Reaching the citizenship test is often a multi-year process for candidates. Courtesy: iStockphoto

A question in the Australian citizenship test lists three incorrect answers for the country’s population size, potentially disadvantaging candidates, SBS News has learned.

An applicant from the UK – who asked to remain anonymous – told SBS News of the apparent error after sitting the test this week.

The woman said she had meticulously prepared for the test by reading the recommended preparation booklet called Australian Citizenship: Our Common Bond.

The Department of Home Affairs says the booklet has “all the information you need to help you pass the citizenship test”.

The English-language booklet currently lists Australia’s population as “about 24 million people”.

The applicant SBS News spoke to said she was “about five or six questions into the test and a question came up about population [size]”.

“I knew from the booklet that [Australia’s] population is ‘about 24 million’ … But that was not an option. The three options were ’18 million’, ’22 million’ and ’30 million’,” she said.

The woman raised her hand during the test and told the examiner she knew the answer was 24 million according to the booklet.

“I told the examiner, ‘I think there’s a mistake in the exam’ … He said 22 million is the right one.”

“He said the system is ‘difficult’ to update [and] wasn’t surprised about it.”

The woman selected the answer of 22 million and went on to pass the test. While she said it was “all a really bizarre experience,” she was more worried about the broader implications of the error.

“It made me think, ‘well, I know 22 million is wrong, I know 18 million is wrong, should I just put 30 million?'”

Australia’s population according to the government’s publication ‘Australian Citizenship, Our Common Bond’.

The test consists of 20 questions drawn at random from a larger pool of questions. To pass, candidates must answer at least 15 out of 20 correctly.

“How many tests could have been failed because of this question?” the applicant told SBS News.

“If you were feeling vulnerable or uncomfortable engaging with an examiner, that shouldn’t be a reason you fail.”

She said while being asked to pass a citizenship test is an understandable requirement, “this [error] is really a shame.”

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the latest estimated resident population of Australia as of September 2017 was 24,702,900 people. Australia’s population hit 22 million in 2009, 23 million in 2013 and 24 million in early 2016.

There also appears to be a discrepancy in other Australian citizenship test resources.

In several translated versions of the Australian Citizenship: Our Common Bond, including the Indonesian, Italian, French and Arabic versions, the Australian population is still listed as “about 22 million”.

SBS News contacted the Department of Home Affairs about the claims.

A spokesperson said: “To maintain the integrity of the citizenship test, all questions and answers are confidential. It would be inappropriate for the Department of Home Affairs to comment further on the contents of the citizenship test.”

SBS News also asked the department how many individuals fail the test.

“For clients who sat the citizenship test from 1 July 2017 to 30 April 2018, the failure rate was 2.9 per cent,” the spokesperson said. Of the 1,597 people who failed the test during this period the department said 5.5 per cent failed by one point.

“A person is allowed to attempt to pass the test on three occasions on the one day. They may attempt the test a number of times.”