Skip to main content

Top tips to help you pass your driver's test

minute read

    Taking (and hopefully passing) your driver’s license test is a major milestone for any driver. It signifies that you’re ready to hit the road as a responsible, knowledgeable driver who will keep yourself and others safe. Getting your license also opens up a world of freedom and possibility — you can hop into your car and go wherever you want to go now.

    In many ways, learning how to pass your driver’s license test is like preparing for any other test: practice, preparation and a cool head will take you far.

    Driver’s license test basics

    Although specific testing requirements for a standard, Class D driver’s license vary from state to state, there are a few basics most of them have in common. You’ll typically first take a multiple-choice written test which will evaluate your knowledge of traffic rules and regulations. After this, you’ll need to schedule a road test, where your driving knowledge and practical skills will be challenged in the real world. The road test may include things like:

    • Driving through intersections
    • Changing lanes
    • Backing up
    • Multi-point turns
    • Highway driving
    • Basic parking, and potentially also parallel parking (depending on your state)

    The evaluator who accompanies you on the ride assesses how competent you are at these types of maneuvers, as well as things like checking your mirrors, general acceleration and braking, obeying traffic rules, using your signals properly and more. Drivers who don’t pass the test can take it again after a small interval of time (which varies from state to state). Note that failing your test three times in a row may require you to extend your learner’s permit or pay additional fees to try again.

    When you pass your test, you’ll typically need to have a few documents on hand to bring to your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in order to receive your license. These requirements vary from one state to another, but may include:

    • Proof of identity, such as a photo ID card, birth certificate or passport
    • Social Security number
    • Proof of residence, such as a utility bill

    Driver’s license test tips

    Now that you’ve got a general idea of what to expect, let’s look at a few tips that could help improve your chances of success.

    1. Being familiar with your vehicle

    Being familiar with the car you’ll actually be driving for the test can be a big help. While most states allow applicants to drive their own vehicle (provided it’s road safe, legally registered and insured), some states require applicants to take the test in an official DMV vehicle. Consult with your local DMV to see which applies to you.

    If you’re in a state where you can bring your own car, taking time to get familiar with the controls can be helpful. Familiarizing yourself with the lights and wipers, as well as how the car reacts to inputs like steering, braking and accelerating helps ensure you’ll avoid any unpleasant surprises the day of your test.

    2. Getting plenty of real-world practice

    Practice makes perfect, as they say. While absolute perfection is perhaps philosophically unattainable, there’s no denying that real-world practice is a great way to get yourself ready for a real-world road test. Guidebooks and manuals are helpful to build a base of knowledge, but there’s just no substitute for hands-on practice.

    3. Remembering the basics

    Your road test is an evaluation of several basic driving skills like how to change lanes. Here’s a simple acronym to remember how to change lanes safely — S.M.O.G., which stands for:

    • Signal: Use your turn signal to clearly indicate your intention to change lanes before you start to do it.
    • Mirror: Check your mirrors carefully to ensure everything is clear and there’s no one coming up behind you.
    • Over-shoulder: Do a quick over-the-shoulder visual check of your blind spot to ensure it’s clear.
    • Go: Once you’ve made sure you’re in the clear, make the lane change smoothly and at a steady speed and turn off your signal after completing the lane change.

    4. Paying attention to the road

    This is technically part of remembering the basics, but it’s important enough to reiterate on its own: pay attention to the road. While there are a few times (such as the over-the-shoulder check of your blind spots) that you need to take your eyes off the road temporarily, staying squarely focused on the road and what’s happening around you is one of the most important things you can do to help pass your driver’s license test.

    5. Not driving too slow or too fast

    Part of good driving is being able to maintain a steady speed that meshes with the flow of traffic and adheres to the posted speed limit. Most people know that driving too fast can be dangerous. But, driving too slowly can potentially be just as dangerous and disruptive to traffic as excessive speeding.

    6. Being gentle with braking

    Braking is a common area that drivers may struggle with during their driver’s license test. It helps to apply gentle pressure to your brakes with enough room to come to a nice, gradual stop. This is where real-world practice with the car you’ll be driving on test day can really pay off, as you’ll have a better idea of just how sensitive the brakes are.

    7. Approaching and leaving traffic lights cautiously

    “Green means go” and “red means stop” may be traffic rule basics, but a yellow light can be the cause of some confusion amongst drivers. When approaching yellow lights, it’s best to be prepared to stop just in case the light turns red. This is especially important while taking your driver’s license test, as accidentally running a red light may result in automatic failure in some states. Note that not all states may require a road test on public roads.

    When the light turns green and it’s time to go, it’s helpful to look both ways before entering the intersection and slow down before approaching the corner if you’re making a turn.

    8. Coming to a full stop at stop signs

    Stop signs are not “roll through” signs. It’s the law across every state to come to a full stop at stop signs. Failure to do so could result in a traffic ticket and potential points on your license. During your driver’s license test, it may also result in a possible failure.

    9. Not letting nerves get the best of you

    While there are some folks who seem to thrive under pressure, most people tend to perform better when they’re relaxed and able to focus on the task at hand without distracting thoughts getting in the way. It helps to put potential worries about school or work or life on the back burner for the time being so you can think and react clearly during your driver’s license test. Taking a few deep breaths or doing some light meditation before your test may help you clear your mind.

    In summary

    Taking your driver’s license test is a major milestone and like any major test, the biggest key to potential success is practice and preparation. Knowing your car and the rules of the road will be essential to passing your driver’s test. Staying calm and remembering the fundamentals, like keeping your eyes on the road and using S.M.O.G. when changing lanes, can also be helpful. In the event you don’t pass on your first attempt, don’t despair — you can typically take the test again in a few days (depending on your state DMV’s policies).

    What to read next