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How to Prepare for the CDL Theory Test

Every state requires prospective commercial drivers to pass a written exam when earning a commercial driver’s license (CDL).

Preparing for the CDL test isn’t just necessary to get a passing score. The information will also be part of your work as a commercial driver. CDL holders must understand and follow specific rules and guidelines when performing their duties to maintain safety on the road.

Preparing for Your CDL Written Test

Studying for the CDL test (0r any endorsement exams) takes time and effort. But cramming the entire manual into your brain isn’t the best study strategy.

Instead, consider following the steps below to design a study plan to help you maintain your focus and not leave you overwhelmed.

1. Sign Up for a CDL Training Course

First, you must take a CDL training course. If you want to earn a Class A or Class B CDL, the course you take must be an approved Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) course (such as those offered by all campuses at Southwest Truck Driver Training).

All ELDT-approved courses cover a defined minimum standard. Each involves a combination of theory and behind-the-wheel training. You should learn skills related to safe operating procedures, advanced operating practices, vehicle systems, reporting malfunctions, hours of service rules, basic vehicle control skills, and maneuvers.

All of this should appear on your CDL exam, too.

2. Study Your State’s CDL Manual

Each state has a different CDL manual, so consult the one for your state. You can typically download the manual from the Department of Motor Vehicles website or pick up a paper copy from your local DMV.

Read the manual in its entirety first to give yourself a good overview of what will be on the test.

3. Identify Your CDL Knowledge Gaps

As you go through the manual, figure out what areas you struggle with and devise a plan to focus on those. Make yourself flashcards or find a study buddy for help reviewing the material.

4. Find a Good CDL Study Guide

A study guide can help break down the information. Several online resources offer free CDL study guides you can take advantage of.

For example, Union Test Prep provides study guides with information arranged by sections for efficient studying, and LineCentury has a free CDL test prep app you can download for study guides (found on the Mac App Store).

5. Take CDL Practice Tests

Once you have a good grasp of the material, take practice tests. These can help you get used to the kinds of questions on the CDL exam and continue to identify struggles.

Driving-tests.org offers free diagnostic and practice tests, and you can download your state’s manual through the site. DMV-permit-test.com offers free practice tests as well. You can take as many as you want and receive immediate feedback.

Use free time to go over a few practice questions as well as sit down to take full practice tests. The former can help you get in some quick study, while the latter could help you practice not just the test but get used to a testing-style environment.

6. Practice Good Study Habits

When studying, find a quiet, distraction-free place. Take breaks and have snacks to help you recharge.

Also, try to study when you’re alert. Studying while tired doesn’t let you retain information as well.

Use mnemonic devices like rhymes, songs, or interesting phrases to help you remember the material better. Some people learn best by taking and reviewing handwritten notes.

Consider asking friends or family to quiz you on the material as well.

7. Prepare for CDL Test Day

Be well-rested before the exam. Go to bed early to ensure a good night’s sleep. When you wake up, have a healthy and filling breakfast, so you have energy when taking the exam. Be sure to hydrate as well.

Consider employing a few test-taking strategies during the test. For instance, answer all the questions you know first. Don’t dwell too long on questions you aren’t sure of, as you can always skip them and return to them later.

Finally, pay attention to the clock while taking the exam and budget your time accordingly.

Carefully read each question before answering. Rushing through the exam may cost you. However, don’t overthink a question, as most CDL exam questions are straightforward.

Always follow your instincts and don’t change your first answer unless you’re positive it’s incorrect.

And answer all of the questions! You don’t get any penalties for making an educated guess.

Resources for CDL Test Preparation

  • Arizona Department of Transportation: Arizona DOT website’s CDL page contains information on tests and manuals and what you should study.
  • Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles: Nevada DMV’s CDL page has CDL handbooks and other materials to help you study.
  • OpenNewDoors YouTube Channel: This YouTube channel offers a video with 150 CDL practice exam questions and answers to help you understand what will be asked and to test yourself.
  • Roehl Transport, Inc.¬†YouTube Channel: This YouTube channel also offers a 2022 CDL practice exam with answers.
  • CDL Test Prep Genie: This app streamlines the studying process with thousands of state-specific practice questions and offers detailed explanations of questions you’ve missed.

Chances are, your state has a study guide on the state board website. The Arizona and Nevada ones above are just examples. Ask your trainers for guides, too.