How To Prepare For The DMV Test For Your Driving License


Avoid all those common driving-test mistakes.

Read in this article:

What is the DMV’s On-The-Road Practical Driving Test?

The practical DMV test is your driving exam and the last step of the process you go through to obtain your driver's license. The test is administered by the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) branch, or whatever it is called in the state where you live. It is sometimes feared by those needing to pass it, but it does not have to be all that nerve-wracking, as long as you're properly prepared. During this test, you will go out on the road with a road-test examiner sitting next to you to score your driving skills and determine whether you are fit for driving. If you are deemed a safe and competent driver, you pass the test and get your license. Procedures, requirements, and rules may vary somewhat depending on your state, however, but there are some commonalities.

Test Requirements

Before you can take the test, you will need to comply with the following - this list is not identical in all states, however these are the commonalities:

  • You must be at least 16 years old and must meet the state's requirements for new drivers
  • You have passed the state's graduated driver's license program
  • Be in possession of an instruction/learner's permit
  • You must be accompanied by a licensed driver (over the age of 21)
  • The vehicle to be used in your road test must be roadworthy and have valid registration and insurance

Remember to wear your seatbelt and keep in mind that you are not allowed to drive yourself to the appointment. If you do, you won't be allowed to take the test and you will be barred from taking it for several months.

Driving Test

Road-Test Tips: What is the Examiner Looking for and How is the Practical Test Scored?

Obtain the driver's guide/manual applicable to your state, where you can find all the things you should know for the driving test in your state. The basic idea is for the examiner to judge whether you are competent and safe on the road, so you will be required to perform certain tasks and actions, and if you fail to do so, will lose points. Some mistakes are minor and cost only a few points on your test, but you may be failed if you make more than three mistakes on your pre-drive checklist or more than fifteen (or twenty in some cases) on your driving test. Also, you are failed if you make just one critical error. The examiner has to determine that you are capable of confidently and safely operating a vehicle in accordance with the driving laws of your state. You will be tested on lane changing, three-point turns, merging onto a highway, using hand signals, and parallel parking (reverse, angled parking between traffic cones), among other things.

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What are Critical Errors in the Driving Test

A few minor faults like patchy signaling or jerky driving won't necessarily cause you to fail your driving test. However, certain critical errors in your driving test will be the cause of an automatic fail on your driving test. These major faults usually include any type of illegal or dangerous driving activity, such as exceeding the speed limit, failing to stop at a stop sign or red traffic light, causing an accident, not yielding to pedestrians, or anything else that requires the examiner to intervene to avoid an accident. Any faults deemed dangerous from behind the wheel, is a sure way to fail.

Top Driving-Test Mistakes

Knowing how to not fail your driving test comes down to avoiding the most common driving-test mistakes, which includes:

  • Stopping. Whenever you have to stop, come to a complete stop behind the demarcated lines. Incomplete stops, also called rolling stops, are one of the common, and easily avoidable, driving errors.
  • Four-way stops. Come to a complete stop just behind the line for at least two seconds and observe which vehicle arrived before you. Await your turn and move off only when it's safe.
  • Steering-wheel control. Never drive with only one hand on the steering wheel, and always release the wheel in a controlled way when making hand-over-hand turns.
  • Distractions. Switch off your phone and the radio during the test and don't look at the examiner or be distracted when they make notes. Focus on your driving and nothing else.
  • Changing lanes. This has to be done properly, by looking first, then signaling, then checking your mirrors, then physically looking for vehicles occupying your blind spot, and finally changing lanes. Make your observations obvious to the examiner by turning your head. Never cross solid lines and never change lanes in an intersection.
  • Speed. Always keep an eye on your speed. Exceeding the speed limit at any time will cause the examiner to immediately fail you. Driving too slowly may also be hazardous, as you're obstructing traffic. Adjust your speed according to the prevailing road conditions - go with the flow. However, slow down whenever necessary to account for conditions or hazards.
  • Merging. The examiner might take you onto a highway; if they do, be sure to use the onramp to get up to speed so you can join the freeway at an appropriate speed that neither obstructs traffic or causes disruption. Never stop at the end of the onramp. Identify a gap, signal, and join the highway at the going speed.
  • Braking. Familiarize yourself with your vehicle's brakes and learn to apply them smoothly and well in advance, to avoid braking too hard and coming to jerky or uncontrolled stops. Harsh braking is only allowed in an emergency or when asked to perform emergency stops.
  • Following distance. Follow the car ahead of you at a good distance - two seconds is really the minimum, but a few car lengths is safest so that you have ample time for a suitable response if they swerve or brake.
  • Vehicle roadworthiness. Your vehicle should have valid registration and proof of insurance and be roadworthy - the lights, safety equipment including seatbelts, wipers, and everything else should be in working order and there should be no cracks in the windshield. Stow loose items. The windows should be clean to ensure unobstructed visibility.

How to Prepare for the On-The-Road DMV Test

One of the best road-test tips is to get lots of practice beforehand, preferably at a driving school. Feel free to discuss all your concerns and questions with the instructors - they are there to help. The more driving hours you have, the better: experience counts. Keep in mind that a licensed driver must accompany you at all times. Practice all the basic techniques of signaling, turning, stopping, backing up, merging, and parking, so you can perform them all with confidence. Familiarize yourself with all the road signs in the manual again before the test. Make sure your vehicle is properly prepared for test day and choose an appropriate vehicle that is easy to maneuver. A small sedan, such as a Nissan Sentra, or a compact or small SUV or crossover such as a Kia Seltos, would be ideal.


If you follow these guidelines and study your state's guide, you will be properly prepared for your driving test. It is important to be confident, but you must also remain cautious. Don't let a few unnecessary mistakes cost you a retry. Put in the necessary time and effort to prepare yourself well, so you can be relaxed on the day of the test. If you can demonstrate that you are a safe and responsible driver, passing your driving test with flying colors will be easy.


What happens if I fail the practical DMV test for my driving license?

If you don't successfully complete the test, you'll have to return and retake it. Ask your examiner to go through the test with you and show you clearly what you did wrong, so you can correct your mistakes at your next appointment. Don't be discouraged; not everyone passes on their first try.

How long does the DMV practical driving test last?

Usually, no longer than about twenty minutes, depending on the traffic and your DMV. Each examiner is also different, so set aside a solid block of time to focus on this.

Can I use a backup camera during my driving test?

This depends entirely on the state. In Massachusetts, for example, you are not allowed to. Consult your local driving laws or ask your driving-school instructor or local DMV.

For how long is my unrestricted driving license valid?

This varies by state. You may have to renew your driving license every four years in many states, but in others, it may only be required every eight years. Different rules may apply in the states for specific age groups too. We explore this more in this blog post.

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