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What’s Included in the CDL Skills Test?

Are you ready for an exciting new career as a CDL driver? First, you’ll have to pass your CDL exam. The CDL exam has two parts: the knowledge portion, which is a written test, and the skills test. In the CDL skills test, you will demonstrate your physical ability to operate a commercial vehicle safely. 

What Is the CDL Skills Test?

There are three sections to the CDL skills test, the vehicle inspection test, the basic controls test, and the road test. Each of these tests is designed to prove you can operate the vehicle you want to be licensed to drive. 

Who Can Take the CDL Skills Test?

Only drivers with a valid Commercial Learner’s Permit, or CLP, can take the CDL skills test. To obtain your CLP, you must first pass the CDL written knowledge exam. 

How is the CDL Skills Test Scored? 

Each section of the CDL skills test is scored slightly differently. In the vehicle inspection test, you will walk your examiner through a complete internal and external inspection. In the vehicle controls portion, you will be tested and scored on your ability to maneuver the vehicle. And finally, the road test is scored based on your reactions in a real-life driving scenario. 

What Opportunities Can a CDL Get You?

The commercial trucking industry is booming, and there are plenty of jobs you can get with a CDL, such as the following: 

  • Commercial truck driver
  • Local delivery driver
  • Bus driver
  • Short and long haul truck driver
  • Transportation supervisor
  • Construction equipment operator
  • Truck driving school instructor
  • Highway maintenance technician
  • Terminal manager

The Sections of a CDL Skill Test

The CDL skills test has three distinct portions: the pre-trip inspection, the road test, and the backing or basic controls test.

Pre-trip Inspection

The pre-trip vehicle inspection, or walk-around, simulates the pre-trip inspections CDL drivers must do before every trip to ensure their vehicle is safe to drive. There are five parts to the pre-trip inspection, checking the engine compartment, checking the cab and engine, checking the brakes, checking the cab’s exterior, and checking the trailer. 

As you move through your pre-trip inspection, you will point out each part you’re checking and talk through your process with your examiner. 

Road Test

In the road test portion of the CDL skills test, drivers take to the road with their commercial vehicles. You will be tested on your reactions to traffic situations such as intersections, lane changes, railroad crossings, and special roads, including expressways and rural routes. 

You will also be tested on your mastery of the vehicle through performing turns, up and downslope tests, and driving in low clearance areas. Additionally, you will also be tested on properly following traffic etiquette and laws, such as wearing your seatbelt, using your mirrors and blinkers, refraining from speeding, and following traffic signs and signals. 

Backing Test

Also known as the basic vehicle control test, the backing test measures your ability to back up your vehicle in a correct and safe manner under three different circumstances.

  • Straight Line Backing: During this exercise, you will have to back the vehicle in a straight line without crossing or touching the exercise borders.
  • Offset Backing: In this exercise, you will have to drive forwards and then back into the lane or parking slot to your left or right-hand side. You must complete this without touching the borders.
  • Alley Dock Backing: You will need to back the vehicle into an alley from a sight-side or 90-degree angle.

Understanding the Knowledge Tests

To get your CDL permit, you must complete and pass the CDL general knowledge test. Additional endorsements come with separate tests. 

General Knowledge Test

The general knowledge test is a 50-question multiple-choice exam. Passing requires you to score at least 80% correct. Your exam will be based on which class of CDL license you are pursuing and the type of vehicle you will be driving.

You will be required to complete the combination test if you wish to drive Class A tractor-trailer combinations. In addition, vehicles that use an air braking system will also require you to take a separate test.

After finishing your required tests, you will receive your learner’s permit and then start practicing and book your CDL skills test.

Endorsement Tests

To drive certain types of vehicles, you will need specialized knowledge and know-how of this vehicle. You can prove this by taking and passing an endorsement test. There are different kinds of endorsements. Some only require a written test, whereas others also have a skills test.

Passenger Endorsement

The passenger endorsement is necessary if you will be driving a vehicle that transports 16 or more people, including the driver. For the passenger endorsement, you are required to take a written exam and pass a skills test in a passenger vehicle. You can add this endorsement to a Class A, B, or C CDL.

Tank Vehicle Endorsement

The tank vehicle endorsement is required if you will be bulk-hauling liquids or gasses. For this endorsement, you only have to pass a written exam. You can add this endorsement to a Class A, B, or C CDL.

School Bus Endorsement

The school bus endorsement is required if you operate a school bus or similar vehicle used to transport students to school or sponsored events. For this endorsement, you must take a written exam and pass a skills test. 

You will need to acquire your passenger endorsement to apply for the skills test first since the school bus endorsement is not valid without a passenger endorsement. Also, depending on your CDL, some restrictions may apply.

Double & Triple Trailers Endorsement

The double & triple trailer endorsement is required if you will be towing more than one trailer weighing over 10,000 pounds. You have to pass a written exam for this endorsement, and you can only add it to a Class A CDL.

Hazardous Materials Endorsement

The hazardous materials endorsement is for those hauling hazardous waste or materials in high amounts. These include Gasoline, Propane, Chlorine, Acids, and explosive, radioactive, or infectious substances and materials. You only have to pass a written exam for this endorsement, and it can only be added to a Class A CDL.

Air Brakes Test

The air brakes test lets you operate a vehicle equipped with an air brake system. There are two parts to getting an air brake endorsement, a written and a practical one. The air brakes test is often added to the general knowledge and skills exams for first-time CDL drivers and varies state by state. 

How to Pass a CDL Skills Test

Want to make sure you pass your test on the first try? Go in prepared.

Practice With Your Studying 

Research what the test will involve and read up on associated materials and resources. There are a lot of websites that will let you take free practice exams. So get some hours under your belt and start practicing as soon as possible. The knowledge will make a lot more sense once you start using it.

Use Your Resources

Refer to your manual for guidance and knowledge on passing your test. Some states allow drivers to use a memory aid for the pre-trip inspection part. Some CDL schools also offer videos on youtube that can assist you with preparing for your test.

Stay Calm During the Test

Try not to overthink it too much. You’ve practiced and put in your time, so stay focused and keep your eyes on the ball. Getting a good night’s sleep will also help you feel more focused. Also, if you’re sensitive to coffee, maybe skip the double espresso today. 

Get There Early to Practice

While you should arrive for your CDL skills exam having hours of practice under your belt, you may want to arrive early to work out the jitters and practice under testing conditions. Rules vary state by state but see if you can arrive for your skills test early to practice. 

What Can Get You Disqualified in a CDL Skills Test

Arrive early for your exam so you have time to relax, and don’t forget to do these basic things which can make you fail your test.

  • Forgetting to wear your seatbelt
  • Driving on the curb
  • Cutting off traffic
  • Speeding
  • Not using your mirrors
  • Using the wrong lanes
  • Disobeying traffic laws and signs.
  • Having an accident
  • Failure of the air brake test
  • Improper stopping and passing
  • Not obeying the examiner

What Happens If I Fail My CDL Skills Test?

If at first you don’t succeed, try again. If you fail your CDL skills test on your first try, do not worry. You can still have a successful career as a truck driver once you pass the test. While every state has its own retake policies, in most cases, you can retake your skills test on the same CLP a few times before you have to retake the written portion.

You will have to wait at least three days to retake the skills test, so use this time to study what you did wrong so you can get it right when you retake the test.

Welcome to Your Exciting New Career!

You can officially drive a commercial vehicle after you’ve passed your CDL skills exam and endorsements. With so many fantastic opportunities available for CDL holders, you can soon put into practice everything you learned in your training and start your fulfilling career as a truck driver.

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