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The Definitive Practice Test Guide for the CDL
- About the CDL Test
- Sections of the CDL
- What to Expect on Test Day
- Best Ways to Study for the CDL Test
- CDL Tips and Tricks
- CDL FAQ:
About the CDL Test
The Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) exam must be taken by those who intend to drive commercial vehicles professionally. The exam consists of seven knowledge tests in total, although which tests you must take will depend on the type of commercial vehicle you will be driving. You may pursue a Class A, Class B, or Class C CDL, each of which covers a subset of various types of commercial vehicles. So, the exam you take will depend on which type of license you are seeking. The tests may also vary slightly to account for different state regulations.
No matter which license you pursue, you will have to take the General Knowledge section and the Air Brakes Test. The remaining endorsement sections are determined by the license type, but all classes of license must take at least one endorsement section. All questions are in a multiple choice format with four possible answers. The exam generally takes approximately two and a half to three hours to complete, and examinees must receive a score of more than 80% to receive a CDL permit.
The sections of the complete test include the following:
- General Knowledge
- Air Brakes Test
- Hazardous Materials Endorsement
- Tanker Endorsement
- Passenger Endorsement
- Double and Triple Trailer Endorsement
- School Bus Endorsement
The endorsement sections ensure that you are prepared to handle the materials, weight, and cargo type that you may encounter while working as a commercial driver. Following the written exam, test takers will also have to pass a skills test in front of an examiner. This portion is divided into three parts: a vehicle inspection test, a basic control skills test, and a road test.
The CDL is issued by states and those interested in taking the exam should contact their local DMV to get a copy of the study guide, determine the fees associated with the exam and licensing, and schedule their test date.
Sections of the CDL
Air Brakes Test
The Air Brakes Test is required if you intend to drive a truck or bus with air brakes. This portion of the exam covers the components of both single and dual air brake systems, including their operation, normal and abnormal results, and how to address issues. This section has a road test component that must be passed in addition to the written portion. Unlike the endorsement tests, passing the Air Brakes section does not add a positive mark to your license. Instead, if you fail or do not take the skills test in a vehicle with air brakes, your license will contain an air brakes restriction.
While most regulations are similar, if not the same, please be sure to also check the manual for the state in which you take the CDL test. Those are the guidelines you should consider correct for you.
Combination Vehicles Test
If you want to drive combination or Class A vehicles―including a straight truck with a trailer, doubles and triples, and tractor-trailers―then you have to take the Combination Vehicles Test. The test covers the driving and inspection of different combinations, as well as coupling and uncoupling.
State regulations and guidelines may vary. Consider the ones for your state to be the final source of information.
To drive a tractor with two or three trailers, you must pass the Doubles/Triples Test and have a Class A license. This endorsement measures your knowledge of coupling and uncoupling, the inspection and pulling of double/triple trailers, as well as checking of air brakes.
Most of the regulations on national and state levels are similar or the same. If they differ, please assume that your state guidelines are the ones that apply to your situation.
This is the last major step: demonstrating your ability to safely control a truck for a DMV examiner.
Some states have their own examiners (DMV employees). Other states contract private, third-party examiners. Examiners are looking to see if you are comfortable with and knowledgeable about the equipment.
The DMV Driving Test is in three parts:
- Vehicle Inspection Test (naming all the parts of the truck and air brake test. This includes under the hood, truck exterior, and cab interior.)
- Basic Control Skills Test (backing through the obstacle course)
- Road Test (driving on city streets and freeways)
You will be expected to complete the entire driving test (all three sections) in one session. It can be a little overwhelming, so preparation is key.
General Knowledge Test
To obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), you must take and pass the General Knowledge section of the CDL test. This section covers general safety and cargo transportation rules associated with driving a commercial motor vehicle.
On occasion, state regulations may differ. Please consider your state’s manual to be the final authority.
Hazardous Materials Test
If you aim to drive a vehicle that hauls hazardous wastes or substances, you must take and pass the Hazardous Materials test. Hazardous materials can include gases, solids, explosives, flammable and combustible liquids, and other materials. Because of the health and safety threat these items pose, their handling is heavily regulated by the government. As these rules and regulations are subject to change, you must be retrained and retested on the material every two years to keep this endorsement current. To help you prepare for this test, the Hazardous Materials practice test on this site covers items that measure your knowledge of proper communication, driver responsibilities, driving and parking rules, loading and unloading, regulations, and emergency situations.
Please note: Certain specific regulations, such as limits for transporting a particular substance, may vary between states. Please consult your state’s CDL manual as the final authority for the figures in these regulations.
Passenger Transport Test
If you wish to drive a vehicle that transports eight or more for hire (such as a bus or limo), you must take and pass the Passenger Transport Test. To help you prepare for this test, the Passenger Transport section in this practice test covers bus safety and inspection rules. In addition to the written test, this endorsement also has a road test component you must pass.
Different states may have slightly different regulations in some instances. If so, your state manual is the one to follow when studying for this test.
Take and pass the Tanker Test if you will be driving a truck that carries liquids or liquid gas in excess of 1,000 gallons or more. The Tanker test covers topics such as tanker truck inspections and proper driving procedures.
Please consider your state CDL manual to be the final authority when regulations differ between it and national guidelines. National guidelines were used to develop our test practice.
While the process to become a licensed commercial driver can take some time, it remains a high-demand profession with a lot of flexibility. Many individuals have found great professional satisfaction in this career. Successfully taking and passing the CDL exam is the first step toward achieving employment in this field.
What to Expect on Test Day
Since the exam will take several hours to complete, you will want to be sure that you have had enough rest and have eaten a nutritious meal before arriving. If you have never visited the testing site before, you may also want to leave early to ensure that you have plenty of time to find your way there. The testing process will vary depending upon the state in which you are applying for a license, so it’s vital that you contact the DMV beforehand and get their full instructions for taking the test.
What to Bring
The exact documentation that you need to provide when appearing to take your CDL exam may vary by state, so it’s crucial that you check with your local DMV before the day of your test to ensure that you have everything required. Commonly, they require documents such as:
- Proof of identify (driver’s license, passport)
- Social Security card
- Copy of your driving record
- A completed CDL application
- The application fee
- Medical and visual exam results/clearance
- Proof of citizenship or legal residence (if taking the Hazardous Materials Endorsement test)
What Not to Bring
If there are specific items that you would like to bring to the exam, you should inquire with the local DMV to determine what is allowable. Some states administer the written portion electronically while others do not. But in nearly all instances, it is best to refrain from bringing food, drinks, study aids, and electronic devices with you on the day of the exam (or leave them in your vehicle).
Best Ways to Study for the CDL Test
Take CDL Practice Tests
CDL practice tests give you a good idea of the types of questions, language, and format you can expect on the actual exam. There are many CDL practice tests available online and most states issue a study guide for their CDL exam. No matter where you will be taking your CDL exam though, it’s always a great idea to ensure that the study aids that you use, including CDL practice tests, come from a reputable and trusted source.
Use Alternative Study Methods
While practice tests can be invaluable in test preparation, combining these with other study aids can help you to retain the information better. Alternative study methods, such as CDL flashcards and CDL study guides can help you to be better prepared for the exam come test day.
Simulate the Testing Experience
Another way to really elevate your preparation for the exam is by simulating the actual testing experience. When you take the practice tests with time restrictions and all in one sitting (with small breaks), you can better gauge how you will perform during the actual test when under pressure. Simulating the test repeatedly is a great way to get more comfortable with the test and confident in your ability to pass it on your first try!
CDL Tips and Tricks
Pay attention to state-specific regulations.
Many study guides include national information about the CDL; however, state requirements and regulations vary from state to state. Pay attention to the regulations in your state, especially those that deviate from national standards, to ensure you have the knowledge necessary to pass the CDL exam in your state. CDL manuals for every state are found below:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Focus on knowledge gaps.
One of the biggest benefits of using study aids prior to taking the exam is that you can identify areas in which you need more preparation. It’s vital to focus on the areas where you aren’t as comfortable with the information so that you can learn what’s required to pass the exam.
Pace your studying and avoid cramming.
Just like with any other test, some examinees think that cramming all night before taking the exam is the best way to boost their score. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Applicants who spend time studying slowly by pacing it in the weeks leading up to the test are generally more prepared to get a great score. And when you get plenty of rest and a nutritious meal prior to taking the exam, you can be sure that you will be mentally focused and ready.
1. What are the other requirements for taking the CDL exam?
Generally, states require that you be either 18 or 21 years of age before you can take the exam. You will also need to get a physical and visual check-up done by a provider on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners to ensure that your health is sufficient to drive commercial vehicles.
2. Will driving citations in the past affect my ability to get a CDL license?
They may. Minor moving violations may not have a negative impact on pursuing a CDL, but if you’ve been convicted of driving under the influence, using a vehicle to commit a felony, or have restrictions on your personal license, you may be unable to obtain a CDL in your state.
3. How do I schedule a time to take the CDL exam?
Testing is done at state DMV offices and they also determine when the test is available. It is crucial that you call the local DMV to get information about how to schedule your test date.
4. How much does it cost to take the CDL exam?
CDL exam fees vary from state to state, and you can get more information about their fee schedule by calling the DMV.