by Pride Transport | Oct 13, 2023
If you’re an aspiring truck driver hoping to earn a commercial driver’s license (CDL), you probably already know that you need to pass an exam to confirm your understanding of and ability to operate commercial motor vehicles. But obtaining a CDL isn’t just a matter of acing one test; it’s a multi-step process that requires planning and different types of preparation.
Keep reading for some of our best advice on how you can prepare to pass each section of your CDL exam.
What Is the CDL Exam?
The first step to getting your CDL is earning a commercial learner’s permit (CLP). The CLP allows you to practice driving on roadways with an active CDL-carrying driver. Obtaining this permit requires passing a written CDL knowledge test and meeting other requirements (specific requirements vary by state). The knowledge test is 50 multiple choice questions, though your specific questions will depend on the class of CDL you’re testing to drive.
Once you have your CLP, you’ll need to take entry level driver training (ELDT). Following training, the certified instructors will upload your certificate of completion to the database to show that you’re clear to pursue the next step in getting your CDL.
After a new driver has had their CLP for at least 14 days and completed their ELDT, they’re ready to take their CDL skills exam. The exam is made up of three separate sections, each of which covers a different aspect of operating a CMV. Drivers must pass every section to show that they’re prepared to safely and correctly operate on public roadways.
Vehicle Inspection Test
Sometimes referred to as a pre-trip inspection, this part of the exam requires drivers to correctly identify internal and external vehicle equipment that must be checked prior to driving. Drivers must also correctly inspect the equipment and major systems to ensure your vehicle is safe to drive. This also helps to show that you’re prepared to address potential maintenance problems while on your route.
Basic Controls Test
Excellent maneuverability is a key part of being a successful truck driver, which is why this section tests a driver’s skills in straight-line backing, offset backing, and alley dock backing. Backing is one of the trickiest maneuvers for any truck driver. Even after you’ve been driving for years, backing maneuvers take regular practice and constant vigilance when performing the move.
Much of an OTR driver’s time is spent driving on major highways alongside traffic. The road test is when drivers demonstrate their ability to navigate through traffic while performing specific maneuvers in real-life driving situations.
How to Study for Your CDL Test
Like we mentioned earlier, CDL requirements vary by state, so check what your state requires so you can focus on the correct material instead of details and information that don’t apply to your situation.
An easy way to make sure you learn the right material is by obtaining your state’s study manual. You can find these online via your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles site, or you can get a hard copy at your local DMV.
Having a study strategy makes it easier to learn and retain crucial details, especially when there’s a lot to learn. Read through the entire manual to get a complete sense of what you’re expected to know. Then, go back and reread each section, taking notes on areas that are hard to understand or remember.
Any sections with notes are where you’ll want to look for extra help, most likely in the form of online study materials and resources. You can also test your knowledge by taking online practice tests from reputable sources.
Prepping for your CDL exam isn’t something to be taken lightly. Plan on studying and practicing skills a little each day for at least a few weeks to adequately prepare for the test.
Practicing Your Driving Skills
Much like when you obtained your driver’s license, driving a truck requires hours of practice. You need to safely and successfully drive your vehicle while also expertly executing specific maneuvers, including:
- Making left- and right-hand turns
- Parallel parking
- Backing without error
- Following all federal and state traffic laws
- Knowing how to operate your vehicle in inclement weather
- Safely passing across lanes on highways
Knowing how the truck works can give you the confidence you need to execute certain moves, but practice is the only thing that can ensure that you know exactly what you’re doing—and know how to respond if anything goes awry.
New drivers can search for qualified training programs through the federal government’s Training Provider Registry. Some driving companies offer additional training to supplement your own practice schedule. Pride Transport offers training for both new and experienced drivers who want to practice new skills or brush up on their driving abilities.
New drivers must be able to correctly perform both knowledge- and driving-based skills, especially if they plan to be solo drivers. This makes understanding—not memorizing—CDL exam information even more important.
Safety and Regulations
There are few jobs where safety is as important as it is in trucking, so it’s essential for drivers to fully understand how to operate their vehicle safely and promote safe driving to others. This applies to both everyday driving and during the CDL exam. Drivers can be disqualified from their CDL exam for unsafe driving practices, including (but not limited to):
- Not wearing a seatbelt
- Cutting off other drives in traffic
- Improper passing
OTR drivers who plan to drive outside of their state play an even bigger role in promoting and following safety regulations. In state driving requires safe practices and knowledge of the law, but passing through other states means you need to be aware of even more safety regulations and traffic laws. This helps to ensure that deliveries arrive safely and on time, but it also promotes safe driving to both new and more seasoned drivers.
Pre-Exam Preparation: Getting Ready to Ace Your Test
Similar to preparing for an athletic competition, it’s important to get good rest leading up to exam day. But that doesn’t just mean sleeping well the night before; good sleep the two to three nights before exam day is just as important.
Another way to calm nerves leading up to exam day is to make a list of everything you need for the exam at the beginning of the week. Leave the list somewhere you’ll see it every day. This way, you can check items off as you gather them, and you can add items you might have forgotten as the day draws closer. Keep everything in a single pile near the list so that you can double-check as needed.
A big part of managing test anxiety is preparing in advance. People tend to stress when they’re crunched for time, so commit to setting aside 30–60 minutes every day to complete some part of your test prep.
Working on stress management now isn’t just a good idea to help you prepare for your CDL exam. This type of practice will help you on the road, too, once you’ve obtained your CDL. Truck drivers must be ready to make quick decisions in tricky traffic or weather situations. Developing strategies for staying calm and having a preparedness plan will help you stay collected and with it when you’re driving solo with your official CDL.
If you’ve just passed your CDL exam, we’d love to have you come work with Pride. Check out our current job openings here.
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