Thursday, April 5, 2007

"I didn't pass!"

One of my students just called--she didn't pass her USCIS interview. She is so sad! She said that she had no problem answering the N-400 questions, but she didn't know the answers to two US History questions.

Student: "A preamble? What is a preamble, Teacher?"

Teacher: "The introduction to the Constitution."

Student: "Ah, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land."

Teacher: "That's right. What was the second question?"

Student: "I didn't understand the question."

Teacher: "Did you ask for another question?"

Student: "No, the examiner gave me a paper with 10 questions. He told me to read and answer each question."

Teacher: "Did you say, 'I studied very hard for the test, but I don't remember this answer. Please ask me another question.'"

Student: "No, I didn't."

Teacher: "What else did the examiner say?"

Student: "He said, 'Come back in two months.'"

Teacher: "Yes, they will send you a letter for another appointment in two months. Don't worry. You passed the most difficult part, the N-400. You know most of the 96Qs. You can learn the rest and pass the test."

Student: "Ok, but I am still sad."

Teacher: "I am sad for you. Will you come to class on Monday?"

Student: "Yes, I will be there."

Teacher: "Ok, we will talk more on Monday."

We then talked more and said good-bye.

I should have anticipated this problem. Although the USCIS 96Qs and 144Qs are posted in the hallway and every student school carries a copy of the 96Qs with them, I don't always usually ask students 10 questions when I do practice interviews. Why? Because I usually do two to four practice interviews every evening after class (10-15 minutes each). If I do ask the 96Qs, I usually orally ask the question and they reply. Rarely have students reported that they had to read and answer the questions during the USCIS interview.

Because this particular student is from the Mid-East, we prepared several questions about Al Qaeda and the Taliban. (I didn't want her to be caught off guard). We did several practice interviews, but I never asked her 10 questions. At the end of the last interview, I asked her some 96Qs. Initially she was able to answer them. Then she began to miss some. I didn't want her to panic, so we practiced, "I studied very hard for the test, but I don't remember this answer. Please ask me another question." I reasoned that if she can pass the N-400 section, she will be able to pass the 96Qs.

I feel bad. Students rarely fail the interview. The last one was totally prepared, but froze when the interviewer peppered her with small talk (ex: "What color is this chair?"). This is the first student who got all the way through the N-400 section, and tripped on the 96Qs. Maybe it was because she had only been in class for a short time, but the lesson I learned is that I must take two extra minutes to ask the 96Qs during every practice interview.

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