February 27th, 2013

Take the Civic Literacy Exam

[Hat tip: Maetenloch.]

If you like to test yourself, here’s one that’s kind of interesting. It doesn’t take too long, either.

I don’t mean to brag (actually, yes I do) but I got 31 out of 33 correct, which is pretty decent. And one of the two I got wrong had no truly correct answers, IMHO.

Are you more knowledgeable than the average citizen? The average score for all 2,508 Americans taking the following test was 49%; college educators scored 55%. Can you do better? Questions were drawn from past ISI surveys, as well as other nationally recognized exams.

Fascinating. “College educators” are only slightly better than the average citizen—and the average citizen is not very knowledgeable, because although some of the questions on the test are somewhat difficult, most are not.

Explains a lot.

60 Responses to “Take the Civic Literacy Exam”

  1. holmes Says:

    I missed one because I had a brainfart, otherwise, this is pretty basic and sad that most people have no clue.

    My guess is about half of those who did not do well actually can’t understand the questions themselves.

  2. tillurdizzy Says:

    I got 30 out of 33.
    Although it was obviously biased. There were no questions on Global Warming or the right to a minimum wage and affirmative action.

  3. Ira Says:

    I missed only one, although a few of my responses were of the “well, this is probably the correct answer” kind.
    My one error:
    Question: The Puritans:
    My Answer: believed in complete religious freedom
    Correct Answer: stressed the sinfulness of all humanity

  4. expat Says:

    I got 30, but I didn’t read very carefully on one. It was still in the top 10%. Does that mean I owe more taxes, or should I give 10 of my points to someone that Sheila Jackson Lee or Maxine Waters?

  5. Colin Weingarten Says:

    31 out of 33. Have to agree that the wording on a few of the questions is confusing. Regardless, 55% for college educators is pretty depressing. I blame droning history courses more concerned with dates then imparting any sense of ‘story’ to the past.

  6. J Kok Says:

    I intend to brag, too. I missed only one question. I’ve already forgotten which one. I think it was the one about if tax revenue equals government spending. I probably could not conceive of such a wild scenario.

  7. southpaw Says:

    30/33 but I guessed on a couple because the others made no sense. Tax question tripped me up too.

  8. neo-neocon Says:

    I got the tax question wrong too.

    The other one I got wrong was the abortion question. I knew that when Roe v. Wade was decided, many states already allowed abortion. But I wasn’t sure it a “majority” (over 25); that seemed wrong (it turns out it was only 20, not a majority). But the choice that said that Roe v. Wade ended almost all restrictions on abortion didn’t seem true either, because I knew that Roe v. Wade allowed the states to restrict abortions after the first trimester. So I chose the “majority of the states” answer, because I thought it might be true whereas I was sure the other answer wasn’t true.

    And I still think the other answer wasn’t true, for the aforementioned reason—the states could continue to restrict abortion after the first trimester.

  9. Tom R Says:

    100%, 33 out of 33. I found two of the questions very tricky. I’m especially proud of myself (forgive me) because I did not come to the U.S. until I was 19 and I’ve never had a civics class. But I have since read the founding documents and love them, as well as our economic system. . . . The trick to the question about tax revenue equaling spending is to note that the first response uses the word “debt” rather than “deficit,” the debt would not be zero. Journalists who use the two words interchangeably is one of my pet peeves!

  10. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    I got 30 of 33. The ones I missed I might have gotten had I been a bit more patient and thoughtful.

    Not a bad list, though one that any person who has had econ 101, US History and a civics class should easily pass.

    55% for college educators is a damning indictment.

  11. bob r Says:

    32 — “wrong” on tax question but I don’t think the concept of “average” is really applicable in this context. It just doesn’t make sense sometimes. For example, imagine you have one foot in boiling water and the other foot in a slushy water/antifreeze mix: on “average” you should be comfy and warm but I’m betting no-one would accept that usage of “average.”

    I suspect the readership here is decidedly *not* representative of the US population — no matter how you want to define “average.”

  12. cbi Says:

    33/33. I think the one on policies “most often used” was a bit of a judgement call, but I did know which policies were most often advocated, and answered that way.

  13. jesse Says:

    One wrong. js

  14. FuzzyFace Says:

    33/33 – but I guessed at a couple of them (after narrowing down the choices). So I’ll take credit for 32/33, assuming I had a 50% chance at each of the guesses.

  15. Texasyankee Says:

    33 out of 33. That’s the benefit of a classical liberal arts education before political correctness took over. The results from average people depress me.

  16. Matthew M Says:

    I got the debt question wrong too, but upon reflection, I think it was a logic question rather than a civics question:

    Taxes and spending may be equal but that does not mean there is no debt. Paying off war bonds, for example, could be one of the spending items during a period without new borrowing.

  17. blert Says:

    I waltzed through with 33 of 33…

    But then, I’ve always been weird, that way.

    After the big build up, I expected trick questions.

    That the national average is so low is shameful.

  18. Rick Caird Says:

    I had 33, but I benefited from a discussion on free markets about that question that pointed out price discovery and allocation were the primary functions of a free market.

  19. physicsguy Says:

    Neo .. thanks for the link…. I got 31/33 also. Missed the FDR questions on Supreme Court. Obviously the shocking part (or maybe not) is how illiterate the population really is. I sent it to my college freshman daughter…. we’ll see how she does.

  20. Roy Says:

    32/33 here. I missed the tax question. I knew the correct answer was no deficit rather than no debt, but because, as Tom R says, journalists mix up those two words so often, I figured the test writer had as well.

  21. Tom Murin Says:

    It would be interesting (and very depressing) to see a breakdown by political party or voting preference.

    31 out of 33 here. The abortion question and the tax question (I guess they count corporations as people).

    I took ISI’s 60 question test a few years back and scored about the same.

  22. parker Says:

    30 out of 33.

  23. DNW Says:

    They all seemed pretty simple. The kind you’re better off answering for yourself first and then clicking without bothering to read all. Course my own theory tripped me up.

    Missed this last one trying my speed answering technique.

    “If taxes equal government spending, then:
    Your Answer: government debt is zero
    Correct Answer: tax per person equals government spending per person on average”

  24. John Says:

    I got 32 of 33. I just missed the one about Greek philosophers, which I wasn’t expecting to find in a US Civics test.

  25. Jim Nicholas Says:

    Copied and pasted:
    You answered 33 out of 33 correctly — 100.00 %

  26. lacune Says:

    I admittedly know nothing about econ, and hence the three I missed were econ questions, which were probably pretty basic stuff for anyone who ever took an econ class.

  27. Rich Says:

    I got 36 out of 33

    thats what giving 110% will get ya

    maybe next time ill give 125%

  28. Dr. Mabuse Says:

    32 out of 33 – I got the devilish tax question wrong too. Still, not bad, considering I’m not even American.

  29. KBK Says:

    32/33. Missed Gettysburg Address.

  30. Don Carlos Says:

    30/33, but I misread a couple answers in my haste. The tax question was a very poor one.

  31. LondonTrader Says:

    29/33 and I’m British.

  32. Charles Says:

    31 out of 33. Not bad. And Thanks Tom R., you’re quite right, the debt vs. deficit is always interchanged by the MSM and that’s one that I got wrong. I need to stop listening to them!

    The one question I remember froma survey a few years back. The one about the 3 branches of government. I’m not sure if it was the same folks giving that survey as this one. But, I do remember that it was a given to local and state politicians who had a “surprising” number choose the answer that had the military as 1 of the 3 branches of govenment. ouch!

  33. thomass Says:

    It’s really funny when it is college grads against non college grads… usually about the same results…

  34. thomass Says:

    33 out of 33; I hit the wrong button on the new deal question but I knew the answer / thought I clicked new deal…

  35. Wm Lawrence Says:

    30/33 anyone who can’t get 75% on this test should not be allowed near a voting booth.

  36. Gary Rosen Says:

    33/33, although like a few others I inadvertently saw a few “hints” beforehand. Also I am a “good test-taker”, with a history of high scores on SAT-type tests. Should not be confused with actual knowledge.

  37. SGT Caz Says:

    30 of 33. I’m somewhat ashamed of myself on the tax question because for some reason, I thought it was saying that government was spending the same amount on every individual; specifically the exact same amount they get from that individual, they spend on that individual. That’s ridiculous so I didn’t choose it… and I have a damn economics degree. Also missed the Puritan question and the Lincoln Douglas debate question.

  38. davisbr Says:

    30 of 33 …Gettysberg (stupid: I knew that), spending (stupid again: read the question wrong), and levy’s (disagreed that I got the answer wrong, actually).

  39. RickZ Says:

    Barack Owebama: “I got 75 out of 50.”

    Wait, what? Well, that math works for the debt.

    Me: 32/33.

  40. Yackums Says:

    30/33, missed on tax (also wearing my brainfart glasses and saw “deficit” when I read “debt,” and I’m usually a stickler for not confusing the two), abortion (with exactly the same thought process as our host), and Lincoln-Douglass, which I never learned about in school and never read up on. Some I didn’t have firsthand knowledge of but made “educated” guesses that ended up correct: Puritans, anti-federalists and a couple others.

    Any college instructor who doesn’t get at least 75% should be fired and stripped of his/her pension.

  41. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    31 out of 33. I missed that last spending/debt question, which seems to me to be more of a math problem than one of civic knowledge. Also didn’t know the answer to the Lincoln/Douglas debate question.

    As for the scores earned by average citizens and “college educators” — how utterly depressing. But it explains a LOT.

  42. thomass Says:

    RickZ Says:
    February 28th, 2013 at 5:36 am
    Barack Owebama: “I got 75 out of 50.”

    not 57?

  43. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States and some Canadian provinces Says:

    Only one wrong:

    Your Answer: government debt is zero
    Correct Answer: tax per person equals government spending per person on average

    And I did think the “correct” answer was also correct. I was thinking “deficit” on the answer, not “debt”. The distinction is actually slightly fuzzy. The statement, as regards that single term, is still true.

  44. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States and some Canadian provinces Says:

    }}} My guess is about half of those who did not do well actually can’t understand the questions themselves.

    Well, yes, it does require that you retain the capacity to read a short sequence of declarative sentences and see how they “fit” the subject — but in many cases you can pick the correct choice just by knowing “what” the correct answer is (i.e., understanding it, not just having a rote response), and looking for applicable keywords. That’s what I did half the time.

  45. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States and some Canadian provinces Says:

    }}} I probably could not conceive of such a wild scenario.

    LOL. Nice. Missed the same one. I think the tricky part there is “debt” vs. “deficit”. The scenario described, the deficit is zero, the debt for that year is zero… but the government could still owe money (debt) from previous years. Hence the third choice is more fully correct.

  46. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States and some Canadian provinces Says:

    }}} I’m especially proud of myself (forgive me) because I did not come to the U.S. until I was 19 and I’ve never had a civics class.

    LOL, cheater. You actually had to LEARN this stuff to become a citizen.

    WE got stuck with public schools.


  47. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States and some Canadian provinces Says:

    }}} 55% for college educators is a damning indictment.

    LOL, I want the score for college poly-sci and economics profs.

  48. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    33. Reading the comments was an assist on the abortion and tax and spend questions.

    One of the biggest arguments against democracy is the typical man-in-the-street interview ala “Jay Walking” by Leno or “Watter’s World” on Foxnews.

    We are not, by and large, a well educated citizenry

  49. Mónica Says:

    29/33 and I’m spanish. I guess reading this blog is a good lesson in USA history, politics, etc. Neo, thanks for your work, and the comments in this blog are also a great read.

  50. southernjames Says:

    30 out of 33. Missed the tax one, which I still don’t get, the monkey trial (I guessed prayer in school – Duh! ) and the capitalism one about local knowledge or something. But I was in a hurry, the sun was in my eyes, and my dog ate my keyboard. :)

    I agree with whoever said somebody who can’t get 75% right should not be allowed to vote. At the very least, there is no excuse for anybody not getting at least 23 out of 33 (70%). Over half of the q’s are no brainers. Or at least they should be, for anybody in this country with a high school diploma. Just shows how far our educational system has fallen.

  51. Groty Says:

    33/33. But in the past month I read a blog post that prompted me to go on an internet journey to learn more about Puritans. Prior to that, for some reason I had conflated Puritans with Quakers in my mind. Had I taken this quiz more than a month ago or so, I would have either gotten the Puritan question wrong or narrowed it down to two or three responses and guessed. Thanks to good timing I was certain in my response.

    While I was aware abortion was legal in some states prior to Roe v Wade, I thought it was only a small handful. I had no idea it was as many as 20 or even close to a majority. My ignorance prevented me from over thinking that one.

    But whatever. I think the takeaway is the excerpted paragraph. At best college educators are extremely ill informed. At worst they are idiots or border-line retarded. If you can’t score at least 70% on that quiz you shouldn’t be teaching (or voting). We are so screwed.

  52. TrueNorth Says:

    I got 30 out of 33, but, since I am Canadian, I figure this is pretty good.

  53. KBK Says:

    The take-home is the commenters here are more knowledgeable than our rulers, and probably more capable, too.

  54. Jan of MN Says:

    I’m 30/33, and it’s pretty humbling to find that I’m among the lowest scorers on this page! I’m not surprised, though, that some of the best are not native born.

  55. waltj Says:

    33/33. So, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken, I am now permanently disqualified from holding public office.

  56. Knucklehead Says:

    32/33. Thanks for the link. Pretty basic stuff. I botched the one about government response to recession. There have been numerous recessions in my working lifetime but precious few tax reductions.

    To Tom R… reading the founding documents and the correspondence of the founders is the way to go. The constitution, for example, is short and easily understood. The declaration even shorter and more easily understood. The writings of the founders is a joy to read.

    Those who claim the US Constitution an arcane and unintelligible document are either liars or idiots, possibly both.

  57. RB Glennie Says:

    I got 31 out of 33 too, and I’m Canadian!

  58. Baltimoron Says:

    32/33. I got the question “International trade and specialization most often lead to which of the following?” wrong. I took international trade and specialization to mean reliance on a small number of export industries, which is not usually a good thing long term.
    I’d love to know who they give this test to in order to get an average of 49%

  59. ConceptJunkie Says:

    I got 29/33 but I really should have gotten 3 of those right. I was rushing. I feel stupid compared to this crowd. ;-)

    On the other hand, I would have never imagined that the average person would only get half of these. More than half of the questions were trivial, in my opinion.

    We are a society of dullards in the Information Age… and it shows.

  60. LordAzrael Says:

    I got 30/33 and I’m an Australian so I’ve never studies US history. Its appalling that any American could get approximately half of these questions wrong.

    The three I got wrong were

    (1) who could declare war (I thought the president could but it required ratification by congress within a short period of time).

    (2) what freedom was covered by the first amendment (well my constitutional law studies were of the Australian Constitution ;-))

    (3) The debate between lincoln & douglas (I chose morality of slavary and the answer was expansion of slavery to the new territories).

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