This whole post could have been about King Henry VIII, but it’s not.

Almost exactly two years ago I blogged about my experience studying for the written portion of the UK driving test:

Today, I find myself studying another bank of equally interesting, mystifying, obscure and amusing practice test questions. I have now been in the UK on a work visa for 5-and-a-half years and it is time to apply for permanent residency, so my husband and I are about to take the Life in the UK test. If you want to try out some practice questions yourself, this is the site we’ve been using:

Since this test is required for both residency and citizenship applications, and because not everyone drives, there’s more general experience with and commentary on the Life in the UK test than there is on the UK written driving test. Nonetheless, I’ve been having a lot of conversations recently with British citizens who had no idea what was on the test and were shocked to learn. So, I figured I’d blog about it.

Below I’ve pasted some of the example test questions that have caught my attention so far. Note that the numbers of the questions are not in any particular order because each question is a screenshot taken from one of 48 possible practice tests.

My husband and I agree that the hardest questions fall under two categories: dates and courts. Dates are obviously hard, because you need to memorise the date something happened or you’ll just be guessing, especially when the multiple choice options are dates that are really close together. Examples:


Court questions are tricky in part, I think, because they don’t naturally map onto native-country knowledge (e.g., my (limited) knowledge about the US court system). And it’s additionally challenging because things are different in Scotland than in the other three countries (and yet my experience with the court system in Scotland, because our having adopted a child here, isn’t doing me any favours). Examples:


Another difficult category is the Famous-people-I’ve-never-heard-of category. I will probably feel silly someday listing these (“I can’t believe I didn’t know who he was!”) but nonetheless, here are some examples:


Then comes the one everyone talks about, the Are-you-kidding-we-seriously-need-to-know-this?! category. For me, the scope of this category is relatively narrow. I am well aware that there are some people who think the entire test falls under this category. Personally, I don’t see the harm in asking a few questions about history, culture, and government. Yes, some of those questions are also pretty obscure, but in my opinion they’re still not as ridiculous as ones like these:


Yeah, so I am basically opposed to these supposed ‘facts’ about holidays being on this test. More to the point, I think that my legal privilege to claim residency in this country should not hinge on my ability to answer questions like this. But that’s just me…

By the way, that third question you will have already seen if you follow me on Twitter. It generated a bit of discussion, not only about this specific question, about about the test in general:

Finally, let me end with some things I would say are genuinely useful to know. Really! Like, the kind of things you ought to know way before taking this test. For example, the age you have to be to gamble, buy alcohol, or buy cigarettes. Other examples?


Yes. I hereby believe that the TV licence is important. Long live the BBC!


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10 Responses to This whole post could have been about King Henry VIII, but it’s not.

  1. Linnaea says:

    Thanks for this – I’ll be eligible to apply for permanent residency after September, so swotting up for this test is in my near future. I am NOT optimistic about my ability to pass…
    Looking forward to hearing how your test goes.

  2. joneslucy says:

    All the answers to the Valentine’s question are potentially right, though – as is the answer ‘people ignore it because they view it as commercial drivel’!

    • vocalised says:

      Indeed, my thoughts exactly! Learning these questions is about learning someone’s idea of ‘culture’ rather than someone else’s. Interesting stuff about power, here. In fact, I have an MSc student working on a similar topic.

  3. Charles says:

    You have the books, yes? It’s hard to know how representative the practice tests are… I don’t remember any questions on the actual test where picking out a specific year was important, but as the questions you get are random, there is a bit of the luck of the draw. I think that I happened to get lucky during the actual test.

    In terms of actually living in the UK, my impression is that you can get away without knowing Bobby Moore by pleading general sporting ignorance (more daring alternative: say that as a Scottish resident, you just support whoever is playing England). But Isambard Kingdom Brunel is actually good to know.

  4. John Coleman says:

    George Stephenson’s making the first trains and railways is *world* history, surely. Most of the rest of those examples are pretty pointless.

  5. Pingback: After passing the Life in the UK test | vocalized/vocalised

  6. zipfslaw1 says:

    Personally, I seriously doubt that I could pass the citizenship test in the US, and I’m not sure that I know any American-born person who could!

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