It’s a trucker’s worst nightmare: failing the CDL Exam. When you’re talking about passing the written portion, that’s the easy part: it’s all a bunch of regulations and rules that you can study in your spare time.

But the driving portion of the exam can give you fits. What if your truck malfunctions? What if you forget the rules, or focus on obeying them so much that you make a mistake? How will you ever get your commercial driver’s license?

First of all, calm down; it’s not as bad as you think. Building a bunch of pretest anxiety is only going to hurt your chances. Just focus on what you have learned both in the classroom environment and in the truck. That’s what you’re there for, after all; I you’ve gotten to this point, you obviously have spent some time in the truck, hopefully enough to earn a CDL and develop the skill necessary for a long, prosperous career in the cab of a big rig.

And that calmness is going to be your biggest ally, keeping you from making a hasty or careless mistake as a result of your overeagerness. Many of us suffer from test anxiety; keep it in mind that is in your head, and is something you (mostly) have control over. Keep your mind focused on the task at hand rather than the consequences of not doing something correctly.

Trucking Truth writer Brett Aquila says it best in his article on passing the CDL exam: “It feels like your life, your career, your everything depends upon whether or not you can pass this exam and get your CDL,” he wrote. “And the CDL Examiners want it that way. They want to see if you can handle the pressure. Will you freeze up when someone is critiquing your driving? Will you panic if you miss a shift?” The lesson? Remain as calm as possible.

Try to avoid getting flustered or intimidated. Try to maintain the attitude that you belong here and stay confident in that fact as much as possible. If you make a small mistake, don’t dwell on it; instead, work to avoid another. Compounding errors will only make things worse for you.

While it may seem a bit too obvious, the next key to not bombing the exam is to avoid mistakes that could result in an automatic fail. These are safety hazard-type mistakes that can lead to accidents on the road. Things like running a red light, getting involved in an accident, or failing to signal when changing lanes or making a turn. But there are other errors that can be considered auto fails by your driving instructor. Things like

  • Hitting a curb
  • Rolling backward from a stop
  • Not checking mirrors properly before changing lanes.

The easy response to avoiding these types of catastrophic lapses is to be on your A game, but that’s exactly what you need to do. Keep yourself sharp, and have a good driving routine established. Create a mental checklist of things to do while driving in order to keep yourself moving in the right direction, or whatever you need to ensure you don’t skip a step.

Another consideration is making what Aquila calls “acceptable mistakes.” That is, making smaller, more common mistakes like missing gears, or those that err on the side of caution. For instance, taking a turn that is slightly too wide as opposed to taking it too narrowly and risking hitting a curb. The key to surviving those mistakes is not being flustered and repeating it, or making others.

Have you gotten the picture yet? The overall moral to this story is to rely on your driving skills, don’t put too much pressure on yourself, and let nature run its course. Remember that you can do it!