How to pass your driver’s test

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A driver’s license is not just a driving requirement. It is a way to keep roads safe by ensuring the drivers who use them do so safely. According to a 2019 study, 84.1% of Americans have a driver’s license.

Obtaining your driver’s license is an exciting time, but it can also be stressful and intimidating if you are not prepared. These expert tips can help set you up for success when taking your driver’s exam.

Why people fail their driver’s test

It is estimated that there is a 35% to 55% failure rate across the U.S. for the Department of Motor Vehicles’ (DMV) written test, most of which is attributable to lack of preparation. The written test is just as important as the road test, so it’s a good idea to make sure you study the road rules in your area.

Then there is the driving test itself, where your driving skills are examined in the real world. These are some common reasons why people fail their road exam:

  • Braking: The jarring motion of braking too much or too hard could cause you to fail your test.
  • Driving slowly: While you do not want to speed, you do not want to drive too slowly, either. It is recommended that you remain 10-15 mph below the posted speed limit and exceed it by no more than five mph.
  • Incomplete stops: Many drivers neglect to come to a complete stop at a stop sign, but that rolling stop could cost you your driver’s license.
  • No seatbelt: Whether it is nerves or a slip of the mind, many drivers fail their test because they forget to wear their seatbelt. Reinforce that behavior by buckling up every time you get in the car, regardless of whether you are driving or not.
  • Speeding: If you exceed the posted speed limit, points could be deducted by your driving examiner and cause you to fail.

Most common skills on a driver’s test

So what do you need to do to prepare before the big day? Before you take your road test, it is important to practice and prepare your driving skills. Your road test will test your ability to perform certain skills behind the wheel.

Before you drive

Your grading begins before you even leave the parking lot. You will likely be required to successfully demonstrate your knowledge about how to work any of the following items in your vehicle:

  • Emergency flashers
  • Emergency parking brake
  • Defroster
  • Foot brake
  • Headlights
  • Horn
  • Turn signals
  • Windshield wipers

While you drive

Once you complete your pre-driving checklist, you may be tested in different areas of these driving skills:

  • Parking lot driving: This includes your driving as you leave and return to your testing location.
  • Driving through intersections: This can include checking your speed, yielding and merging, scanning traffic and appropriate braking.
  • Street, highway and residential driving: You may be graded on things like checking traffic, changing lanes, turning, staying within the lanes, maintaining appropriate space between cars, and keeping a reasonable speed.
  • Parking: Whether it is pulling in and out of a standard parking spot or parallel parking, you will likely be tested on your ability to park.
  • Three-point turns: You might be tested on your ability to complete a three-point turn in a tight area successfully.

Testing procedures vary by state, so be sure to review your state’s driver manuals before your test.

Tips before you take your driver’s test

Before you take your test, there are some things that you can do to better help you prepare for a successful driver’s test.

  1. Review state manuals: Your state DMV’s driving manual can help you become acquainted with the laws that govern local roads in your area.
  2. Skip the distractions: Put your phone away and turn off the radio so you can concentrate, both when you practice and during the actual test.
  3. Practice different roadways: Master different settings, including neighborhoods, parking lots, freeways and even busier downtown areas as you progress.
  4. Do not tailgate: Be sure to allow for a distance of at least three seconds between you and the car in front of you.
  5. Watch the brakes: Avoid braking too suddenly or too abruptly, giving yourself time to slow. Practice driving smoothly in multiple situations to avoid nerves that might cause you to pump the brakes.
  6. Practice changing lanes: It can be intimidating to change lanes in heavy traffic, so practice changing lanes until you feel comfortable.
  7. Develop defensive habits: Learn defensive driving habits by developing a safety checklist that includes regularly checking blind spots, using caution when backing up, and carefully yielding to traffic.
  8. Heed weather: During inclement weather like rain, snow, or ice, be sure to lower your speed and drive with greater caution.
  9. Practice and practice again: The more time you spend on the road, the more comfortable you are likely to feel during your exam.
  10. Take a sample test: All state DMVs offer free practice tests you can take before your test. Kansas even provides an Alexa integration for voice instruction behind the wheel.

We put together a comprehensive list of state practice tests to help you prepare.

DMV Practice Tests by State

Tips for during your driver’s test

When the big day arrives, remember to stay calm. These are some tips to help during your driver’s test.

  1. Use your pre-driving checklist: Perform your pre-driving checklist, which includes adjusting your seat, fixing your mirrors and checking your lights, so you are ready for a successful drive.
  2. Buckle up: Safety comes first, so put on your seatbelt and ensure that all passengers do the same.
  3. Assume the position: Position your hands at 9 and 3 to provide stability, using a hand-over-hand position for more manageable turns.
  4. Obey traffic signs: Do not run red lights and stop for yellow lights.
  5. Make full stops: A rolling stop could cost you valuable points.
  6. Heed limit lines: Give plenty of room before limit lines so you do not block traffic.
  7. Look over your shoulder: Before you change lanes or merge, check blind spots for anything you may have missed.
  8. Stay in your lane: Be cognizant of lane use and avoid changing lanes too frequently.
  9. Reverse carefully: Before you reverse, be sure to carefully check your surroundings.
  10. Relax: It may seem impossible, but take a long, deep breath and try to stay calm.

What to do if you fail your driver’s test

If you fail your driver’s test, you can retake it, but you need to be sure that you adequately prepare. A driver’s exam is a way to ensure drivers can operate their vehicles safely. Before you drive independently, it’s important to ensure that you have the right skills to keep you and other motorists safe.

Passing your driver’s test is an integral part of the car care process. Just like you fill up the car with gas and buy auto insurance, a driver’s test ensures that all drivers are qualified to drive.

If you failed your driver’s test, consider these tips before you retest.

  • Find out why you failed: Before you can improve, you need to know what you did wrong.
  • Don’t lose confidence: Not everyone passes their test the first time, but most are able to successfully pass it the second or third time.
  • Consider lessons: Private or group lessons from a professional driving school or instructor could help give you an extra advantage.
  • Take sample tests: State governments offer sample tests to prepare you for the actual exam.
  • Talk to your doctor: If you think you suffer from chronic anxiety, talk to your doctor about any solutions that may make your stress more manageable.
  • Keep practicing: The best way to pass your driver’s test — whether the first time or the third — is to spend plenty of time practicing.

It is normal to feel anxiety about your driver’s test, but thankfully, many resources and support systems are available to help you. It is important to remember that safety always comes first, so while it is important to pass your driver’s exam, it is also essential to master the rules of the road and feel comfortable in your new adventure as a licensed driver.

Written by
Lena Borrelli
Insurance Contributor
Lena Muhtadi Borrelli has several years of experience in writing for insurance domains such as allconnect, Healthline and Reviews.com. She previously worked for Morgan Stanley.
Edited by
Insurance Editor