How to Study for the CDL License Exam

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The best way to prepare for your CDL licensing test is to study for it. It sounds obvious, yes — but correct studying habits will help you pass the exam the first time, saving you time and money, and also increasing your confidence. Taking the following steps might help you pass your CDL license exam on your first try.

You may even want to inspect a general CDL manual to get a better understanding of the exam before you take it.

Top Tips for Studying for Your CDL Licensing Exam

Studying for the CDL exam is not that different from the tests you took in school. To pass the CDL licensing exam, you must get at least 80 percent of the questions correct. Before signing up for a CDL program, you may want to pick up the study manual from the DMV to begin reviewing the information presented. The earlier you become familiar with information you will be tested on, the more prepared you will feel going into your licensing exam.

Whether you’re just starting to look for CDL programs, are in the middle of taking classes, or you're getting ready to take the exam, here are some pointers to aid your success:

  • Study smarter not harder. It may only take a few weeks to go through your CDL training course, but there’s a lot of information you’re going to be expected to learn. Some of it may come easily, while other material may take a bit longer to register. If that’s the case, then take extra time to review those sections until the information sticks. You can make flash cards. Read then reread your handbooks that highlight the necessary aspects of truck driving.

  • Stating information aloud and teaching someone else can make information easier to recall. You can use your family or friends as "students" to recite your knowledge to. If you fall into a place where you begin to remember everything front to back, you should feel confident about the exam.

  • Review your material often. Skim the information you know, then go back and reread sections you find yourself struggling with.

  • You can also use free practice tests. There are many you can access on the internet just by using the search engine of your choice. Try to find the most current test you can, because not all are updated. Trucking rules, laws, and regulations change routinely. CDL Career Now has practice tests that are updated with current information. And they are completely free to use. Also, keep in mind, that despite the practice tests being free, the actual knowledge test has a fee involved. Every state has a different cost, so check with yours.

  • Stay focused and study when you feel energetic and motivated. Pace yourself. It is difficult to retain information while you are tired. If you can, study during a convenient time when you do not feel rushed. Do your best to keep distractions like your phone or television to a minimum. If possible, close the door behind you and study away from family or roommates for a few hours.

  • When taking practice tests, training yourself to read the information carefully will pay off. There may be trick questions thrown into your actual test, so begin training yourself to slowly and thoroughly assess incoming information — it will pay off in the long run.

For more tips, check out this article: Studying Tips for Trade School

What to Study

During training, the material on your study guide will likely be taught and reiterated throughout your course. While CDL tests do vary, there are some general topics you'll want to have a strong understanding of before testing.

They are:

  • General trucking knowledge

  • Safe driving

  • Transporting goods safely

  • Air brakes

  • Combination vehicles used to pull a trailer

  • Pre-trip inspection

  • Communication with other drivers

  • Night driving

  • Controlling skids

  • Accident procedures

Passing the Road Test

Studying for the general knowledge test is pretty straight forward. Studying for the actual road test is an entirely different beast, but one that doesn’t have to be intimidating if you’re prepared and well practiced.

 Before you take the exam, know there are three things instructors can fail drivers for:

  • Hitting a curb

  • Rolling backward during a stop

  • Changing lanes without checking mirrors

However, with the appropriate training and knowledge provided by CDL programs, you should feel relaxed and well-prepared going into an exam. Take the time to breathe and perform to the best of your abilities. 

Other tips to keep in mind: 

  • Pay attention to bridge clearances; your instructor may ask for the permitted height upon passing

  • Have your pre-trip inspection memorized

  • Always come to complete stops

  • Always stop before a stop sign, giving yourself time to prepare

  • Follow the speed limit, and observe speed limits imposed for trucks if there are any

  • If you have the chance to know your route prior to the test, practice on that exact route

  • Brake before going over any railroad tracks

  • Learn your offsets

  • Know how to turn in intersections and remember to look both left and right

  • Don’t just glance in your mirrors, actively check them

  • Relax and focus on your driving, not what your tester is doing

  • If you miss something during the pre-trip and you realize it, then you may be able to reclaim those points by informing your tester exactly what you missed

Try not to put too much pressure on yourself and know that drivers are permitted to retest based on state requirements. The key to passing both the practical and road portion of your CDL exam is to practice, study, and repeat.

More reading for you:

Study guides for nearly every skilled trade, including many for trucking!

CDL license types and endorsements

HAZMAT practice tests

How to Get Your CDL and Become a Truck Driver

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