Why the new citizenship test is like a maths exam designed to exclude Jews

I took the government's new citizenship test and I got 57 per cent. I'm not proud. The pass mark was 75 per cent.

I felt should have been good at it. I've got a 2:1 in politics from a reputable university, I've spent my working life at newspapers dealing with statistics and I've got nothing against the kind of history that involves learning dates. I just, ahem, didn't know many of the answers.

Obviously this made the the girly swot in me feel a bit of a failure, though I can at least take some comfort that I'm not on my own. It appears to be the kind of test for which your teacher has to tell you the exact answers beforehand because the syllabus is very narrow. GCSE anyone? I mean, if I ever knew which year women received the right to divorce their husbands, why would my adult brain retain that information?

Moreover I'd maintain that the final question - what is the difference between the average hourly pay rate for men and women? - is not only vague (are we talking legally or in reality? because many of the preceding questions are about the law, making the fact that this one is about reality counterintuitive). I'd say it was also potentially counterproductive. What is the point of telling recently arrived immigrant men, many of whom will have come from cultures where women don't work outside the home, that women in the UK are treated as second class citizens? Thanks Mr Cameron. Excellent PR job.

Then thinking about it, I realised that the citizenship test reminded me of something else: this was in the Twitter stream of Alex Bellos yesterday.



Bellos is a maths writer whose byline crops up across the spectrum of quality newspapers. And the link on the tweet sent you through to this page.


It's an abstract for a maths paper written at Cornell University in the US. It reads

"This is a special collection of problems that were given to select applicants during oral entrance exams to the math department of Moscow State University. These problems were designed to prevent Jews and other undesirables from getting a passing grade. Among problems that were used by the department to blackball unwanted candidate students, these problems are distinguished by having a simple solution that is difficult to find. Using problems with a simple solution protected the administration from extra complaints and appeals. This collection therefore has mathematical as well as historical value."

I got stuck for a minute, wondering what on earth kind of maths problems Jews would find harder to answer than gentiles. Then I noticed the part at the beginning that reads "a collection of problems that were given to select applicants" and realised that the paper was designed to be almost impossible for anyone who took it, thereby raising the bar unreasonably high and placing the power of discretion completely in the hands of the university. Presumably the paper was given mainly to Jews to take.

I took a moment to register surprise that there was anti-semitism in Moscow during the 1970s, what with Karl Marx being Jewish and all. Then put that to one side, as such things are beyond reason.

The citizenship test is identical to the Jew-excluding maths test in the sense that by making it harder to pass, the power of discretion is placed firmly in the hands of the examiner, which in the case of the citizenship test is Mr Cameron or one of his appointees.

Yet who can doubt that if a cherished member of the Hinduja family, or some other wealthy scion, applied for citizenship they wouldn't be excluded on the grounds of having failed a dismal citizenship test that someone British to their fingertips can't even pass?

So besides making me squirm, I can also dislike it because it makes the process of entry for would-be British citizens less fair. And what's the point of defending our values against all-comers if in the process they are degraded?

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