What Should I Expect from the CDL Exam?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 09 January 2019
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A commercial driver's license (CDL) is needed in the United States for drivers who wish to operate vehicles over 26,001 pounds (11,793 kilograms), or vehicles used for transport of 16 or more people, tanks, or hazardous materials. A licensing scheme was developed for commercial drivers in the United States to respond to concerns about safety, and to ensure that all commercial drivers were fully qualified. In order to get the license, it is necessary to pass the CDL exam.

There are several components to the CDL exam. The first is a written knowledge test with at least 30 questions. Test takers are required to get at least 80% of the answers correct to pass the written test. Then, the driver must make an appointment for a skills test, in which he or she has an opportunity to demonstrate skills in front of an examiner. The driver must successfully complete all tasks on the skills test to obtain a CDL.

The specifics of the CDL exam vary, in part, because there are different classes and endorsements available. There are three classes, A, B, and C, divided by weight, passengers, and towing limits. People can also obtain endorsements to handle passengers, drive tanker trucks, or handle hazardous materials. Every endorsement requires satisfactory demonstration of relevant knowledge.


School for commercial drivers can prepare people for both the written and skills test, in addition to providing experience driving large vehicles in a variety of situations. The written test primarily tests knowledge of the rules of the road, specific safety issues, and other topics which are designed to determine whether or not drivers are familiar with regulations and safe driving practices. The multiple choice exam gives drivers several answers to choose from for each question, asking people to select the best answer.

The skills aspect of the CDL exam requires the driver to successfully operate a vehicle of the type covered by the commercial driver's license. The vehicle must be in safe operating condition, and is often loaned to a driver by a driving school. In addition to taking the skills CDL exam through a government official, it is also sometimes possible to take the test through a third party certified by the government to test commercial drivers.

By the time someone is ready for the test, she or he is usually well prepared to pass it. If someone fails the CDL exam, it can be retaken, usually after a waiting period has expired. Some activities on the skills test are grounds for automatic failure, including unsafe operation of the vehicle, failure to follow directions, and any type of collision.



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