Workshop prepares hopefuls for Canadian citizenship exam

To help prepare for the Canadian citizenship exam, Pier 21 offered a free course to teach Canada’s past.

By Ian Gibb

The mock exam from Pier 21 Museum's workshop
The mock exam from Pier 21 Museum’s workshop

How does the Governor General come to power? What is habeas corpus? Who was the explorer to first draw a map of Canada’s East Coast? Questions like these could stump the average Canadian, but if you’re seeking citizenship, it is need-to-know information.

Eligible applicants seeking Canadian citizenship must complete an exam created by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The exact content of the exam is kept secret in order to ensure its integrity.

To help prepare for this task, Halifax’s Pier 21 museum, the Canadian national museum of immigration, offered a free course which concluded last weekend. It ran for eight consecutive Saturdays with a French version in the morning and an English one in the afternoon.

Elisabeth Tower works at the museum and taught the workshop in English. Before she started teaching the course Tower admitted she had to brush up on her Canadian history knowledge.

“For a lot of us, we’ve covered (history) in school,” said Tower, “but it’s been a long time since we’ve been in school.”

Tower’s workshop was made up of several dozen students from a variety of backgrounds. They must live here for three years to be able to write the citizenship exam. For some, there is a language barrier which means they may wait longer to take the test, said Tower. Applicants are required to demonstrate proficiency in either English or French to pass.

Elisbeth Tower in the museum's classroom
Elisbeth Tower in the museum’s classroom

Canada has received, on average, 250,000 new immigrants each year for the last decade. These immigrants are classified as permanent residents to distinguish from people studying or traveling in the country. Permanent residents cannot vote, but otherwise have all of the legal rights and freedoms of a Canadian citizen. In the first half of 2013, more than 27,000 permanent residents took the citizenship exam, with a pass rate of 72.7 per cent, according to documents obtained by the CBC.

Hopeful applicant

Kristoff Vogele is one of those looking to make the leap to Canadian citizen. The 24-year-old from Germany finished his degree at Dalhousie University last year in environmental science. He said that for his discipline the job prospects, especially in the public sector, are much better in Canada. Many of those positions give hiring preference to Canadians which is Vogele’s motivation for taking the exam.

Vogele said he found the workshop very helpful. “It was good, I definitely learned a lot that I didn’t know before.”

Canadian history was particularly interesting to Vogele, which he said is not covered in German schools. He plans to apply to take the citizenship exam later this year.

Reform could be coming

Bill C-24, known as the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, will significantly change the citizenship process if passed. It was introduced by Chris Alexander, Conservative member of Parliament for Ajax-Pickering, Ont.

Chris Alexander speaks in the House of Commons, taken from his website
Chris Alexander speaks in the House of Commons, taken from his website

Currently, the citizenship exam is for applicants between the ages of 18 and 54 as well as display competence in English or French. Bill C-24 would expand this age range to those aged 14 to 64. Applicants will also need to have lived in Canada for four of the last six years, rather than three of the last four.

The bill is designed to crack down on fraudulent citizenship applications, according to Conservative members of Parliament. Bill C-24 has been criticized by some opposition MPs as overreaching. Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe, MP for the Quebec riding of Pierrefonds-Dollard, was one of those opposed.

“There are of course some measures that we agree with and some commendable intentions,” said Blanchette-Lamothe, according to “But there are also other measures that are quite questionable and troubling.”

Blanchette-Lamothe took issue with the bill giving the immigration minister the ability to revoke the citizenship of anyone convicted of certain offences aboard, such as terrorism.

Regarding the potential for the exam’s age range to expand, Tower said that different age groups all have different challenges.

“It’s not my job to decide who will have that requirement,” Tower said. Her goal will still be ensuring her students pass, she added.

New citizen

The breadth of the citizenship exam could seem like a daunting task to a newcomer.

Michelle Kleiman, for one, said she was very nervous before writing it.

Kleiman is a Dalhousie student who has lived in Canada for the last four and a half years. Her family began preparations to emigrate from Israel after the 2006 war with Lebanon, arriving here in 2009.

Kleiman said she didn’t take a course like the one offered by the Pier 21 museum to prepare for her exam. She opted to study with her family, who was also writing the test. She said they spent several weeks preparing beforehand, and used an online exam to test themselves.

Kleiman wrote the exam in Halifax last summer with her mother and father. They were told their results immediately after finishing and all three passed.

Kleiman’s advice to those preparing to write the exam is straightforward. She said, “you have to take your time.”

“It’s an important thing, whether or not you are going to stay in the country,” added Kleiman.

The mock exam

On the last day of the workshop, Tower handed out a 20 question mock exam for her students to tackle. Questions, which included the three in the first paragraph, covered Canadian culture, geography, history and politics. The questions were drawn from a study guide put out by Citizenship and Immigration Canada called Discover Canada.

Tower said the mock exam was as close to the real thing as possible. It featured a time limit and 15 of 20 multiple choice questions, each with four options, had to be answered correctly. Her students did well, she said, although not all of them passed.

Regardless, Tower was very pleased with the level of enthusiasm. She said adult learners can be trickier to teach, but the group was engaged in the lessons.

Tower wasn’t just teaching. She also found herself learning during the workshop.

“You can’t help but reflect on your own citizenship and on what that means,” said Tower.


To answer the opening questions, according to Discover Canada

The Governor General is appointed by the Sovereign (Queen Elizabeth II) on the advice of the Prime Minister.

Habeas corpus is the right to challenge unlawful detention by the state.

John Cabot was the first explorer to draw a map of Canada’s East Coast.