FreightWaves Ratings cuts through the noise of freight technology product reviews to make you a smarter buyer

How to Ace Your CDL Exams

Whether you have recently completed truck driver school or have just begun exploring professional driving as a potential career path, the thought of taking your CDL exam probably evokes feelings of excitement and anxiety. 

This reaction is perfectly normal, as passing your final exam is one of the primary CDL requirements in every state. Your CDL exam is the last roadblock standing between you and your exciting new career. 

The question is, how can you ace your CDL exam the first time and avoid any setbacks? Read on to find out.

What Is a CDL Exam

If you query “CDL regulations 2022“or a similar phrase in your favorite search engine, “CDL exam” will undoubtedly appear as one of the top requirements. 

Every state, bar none, requires drivers to pass a CDL exam before they can obtain their commercial driver’s license. This rule holds true regardless of the class of license you are applying for.

A CDL exam is a multi-component test that must be passed to obtain your commercial driver’s license. While truck driving school is optional in some states, passing the exam is not. 

However, everyone interested in obtaining their CDL should attend a truck driving school, as the school will help them learn the skills necessary to pass both components of the exam — which brings us to the next topic.

How Is the CDL Test Structured?

Now that you know more about CDL license requirements let’s shift gears to focus on the structure of the exam.

CDL exams are divided into two phases, known as “theory” and “practical” or “Behind the wheel” (BTW) components. The theory portion of the exam is a multiple-choice test. 

On the other hand, the BTW component of the exam requires you to demonstrate your real-world skills, such as pre-trip safety inspections, backing, shifting, and changing lanes.

What’s Covered in Theory Training?

During the theory or classroom phase of your truck driver training, you will learn skills such as:

Basic Operation

  • Signaling
  • Passing
  • Shifting
  • Observing speed limits
  • Turning 

Safe Operating Procedures

  • Visually searching the roadway for hazards 
  • Conducting pre-trip inspections
  • Examining fluid levels
  • Wearing safety equipment
  • Maintaining safe distances from other drivers

Advanced Operating Procedures

  • Hazard perception 
  • Backing
  • Alley docking
  • Parallel parking

Vehicle Systems and Reporting Malfunctions

Non-Driving Activities

Requirements to Pass

To pass the theory portion of the CDL exam, drivers must obtain a minimum score of 80%. Most CDL exams have 50 total questions, meaning drivers must answer at least 40 questions correctly. 

How to Study for Theory

There are several steps you can take to prepare for the theory portion of your exam. Some of the best strategies involve:

Additionally, you can make your own study materials using the CDL manual. For example, you could write key phrases on one side of a flash card and the definition on the backside. You could then quiz yourself by reading the terms and attempting to recall the definitions. 

What’s Covered in Behind the Wheel Training (BTW)

Most CDL candidates find BTW training to be more exciting because they finally get to fire up the big rig and start learning real-world skills on the road, even if it’s just a closed course. During BTW training, drivers will be exposed to the following:

Classes of Commercial Vehicle

All BTW training must be performed in the class of vehicle that aligns with the type of license you want to obtain. If you want to operate Class A vehicles, you will only drive Class A vehicles during training. This setup ensures that all of your seat time is relevant to your career goals. 


During the initial stages of BTW training, you will spend most of your time on the range. This controlled driving environment gives you the opportunity to make mistakes and learn without endangering yourself or other drivers. On the range, you will perform tasks like:

  •  Straight line backing
  •  Alley docking
  •  Offset backing
  •  Parallel parking

Public Road

After the instructors are confident that you have learned the basics, you will get to drive on public roadways, during which time you will be asked to perform tasks like:

  • Merging into traffic
  • Changing lanes
  • Turning left and right
  • Signaling 

Where Can You Find CDL Practice Tests?

If you want to access great CDL test study materials like practice exams, check out this link. We recommend taking at least three or four practice exams to prepare for the real thing. If you are still not confident in your knowledge after several attempts, hit the books for a few more days and then take another practice CDL exam. 

The exams in the link above closely resemble the actual test in terms of difficulty. If you are passing the practice exams with ease, you are likely well prepared to ace your CDL test.

How Many Times Can You Fail the CDL Exam?

Each state places different limitations on how many times you can take a CDL exam. However, every state allows at least three attempts — you can use this figure as a good baseline. 

If you happen to fail your first attempt, don’t get discouraged. Instead, reevaluate your preparation tactics and log some extra study hours. 

Whatever you do, don’t rush to book a second exam, even if you failed by a narrow margin. If you use all of your allotted attempts and do not pass the CDL exam, you may have to repeat truck driver school from the very beginning. 

Preparation Is Key to Acing Your CDL Exam

As you prepare for your CDL exam, make sure to leverage the resources and tactics outlined above. Doing so will help you pass on your CDL exam and on your way to a rewarding career as a professional truck driver.

We are excited to announce the launch of, a revolutionary resource designed to transform how consumers choose auto-shipping companies. Check it out today!

Join Roehl & Get Paid While You Get Your CDL

Why pay a trucking school to get truck driver training or go through a company sponsored program? Instead, join Roehl and get hired on the first day. Your job is to get your CDL!