7 Reasons for Failing the CDL Tests And How to Avoid Them!

December 15, 2020

Trucking can be a great life for many people. Trucking also requires responsible people behind the wheel. That responsibility is checked in several ways, including the Federal and state mandated written and skills tests.

And some people fail them the first time.

Failure happens for a variety of reasons, even for the best potential truckers. Despite attendance at a great Washington state truck driving school and studying hard, some people miss key questions or make mistakes on the the skills tests.

Before you go in for testing, therefore, you should know some common reasons for failure--this list of 7 items may help you learn from others’ mistakes and pass on your first time.

1. You didn’t study enough

The written tests are not the most difficult tests in the world. But people who don’t pay enough attention in class and don’t commit to studying for them will do poorly.

For example, one question on the practice test Washington state makes available to potential CDL students asks you when you have pull over to let vehicles behind you pass your truck when on a two lane highway--it’s a situation determined by the number of vehicles following you. The answers given are 3, 5, and 7, and all sound reasonable based on driving.

The answer’s 3--which is not obvious.

So taking the tests with a casual attitude--and without paying attention to the details--can prevent you from getting the license.

Remember that in Washington state you may be taking a number of written tests (and we recommend taking as many as you can to keep your ability to get trucking jobs as open as possible). You’ll be looking at

  • The CDL General Knowledge test--for everyone.
  • The CDL Combination (Class A)--if you’re planning on tractor-trailers.
  • Air brakes
  • Double-triple rigs
  • Tank vehicles
  • Hazardous materials
  • Passenger
  • School bus

Paying attention in class at your Washington truck driving school, studying the manual, working with fellow students, and taking the tests seriously are all keys to passing the written tests.

The tests focus on a number of key details which you will need to know as a trucker. Some of those details you may be able to determine from your experience as a car driver, but others are based on the skills needed to drive a truck.

2. Keep your cool

Some people can psych themselves out of success because they let difficulties get to them. Every single new trucker will have difficulties during the training process--and they’ll all be in different areas.

Some may struggle with parts of the written test, and other with specific skills, such as backing up in a straight-line.

You will quickly learn what is toughest for you--but don’t panic.

Work with your instructor to find ways to get through the difficulties that you have--don’t worry about other folks’. Many schools will allow after-hours practice on their equipment--take advantage of that.

And stay relaxed when it comes time for the tests--both the written and skills tests. Some ways to relax before and during the test are:

  • Get a good night’s sleep the night before, and stop work 30 minutes before going to bed. Your head will be clearer.
  • Take the questions one at a time. Don’t worry about how many remain. This isn’t a timed test.
  • Close your eyes every once in a while and take a few deep breaths.
  • Visualize your happy place before you start each section of the tests.
  • Dress comfortably and appropriately. If you’re taking a skills test in colder weather, be warm, but make sure you have a full range of movement.

Visualization is an effective stress-reduction technique which you can take on the road with you. Sometimes recommended for people with anxiety attacks, it can be used by anyone in a stressful position--like truck driving.

Visualization exercises can be completed before and after your Hours of Service each day, as will as during break time during the middle of your HOS. They take perhaps 15 minutes to do.

  • Sit quietly--in the sleeper berth, or even at the table in the truck stop after eating.
  • Breathe slowly.
  • Close your eyes and imagine being at the beach, or in the mountains, or someplace tranquil calm and imagine the sights, sounds, and smells from that place
  • Let your face relax, as well as your throat.
  • Breathe through your nose.
  • After 15 minutes simply get up and slowly walk away.

3. Bring your A-Game to the skills test

The Washington state CDL manual outlines the contents of each part of the skills test, beginning with Chapter 11. The detailed outlines will provide you with the keys to success.

Each part of the skills test is detailed, but you will be able to practice each part of the skills test at your CDL training school. Most CDl training programs include numerous opportunities to practice each part.

The vehicle inspection test starts in the cab, and those goes around the vehicle in any order you wish--the manual goes through each step of the way, and your driving instructors will make sure you have plenty of chance to practice this test. Develop a routine, and know what you’re doing each step of the way, and practice it--at the driving range and at home.

The inspection test is really a question of memory. Work with your driving instructor to develop a script; you are able to set the order after the interior inspection.

If you have practiced your basic road skills, you should be fine for the test. The basic road skills are covered in Chapter 12 of the Manual. The examiner is not looking to trick you--you know you have to demonstrate your ability in the following skills:

  • Straight line backing
  • Offset Back/Right
  • Alley Dock

Your driving school in Washington State will help you practice all of these skills repeatedly.

The final test is the road test, and again, practice for this test is crucial. A number of crucial skills are tested, and not necessarily in any order. If a given situation--such as an RR crossing--isn’t possible in the test area, you will have to simulate one. Many examiners may treat your testing vehicle as if you’re carrying hazardous materials.

The road skills tested are covered in Chapter 13 of your manual. Your CDL driving school near Tacoma will work with you to practice all of them on their range and roads.

Remember that the road skills test will be conducted in English only. If English is a second language, use your time in school to practice--make sure you don’t fail for that reason only.

4. Work on the items which lead to automatic disqualification

There are a number of actions which will lead to an automatic failure on the Washington state CDL road tests. As part of your practice while you’re at your CDL training school, work to avoid any of them.

  • Always wear your seatbelt.
  • Don’t take dangerous actions, including stopping on RR tracks.
  • Don’t get into accidents (although you can’t control the other guy).
  • Don’t drive on a curb.
  • Don’t violate traffic laws--you can go up to 5 mph over the speed limit, but don’t rely on it--stay under the speed limit.
  • Come to super full stops at all red lights and stop signs.

These are basic parts of driving, but will lead to automatic failure if you violate them.

5. Leave your bad habits at home

You’re learning a completely new way of driving. A truck (or any commercial vehicle is not a car). We all develop habits while driving cars which will not work on a massive truck.

Don’t cut corners on winding roads, which you may do in your car. Be prepared to learn new ways to do things you’ve been doing, and play it safe and legal until you get the experience in the truck that you need.

And even then, be safe.

6. Practice backing. Again and again.

One frequent cause of points off the road skills test--or even failure--is bad backing skills. The rows of cones can seem narrower than the canyon on the Death Star.

The skills required for backing in both the basic road skills and road tests are basic to your job as a trucker. Don’t be ashamed to practice all backing maneuvers 150-200 times before you take the road tests. If your school allows use of the equipment outside of class time, take advantage of it.

Practice make not make perfect, but it sure makes you a lot better.

7. Get ready for your career by creating your own set pre-trip inspection routine.

You won’t be able to have a ‘cheat sheet’ or checklist in the pre-trip inspection test, but you will when you’re on your own in your truck driving career. After you have learned everything you need to know for the inspection--at your CDL training school in Tacoma--find the routine which seems comfortable for you, and stick to you.

On the vehicle, learn where things are different on one side compared to the other--because when things are the same, you only need to learn one set of items. (Just remember to do them on both sides).

Build the differences into your routine. Perhaps items which differ side to side can go first, or last--whatever you’re comfortable with. Just make sure it’s something which you can memorize.

Do the pre-trip inspection daily at school--multiple times, until you have it down pat. Once you pass the test, you can use your checklist freely--it would be a great item on your iPad or tablet.


(253) 448-5041


(253) 448-5041


Toro Trucking Academy

1321 109th Street E, Tacoma, WA 98445
4441 NE Crystal Lane, Portland, OR  97218
8601 S 218th Street, Kent, WA 98031