Where does Santa Claus come from?

Taking a step closer to British citizenship is an important event in my life. The process of applying for indefinite leave to remain involves taking the Life in the UK test which, if I pass, will supposedly show that I have the necessary grasp of the English language and understanding of UK life that one requires for citizenship.

Like anyone eager to pass, I bought the Handbook and Q&A pack for a value price of £12.99 and wrote up a timetable to study for 30 minutes every night after work. As I worked my way through the guide, I remember thinking to myself ‘this is pretty interesting stuff but there are an awful lot of statistics and dates – I hope I don’t have to remember these!’

The guide was the easy part; then came the practice tests – 24 questions per test and 45 minutes in which to finish, and most of the questions were, as I’d feared, a regurgitation of statistics and dates with a couple of practical questions thrown in to mix it up a bit! Even a pub quiz has more engaging questions.

As an instructional designer, I like to think I have a fair idea of what constitutes a good question – one that tests practical knowledge rather than memory and one that’s challenging to the learner but fair. Below are some samples of what I faced:

  • Where does Santa Claus come from?

An easy enough question, but as foreigner I might not even know who Santa Claus is. One might argue that it’s part of British culture to know about Santa Claus but surely knowing where this fictitious character comes from does not indicate my knowledge and understanding of life in the UK?!

So, how about some statistics or random facts?

  • What percentage of the UK population stated that they were Christian?
  • What percentage of the UK population is Jewish?
  • What percentage of the UK’s population is white?
  • How many members does The National Assembly for Wales have?
  • What is the distance (in miles) between the North coast of Scotland and the South coast of England?
  • How much is the deposit required for candidates standing as a Member of the European Parliament?

Clearly after becoming a British citizen, the next step is to become an MEP!

And then there were a couple of trick questions:

  • How much do you have to pay to visit the Parliament? – You don’t have to pay!
  • Who wrote the United Kingdom’s constitution? – No one, it’s an unwritten constitution!

And then a few questions to ‘help one integrate into society’:

  • Why were specialist immigration centres set up in the West Indies in the 1950s?
  • Where did the tradition of playing jokes on one another on April 1st originate?

However, not all the questions were like this:

  • What happens if a driver has more than the permitted amount of alcohol in his/her body or refuses to take the test?
  • What is the minimum age to drive a car or motorcycle?
  • What is a CRB check?
  • True or false? It is illegal to drive a vehicle while using a mobile phone.
  • What is the highest denomination bank note in the England?
  • What is the speed limit for a motorway or dual carriageway?
  • True or false? NHS Walk-in centres provide treatment for minor injuries and illnesses seven days a week.

I was relieved to finally be presented with some relevant questions based on useful topics and facts that are useful and which any newcomer can apply to life in the UK.

The overall objective of the test was to assess my knowledge and understanding of UK life but I feel that it did neither. Although a few of the questions forced me to learn about some of the basic laws and rules that all residents of the UK must abide by, many of the questions revolved around random topics or concepts that no one needs to know about in day to day life, or facts and statistics that aren’t going to increase my ability to live in this country.

It’s been interesting studying for the Life in the UK exam whilst bearing in mind Saffron’s instructional design approach to writing knowledge test questions. It’s a shame that the exam doesn’t focus on people’s behaviours, or on choices and decisions that I’ll face in life. Wish me luck!