizenship…[It] matters and should be taken seriously. The Government is urged to accept the recommendations in my report to improve the test, its monitoring and inspections.”
Other academics and experts have questioned the purpose of the test, with some claiming it can act more as a barrier than a conduit to integration.
Bridget Anderson, a professor of migration, mobilities and citizenship at the University of Bristol, pointed to Prince Harry and former prime minister David Cameron as examples of prominent figures of the British Establishment who have floundered when confronted with the test’s questions.
US-born Meghan Markle has revealed that when she was preparing to take the test ahead of her 2018 wedding, even her husband-to-be, Prince Harry, was foxed by some of the questions.
And, during a 2012 appearance on a US talk show, Mr Cameron struggled to answer a series of questions posed to him on topics including the Magna Carta and the patriotic British song, “Rule, Britannia!”, by the programme’s host.
Asked on the Late Show With David Letterman who wrote the 1740 song, the then prime minister responded: “You’re testing me there,” before incorrectly guessing Edward Elgar instead of Thomas Arne, who set to music the poem of the same name by James Thomson.
He was also stumped when quizzed on the literal translation of the Latin term “Magna Carta”, the name given to the celebrated historical document that set limits on the power of the monarch and their government. The answer is “Great Charter”.
Commenting on professor Brooks’ report, professor Anderson asked: “What is the Life in the UK test for? Is it the final reward for successful integration? Or is it part of an integration pathway?”
She added: “In practice, this test of obscure facts and figures about British life serves as an obstacle to citizenship and permanent residence. If Prince Harry, one of the beneficiaries of the best British education money could buy, finds the test ‘too difficult’ and David Cameron has flunked it then it simply can’t be a measure of integration.”
The Home Office was contacted for comment.