It’s important that you pass the general knowledge test to show that you have a full understanding of how to safely operate commercial vehicles. The U.S. government implemented a set of minimum standards to measure this in 1986 under the Federal Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act. The regulations require every state to test and verify that each CDL applicant is educated in safe commercial vehicle operation. Again, the general knowledge test is required by ALL CDL applicants regardless of what license type you are pursuing, so it’s essential you focus your efforts on studying for this exam.

What You Can Expect on the General Knowledge Test

Knowing what to expect on the test will help you prepare for it. The general knowledge test is a multiple-choice exam. You will take the test at your local DMV office either on a computer or on paper. No driving is involved in this part of obtaining your CDL. In most states, there’s no time limit for completing the exam, but you should confirm this with your local DMV.

Topics Covered on the Test

While preparing to get your CDL, you need to learn about basic commercial driving concepts because you will be questioned about them on the general knowledge test.

The details of the test differ from one state to another, but federal regulations mean that every state covers similar topics such as

  • accident and weigh station procedures;
  • alcohol and substance abuse or use;
  • emergency procedures;
  • fundamental controls, including braking, recovering and shifting;
  • hazard detection and evasion;
  • keeping proper distance and speed;
  • legal responsibilities and risks of distracted driving;
  • mandatory mileage limits and rest breaks;
  • night driving;
  • operating a commercial vehicle in various weather conditions;
  • performing vehicle inspections; and
  • railroad crossing regulations.

How to Prepare for the General Knowledge Test

Nobody wants to leave the DMV office empty handed, so it’s important to prepare for the test with the right study aids. Failing the exam not means only waiting three to five days to retake the test, but you may also have to pay to take the test again. Although some states allow you to take the test multiple times after paying the application fee once, others do not. This could become expensive quickly. We recommend a two-step system when preparing for the CDL exam.

CDL Manuals

To learn the commercial driving concepts that will be on the general knowledge test, you need a manual with all of the information. Each state has its own CDL manual, and you can get your own copy here. Make sure you read and study every section that is relevant to the CDL class you intend to hold.

Since each CDL class applies to certain vehicles, each section will give you the information you need to know about operating those vehicles. If you plan to drive a tractor-trailer truck, for example, you need to read the section for a Class A license.

However, driving some vehicles under certain circumstances may require you to read more than the section for your CDL class. If you want to drive a tour bus, for example, you need to know everything in the Class B section as well as the passenger subsection under Class C – Passenger.

CDL General Knowledge Practice Tests

Passing the general knowledge test is a challenge no matter how much you read and study. You will need to pass the test with a score of at least 80 percent, and the best way to succeed is to practice. Taking as many general knowledge practice tests as possible can significantly improve your chances of understanding and retaining what you have learned from the CDL manual.

Practice tests give you the not only the chance to familiarize yourself with the testing process but gain insight into the type of language your state uses as well. With these advantages, you can avoid surprises when you take the real test.

Important Test-Taking Strategies

Along with taking general knowledge practice tests, utilizing several test-taking strategies can help you pass the exam. Like with all tests, it’s important that you get a good night of sleep and eat a well-balanced meal before taking the exam. Take a look at these other strategies as well:

  • Arrive at the DMV with plenty of time to take the test.
  • Carefully read the directions.
  • Determine an answer to the questions before reading the options.
  • If you get stuck on a question, dismiss at least two options that you know are wrong to make it easier to determine the answer.
  • Don’t leave any questions blank even if you aren’t sure of the answer.

With minimal, low-cost training compared to other jobs, CDL holders can benefit from high-level job security, a competitive salary and seeing places they may not travel to on their own. Passing the general knowledge test can open the door to these possibilities for you as well.