Cramming for Canada 101

Pier 21 museum helps immigrants study for citizenship test

Over at Pier 21, a game of “Jeopardy!” is under way as a student chooses rebellions and wars for $800.

“During World War I,” it reads on the projector, “Canadian troops captured this area in France in April 1917, securing the Canadians’ reputation for valour as ‘the shock troops of the British empire.’”

Another student slams a hand on the table and answers, “Vimy Ridge.” Correct.

These students aren’t learning Canada’s history because they are Canadian but rather to become Canadian.

Organizations in Halifax are offering courses to help immigrants prepare for the Canadian citizenship test, which has been made more difficult by added content and new language requirements.

The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, with seven students currently enrolled, first offered a citizenship test preparation course in 2012.

Course instructor Elisabeth Tower outlines Canada’s diverse history to her students. (Photo: Michael Lee)
Course instructor Elisabeth Tower outlines Canada’s diverse history to her students. (Photo: Michael Lee)

The free classes derive their content from the “Discover Canada” study guide, offered by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, as the primary resource for the test.

Required topics include knowing certain details from Canada’s history, including which province first allowed women to vote, and details of federal elections, such as how members of Parliament are chosen.

Other topics covered in class include Canadian symbols like the maple leaf, Canada’s trade economy and the capitals of Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories.

Elisabeth Tower, education manager at the museum and course instructor, believes making the class fun and interactive with games such as “Jeopardy!” is more effective than sitting and reading, or listening to the “Discover Canada” audiobook.

“I think that’s why a lot of people like the course … it sets aside time that’s dedicated for (studying) and it can help to bring it alive in a more human way.”

The Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, an organization helping immigrants settle into Canadian life through services like English language classes and employment counseling, offers a course similar to the one at Pier 21 as they both use the same study guide.

Jayne Geldart, manager of community, language and skills, says the test is much harder now than it was before as more content, particularly Canadian history, has been added.

In the previous study guide published in 1995, “A Look at Canada,” there is no mention of the First or Second World Wars, women’s voting rights, Remembrance Day, residential schools, the War of 1812, Louis Riel or Canadian artists.

All of these topics and more are covered in the 2011 guide, “Discover Canada,” along with more content on Aboriginal Peoples, the Acadians and Chinese railroad workers.

In Bill C-24, which received royal assent on June 19, 2014, immigrants must now demonstrate “an adequate knowledge of one of the official languages of Canada.”

Citizenship and Immigration Canada defines this as having the equivalent of a level four, out of a possible 12, for speaking and listening using the Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks, the national standard for language proficiency of adult and prospective immigrants.

Although Geldart says this is a low to intermediate level, there are no stipulations for reading and writing, meaning someone preparing for the test may be able to explain verbally what they know but may not do as well because they have difficulty reading.

To pass the test, a score of at least 15 out of 20 is required.

Ghazi Jarrar, a masters student in history at Dalhousie University, moved to Canada from Jordan in 2008 and earned his citizenship in 2013.

As a history student, Jarrar covered much of the material in school and says the test wasn’t hard for him.

However, he says the test should not be made more difficult, especially if someone has met the legal requirements for residency of at least three years.

Tower says the course aims to help immigrants deal with the stress of taking the test.

“It’s a very important test. It’s something that will change their citizenship, so it’s very meaningful and very important in terms of their status,” she says. “So a lot of pressure ends up being put on it.”

More than 260,000 people became citizens in 2014, Citizenship and Immigration Canada reports, more than any year in Canada’s history.

Tower says the most rewarding thing, for her, is being involved in a “life-changing process.”

“It really is a place of privilege for me … to be able to look at and understand your own country, too, by hearing about the stories and experiences of others who are just making this decision.”

Test Yourself: Ten questions from the “Discover Canada” study guide

Identify four rights that Canadians enjoy.

Who are the Métis?

What is the significance of the discovery of insulin by Sir Frederick Banting and Charles Best?

What is the highest honour that Canadians can receive?

In Canada, are you allowed to question the police about their service or conduct?

Who was Sir Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine?

In Canada, are you obliged to tell other people how you voted?

When you go to vote on Election Day, what do you do?

Who is your member of Parliament?

What provinces are referred to as the Atlantic provinces?