What Do I Need to Know for my CDL Exam?

The first step in your journey as a truck driver is to earn your commercial driver’s license (CDL). Having a Class A CDL is a necessity for driving a semi-truck, and knowing how the exam operates is a key part of your CDL test prep.

The CDL exam includes three portions of the test that one must pass: a pre-inspection test, a backing test and a road skills test. These three tests work together to ensure that you can properly navigate a tractor-trailer on the open road.

The specifics of the exam vary from state to state, but any test that you take will include these three portions. Be sure to know your state’s standards and rules before taking any exam. You will also be required to have had your commercial learner’s permit (CLP) for at least 14 days before taking your CDL exam.

Ready to dive in? Let’s go over the three sections of the CDL exam and the requirements for passing.

Pre-trip inspection test

Being able to perform a pre-trip inspection shows that the driver can identify parts of the truck and know how they operate. The CDL inspection test also ensures that the truck is up to all current safety standards and can be driven without issue.

When taking your pre-trip inspection test, you’ll be asked to do several tasks:

  • Checking for leaks under your truck
  • Verifying brakes are in good condition
  • Examining fluid levels under the hood
  • Checking that all lights are operating
  • Inspecting tires for condition and tread depth

Some states will allow for a “cheat sheet” for the CDL inspection test, which can include a list of the parts of the truck you may be tested on. Even though you may be allowed this support, you should still have a clear understanding of how to perform a pre-trip inspection.

Backing test

The next portion of the test will go over proper backing technique. In a semi-truck, backing up can be one of the hardest skills to gain. Even experienced truck drivers still struggle with some tricky backing up maneuvers. For this part of the test, you’ll be asked to perform several backups with cones placed around the permissible zone.

There are four backing up techniques you should know for your CDL exam:

  • Straight line backing. Straight line backing is exactly what it sounds like: you’ll be required to back up in a straight line. You may also be required to drive forward some during this maneuver.
  • Alley docking. This backing technique is done by pulling forward and then backing into a spot that is at a 90 degree angle to the truck. While this is certainly a more difficult maneuver, it is important to know how to do properly for deliveries.
  • Offset backing. Another fairly straightforward kind of backing, offset backing involves backing into a lane that is diagonal to you. You may have to complete this for both the right and left side.
  • Parallel parking. Just as you would do in any other vehicle test, parallel parking involves backing into a spot between two vehicles without hitting or causing damage. This may also necessitate being done for both the left and right sides of the road.

You don’t have to worry about doing these perfectly without any help, though. In fact, you’re allowed several chances to fix up your parking job. Check with your state to see your rules about allowing pull-ups or get-out-and-looks (GOALs) for each backing maneuver. This can help you have a bit more peace of mind when taking your test.

Road skills test

In many ways, the road skills test is similar to what you have taken during a regular vehicle driving test. You will be asked to complete some of the same basic tasks, only this time it will be in a semi-truck.

For your CDL driving test, you must be able to:

  • Properly signal
  • Enter an intersection
  • Pass properly
  • Observe all speed limits
  • Use the correct right of way
  • Make safe turns

Minor errors like missing a shift won’t necessarily mean that you have failed the test. If an error is more extreme, like running a red light or hitting a curb from a too-wide turn, you may have to retake the test.

Your CDL driving test may not go perfectly, but that’s okay! While on the road, you’ll continue to hone your skills and practice to become an even better driver than you are today.


Gaining the skills needed to pass your CDL doesn’t need to be expensive. Apply for Prime’s Student Driver Training Program and learn everything you need to know to pass the CDL Exam through hands-on training, with a job guarantee upon completion of the program. You only pay an entry fee of $100 plus permit fees to start, and you do not pay anything else for training as long as you drive for Prime with your CDL for one year.

Still have questions about earning your CDL? Contact us today and we’ll put you in contact with a recruiter who can get you ready for life on the road.

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