Saturday, March 7, 2009

Life in the UK: The Test

Chatting with fellow expat Nixy Valentine about our immigration experiences, I was reminded of the sheer joy I felt upon learning I had to write a test on 'Life in the UK' in order to secure my permanent residency permit. Not only would I have the chance to show the Home Office the depth of my knowledge about 'life' in the Kingdom, but I'd also get to pay £40 for the privilege. On top of the £750 the permit was costing me. As I said, sheer joy.

Why was I so deliriously happy? Well, I figured that after two years of teaching the squirmy, squealing youth of Britain, I had such an insight into the collective psyche of the nation that I'd pass with flying colours. Not only that, but I'd also been recruiting overseas teachers to make up for all those Brits who didn't want to teach the squealing youth, constantly explaining everything from the NHS to the size of UK pillowcases (I kid you not - someone asked!). Surely the test would be a walk in the park. Oh what fun.

Vibrating with excitement, I purchased the Life in the UK book at my nearby Waterstones and confidently opened it, expecting to know everything inside. But horror of horrors, what met my eyes were facts I'd never heard -- nor likely would never need to know, be it for the fact that the Home Office thought it important for immigrants to know that Saint David's Day is on March 1. Or my favourite useless fact of all: If you're blind, you get 50 per cent off your TV license! What the...?

With the date of my test fast approaching, I spent hours studying the information in the booklet, even roping in The Man to quiz me. If I had to write the stupid test, I was determined to kill it. As I went off the nearby Kensington Library - the closest test centre - I was confident but nervous. Notes in hand, waiting for the test to start, I felt like I was back in university again. Finally, I was ushered to a computer (all the tests were multiple choice, done on a computer). Three minutes and 20 questions later, I was done. And slightly disappointed. That was it? That was what I'd spent hours studying for? What a letdown. My joy had given way to annoyance.

All sarcasm aside, I agree that immigrants do need to know about the country they are living in. They should be familiar with cultural practices and the history of the land. But why is it that the UK deems immigrants good enough to teach their children and heal their citizens, but when they want to settle in their adopted land, they have to jump through such silly hoops? And actually pay for the thrill of doing so?


Nixy Valentine said...

Ahh... the test! It was so funny chatting with you about it. Did you know that you and I took different tests? If you live in Scotland, as I do, they tailor some of the questions for the regional differences in the legal and educational systems between here and England. I also had the option of taking the test in Gaelic. Haha. No really.

I had expected to learn basic history and culture, but so much was detailed tedious weird stuff that we had to learn that even my native Scot honey didn't know!

I finally got my British citizenship about a year and a half ago now. Just took my first trip on my shiny red passport last month! And I do believe I've now forgotten EVERYTHING I learned in the dreaded blue book.

Deniz Bevan said...

750 pounds???? I do agree that this "But why is it that the UK deems immigrants good enough to teach their children and heal their citizens, but when they want to settle in their adopted land, they have to jump through such silly hoops?" simply makes no sense. This coming from the country that *refused* to give me (me! A Canadian!) one of those under-26-work-while-you-travel Visas...

Criss said...

I need to get my hands on a US Immigration test. I bet you anything that if I gave that test to your average immigrant-hating US-born citizen, he couldn't answer half the questions.

Look, if you're living in the country, obeying the rules, and paying the taxes, why can't you stay? Instead of making them take some stupid test and jump through these stupid hoops, just start charging them taxes. That's all they care about, anyway; knowing who the 27th president was doesn't fund public services.

*steps off her soapbox, apologizes for the rant and slinks off*

Carole said...

£750!!! Well worth every penny I say!
I wonder when you'll know the results? Good luck and much success in all you do.

Marsha said...

Interesting comments - thanks everyone! I wish I could have taken my test in Gaelic - now that would have been a challenge!

Carole, I passed the test - unfortunately, they don't give you your score so I don't know by how much! And you're right, £750 seems like a lot, but it is worth it. I love living here. Even if I don't get a 50 per cent reduction on my TV license.

Kristy Colley said...

So underwhelming, isn't it? Experienced similar things (and I assume always will) with my UK husband coming over here. The paperwork, the money just never ends.

Henry Dillon said...

It's not unreasonable to expect new comers to know a litle bit about the UK. Being able to speak English is critical for cohesion accross communities. However new British citizens should not be expected to do anything that British born citizens can't already do.

We publish study guides to help people pass the test. Last year, we decided to turn the tables and produced a book called "How British Are You?". The concept was to test the British public. The feedback we received chimes with your comments. The test does not assess your knowledge of life in Britain. It's a pub quiz of trivia and rules.

Incidentially, of the 11,118 British people who sat a sample Life in the UK test from our website, only 1,585, or 14 per cent, achieved a pass score.

You shouldn't have to study or prepare for your citizenship test. If you've lived and contributed to UK society for five years (the qualifying residency period) then you should already have the knowledge from that experience.

Melissa said...

Thanks for the post, now I know what hoops to jump through if I decide to stay longer term.