This is Why You Failed Your DMV Exam

Disappointed - Copyright: Yael Weiss

Will You Fail Your DMV Exam?

Even if numbers vary across states, it is common that one out of three fail the written DMV exam on their first attempt. Nothing strange, since all of us aren’t good at written theory tests.

Does this mean you should fret the knowledge test and assume that you don’t have chance to pass? The answer is no. Researchers are very clear over the reasons why students don’t pass on their first attempt. There are some important steps you can take to avoid failure and give yourself an edge over your peers.

Don’t Skip the Driver’s Manual

This is no doubt the most boring part. Some websites tell you that you should just scan through the pages, jot down any specific information, and then rely on practice tests. Nothing could be more wrong.

An overwhelming majority of those who fail, did not read the driver’s manual or didn’t spend enough time with it. The reasons why they didn’t read are many, but facts are clear. Your best friend during your studies is the manual or handbook.

This does not mean you should read everything from first page to last. At least not in one chunk. Start by getting an overview. Try to identify the most important chapters. Look for bolded or emphasized information. Look for “dos and don’ts”.

You should not try to memorize stopping distances or any other similar numbers at this point. Don’t start by “jotting down” numbers. It is often a waste of time.

Take a Practice Test or Two

By taking a practice test or two, you will get a feel for what questions will look like and what information in the handbook that could be relevant for the test. Even if all information in the handbook is there for a reason, some items are more likely to show up on a DMV exam.

Take a Practice Test

If you don’t reach the passing score, don’t let that disappoint you. The practice test is your second-best friend. By challenging you with difficult questions, it helps you learn.

Keep your driver handbook handy and look up answers when you take a practice test. Read the corresponding information in the handbook. Focus on why this rule or safe driving practice is in place.

If you truly understand the answer, there is no need for writing it down or trying to memorize it. Most researchers agree that reasoning or discussing answers is your best way of remembering. It is known as active learning.

The more practice tests you take during your preparation, the less likely you are to run into something you haven’t seen before on the day of the real DMV exam.

How to Study for DMV Exam - Copyright: Licenseroute.com

[ More useful tips about the written DMV test: 7 Important Reminders for the DMV Written Test, CA DMV Fast Facts ]

Remembering Signs and Signals

It is the same thing with traffic signs. In some states, signs make up a large portion of the test, in other states you will only see a handful of such questions. In either case, you should spend a session with just signs (follow this link to a good website for testing your knowledge on just traffic signs: quizagogo.com – road signs).

Most Common Traffic Signs - Copyright: Quizagogo.com

You will probably make less mistakes on questions about road signs, than on any other questions. They are usually considered the easiest part on the test.

You may be asked about the “name” of the sign, but more likely you will be asked what you should do when you see a specific sign.

Once you learned to “read” traffic signs by understanding how symbols are used, you will have no problems with names. It is also important to figure out where certain traffic signs are placed on the highway and why. Visualization helps!

Colors and shapes give you a hint to how a sign should be interpreted. Don’t skip this part, even if it seems that you won’t have any use for it.

A last hint: be aware of the divided highway signs on the test. They are a common pitfall on the written test and easy to get mixed-up: Divided Highway



Your Attitude Counts

There is a well-established relationship between knowledge and performance. With a good portion of knowledge, you will simply be a better driver. It doesn’t mean that good knowledge necessary helps you to stay out of trouble on the road. In fact, the score on the knowledge test seems to have very little to do with involvement in traffic crashes.

Instead, researchers found that the personality trait of being thorough, careful, or vigilant is a better predictor of safe drivers.

DMV tests in United States have been relatively unchanged for decades. You could argue that they have been deeply rooted in the belief that good scores on the knowledge tests make roads safer. This is about to change.

In other countries, driver’s license tests have already shifted towards attitudes and hazard perception. Even if United States is a very conservative country, we should expect to see such a change here as well.

As an example, California still asks you about the legal limit of .08 percent, other states put more focus on what you should do if you have been drinking.

Do you see the difference between these two approaches?

Students who fail their DMV exam often focus on the first kind of facts (.08 limit) and ignore the fact that even one drink may alter your driving skills.

Remember, your attitudes and knowledge about alcohol, drugs, and seat belts are very likely to be on the test in most states.

Big Picture -  Copyright: Samantha Craddock

Do You See the Big Picture?

Derek Thompson, a retired driver instructor, explained it this way: “Many teenagers today don’t get the most important message of all: driving is a privilege, not a right. They only focus on their written exam, and lose the big picture.” (source: Are Online DMV Practice Tests Evil – driversprep.com)

You take lots of practice tests here, because you know it will help you pass the real DMV exam. Try to shift focus. Practice tests actually help you learn, and they work better than most studying techniques. Remember, you want to learn for life, not just the DMV exam.

Being courteous on the road is not just a phrase. It is your way of driving for the rest of your life. Give up your right-of-way anytime it helps traffic to flow smoothly. Don’t get annoyed by other drivers. We all make mistakes. In other words, respect other drivers at all times, even if you don’t like what they are doing.

Once you understand that safe driving is not just a bullet-list that you should learn for your exam, you are almost there!



What is Most Important?

Now, for the last push and last reminder! Both the driver’s manual and your practice tests at licenseroute.com have information about laws that are specific to your state. They are important. You must know them when you are behind the wheel and you must know them for your written exam.

Local laws are enacted because they address specific problems that may be more common in your state than elsewhere. So, DMV probably wants to make sure you know them.

If you need to “jot down” something for your exam, you should make a list of the items you think are most likely to show up on your exam. Order them from most important, to least important. Make sure local laws are on the list.

If you can do this with ease and without consulting the driver handbook, you are ready for your exam.

Good Luck!


Illustrations: Big Picture: Samantha Craddock, Traffic signs: Quiz-A-Go-Go, and Disappointed: Yael Weiss

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