Driving Test Study Guide for the CDL
Prior to Taking the Driving Test
Congratulations. You have made it to the last step: The DMV driving test.
Prior to this, you have:
Obtained your Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) [also called a Commercial Driver’s Instruction Permit (CDIP)]
Passed DMV’s written tests for multiple endorsements
Passed DMV’s written test for HazMat and applied for a background check (optional)
Spent 120–150 hours in classroom and driving instruction
Note: If you have skipped any of these steps, consult your driving school. Be certain that you are eligible to take the DMV driving test.
Study a Commercial Driver Handbook
Obtain a Commercial Driver Handbook. They are available at your local DMV. They are also available online in portable file format (.pdf). If you have gotten this far in the CDL process, you probably already have a copy of the Commercial Driver Handbook.
Here is California’s version of the Commercial Driver Handbook. Your state will have a slightly different version of the handbook.
The section numbers in this study guide are the section numbers in the California Commercial Driver Handbook. Your state’s study guide might have different numbering.
As much as possible, the information in this study guide is generic to all driving tests in all states. Each state has different laws. Each state has different testing procedures. Use the information in your state’s driver handbook.
The first major section of the handbook (“SECTION 11: VEHICLE INSPECTION TEST”) isn’t very helpful to the driving student. So, the first major section of this study guide contains a lot of details and includes hints.
The second major section (“SECTION 12: BASIC CONTROL SKILLS TEST”) and the third section (“SECTION 13: ROAD TEST”) are excellent. So, the second and third major sections of this study guide are very short and include hints.
Know About the Test
The DMV driving test is in three parts:
Vehicle Inspection Test (naming all the parts of the truck and air brake test)
Basic Control Skills Test (backing through the obstacle course)
Road Test (driving on city streets and freeway)
If you fail any one of these tests, the testing process stops. (If you can’t complete the Vehicle Inspection, the DMV examiner won’t let you attempt the next step in the testing procedure.)
If your DMV’s obstacle course is next to the DMV parking lot, your driving test will be:
Inspection (including air brake test)
Road Test (ending up back at the DMV)
If your DMV’s obstacle course is not next to the DMV parking lot, your driving test will be:
Inspection (including air brake test)
First half of the Road Test (ending up at the obstacle course)
Second half of the Road Test (ending up back at the DMV)
Study and Work Hard
Exact statistics are not available, but industry experts estimate that 80%–90% of students pass the DMV driving test on their first try. This means 10%–20% fail the test on the first try.
This isn’t high school. If you are unprepared, the DMV examiner will fail you.
Remain calm throughout the test. This test is designed so that almost anyone who has studied and practiced will pass. If you have studied, you shouldn’t have too much difficulty.
The examiner will not trick you. The examiner will not ask you to do anything that is illegal or unsafe. The examiner wants you to pass.
Be Rested and Ready
Be rested before the test:
- Get a full night’s sleep.
- Arrive at the testing location with plenty of time.
- Take a few deep, calming breaths before starting.
Before you take the DMV driving test, you should be able to:
- Inspect the truck (under the hood, outside of the truck, and in the cab).
- Perform an air brake test.
- Back the truck through the obstacle course.
- Safely operate the truck on city streets and highway.
- Shift smoothly.
Know the Local Process
Below, I describe the process I used to pass the test. My instructors knew the local DMV. I was trained to do the test the way that the local DMV examiners wanted the test done. Your instructors will train you to do the test the way that your local DMV examiners want the test done. But the basic principles remain the same.
Use Preparation Time Wisely
As a driving student, you will spend about a quarter of your time backing the truck around cones in the training yard (or observing your fellow students). You will spend about a quarter of your time driving on the road, shifting gears (or, observing your fellow students). Don’t waste the time that you spend observing. Really watch what your fellow students are doing and try to learn from their mistakes. Decide how you would respond to each situation.
While in school, there is plenty of time to stand around and chat with your fellow students. This time would be much better spent studying. Don’t get to the DMV unprepared. If nothing else, practice the Vehicle Inspection Test. By the time you get to the DMV driving test, you should be able to rattle off the inspection steps quicky.
Anticipate All Possible Scenarios and Expenses
A reputable truck driving school will allow you two attempts as part of your tuition and rent you one of their trucks for a third attempt. (Usually, $50–$100 to rent the truck for the third attempt.)
The school will also help schedule medical exams and time in the DMV to take endorsement tests, as well as assist in scheduling the driving test.
If you are getting your CDL with a large trucking company (train here/work here), they will usually only allow two tries at your driving test, then remove you from the program and you will still owe the company for your training.
If you fail the Driving Test three times, you must restart the process by reapplying for a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) and taking your written tests all over again.
Also Consider These Points
Examiners are looking to see if you are comfortable and knowledgeable around the equipment.
You must speak English throughout the test. If you speak a language other than English—or cannot understand the examiner’s instructions—you will be warned up to two times. On the third offense, you will receive an automatic fail.
You will not be allowed to use notes to help you take the test.
All Study Guides for the CDL are now available as downloadable PDFs