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How to Ace the DMV Test

Acing the DMV test - Illustration by pratyaksa

You Can Ace the DMV Test – It Is This Simple!

Trying to pass a knowledge test is really stressful to most people. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much time they spend studying, reading the study guide or handbook and taking practice tests, it still remains difficult and frustrating. If you are in this situation, the idea of being able to ace such a test seems very distance.

But trust us – anyone can ace the test. It is all about determination and confidence.

Just imagine walking out of the DMV office with a perfect score, or maybe just one or two missed questions. You can actually do it. Just set your heart on having your learner’s permit on your first try. Then, follow the advice below.

Based on illustration by rangizzz

The Most Important Thing

The most important thing when studying for your instruction permit or full driver’s license is, of course, to become a safe driver. Too many young drivers forget this part. With school tests in fresh memory, they try to take shortcuts and focus solely on passing the exam – instead of really trying to learn.

We get two or three emails a week from users who want copies of the real test. Seeing the real test in advance will surely make you pass, but it will not make you a responsible and safe driver. Earning your driving privilege involves a learning process. The more you know and the more driving practice you have, the less likely you are to be involved in an accident.

Remember, if you are a teen, you are more likely than others to underestimate dangerous situations or not be able to recognize hazardous situations. It is simply a lack of experience. Which you can compensate with more and better knowledge.

Focusing on just passing the DMV exam and postponing the learning part until you are on the road and behind the wheel is not a good idea.

The First Major Mistake People Make

The first major mistake in studying for your permit is trying to memorize questions and answers. And why is this a mistake, you might ask? Well, research show that most people can’t really remember pairs of phrases when there is no true understanding behind. Such knowledge stays in memory for a short period of time and is harder to apply in real situations.

Like a soap bubble, it will quickly vanish again. Easy come, easy go.

Soap bubble - commons wikimedia - Alvesgaspar

What You Should Do Instead

Instead, you should look closely at every question on the practice test and give yourself a little more time to come up with the answer on your own. By challenging yourself to retrieve or generate answers, you can improve your understanding.

Then, look closely at all the choices. Understand the difference between should and must. “Should” is normally used to indicate something that is a safe practice. “Must” is used about law rules.

An example:

You should keep a safe following distance of at least 2-4 seconds, but you must signal at least 100 feet before turning.

Look for qualifiers like usually, often, frequently, and generally. They tend to be more open to different scenarios and make a statement true. Absolute words tend to work the opposite way; never, none, always, every, and only may indicate that a statement is false. But evaluate these words carefully. Words like never or always may be used to indicate actions required by law, like you must always come to a full stop at a stop sign.

A good study practice is to turn choices into questions. Ask such questions to yourself. Like, is it true that the use of a cell phone while driving is ALWAYS prohibited? It isn’t.

You should also ask yourself whether the choice you’re considering completely addresses the question. If the choice is only partly true or is true only under certain narrow conditions, then it’s probably not the right choice.

Be patient - DMV tests

The Second Major Mistake

Don’t focus too much on your score and don’t attempt the real DMV exam too soon. The quicker you try to master the content of the driver handbook, the quicker the knowledge will disappear afterwards.

While repetition is one key to make your learning easier, it is also important continually tune or adjust your understanding of laws and driving practices. You will most likely find that some of your previous understandings about rules of the road, signs, or signals were based on false assumptions. The older you are (even if you are an experienced driver), the harder these false assumptions stick in your mind.

Remember, laws change from time to time. So do safe driving recommendations.

Don’t Get Frustrated by Challenging Questions

If you start by making many errors on the permit practice test, don’t let that discourage you. In fact, learning becomes better if a practice test is arranged so that you make errors.

In most cases, you will remember things better and for a longer period of time, if tests are challenging.

While easy questions and good scores boost your confidence, they will not improve your learning.

There Are No Trick Questions

Questions or answers are never written to be deceptive.

If you feel that a question is a trick one, make sure you haven’t added your own information to it. It is best to avoid reading too much into the question and not limit it to a specific scenario in which the answer could be true. The worst thing you can do is start asking yourself “what if”.

All the information you need to answer it correctly is already in the question and/or the choices.

A question only becomes a trick question when the test taker lets it become one.

When You Miss a Question

For anything you miss on the practice tests, read the comments and restudy that section of the driver handbook. Then wait a few days and try to answer the questions again. Be aware of different wording. Questions may look the same, but they can be totally different from one test to another.

Misreading questions because they look familiar is a very common reason for failing both practice tests and the real DMV test.

This is why scrabbling notes and trying to memorize questions and answers isn’t always a successful method. Probably, contrary to what you once learned in school.

Pass rates -

Practice Scores to Aim for

The most common passing score on DMV exams in United States is 80 percent (read more about passing scores here). It means that you must answer 4 out of 5 questions correctly.

Passing a practice tests with a score of 80% does not mean you are ready for the real test. In fact, it shows that there are still large gaps to be filled.

Take a closer look at any questions you miss on the practice tests. They will give you valuable information on parts of the driver’s manual that you may have overlooked. This is the best way of improving your score on the next practice tests.

Being Ready

How do you know when you are ready?

When you feel that you know and understand all the answers, and just miss one or two questions on less important details (such as DUI penalties or DMV fees), you are probably ready.

The official DMV exam is always based on the information in the handbook or manual. You will not get any questions where the answer is not found in the manual. The same thing applies for our practice tests, even if we may stretch it a bit sometimes.

DMV instructors write questions with two things in mind:

  • Making sure you have studied the manual.
  • Making sure you understand laws and rules that important for your safety on the road.

A good example of the first, is questions about smoking in a vehicle with a minor present or abandoning an animal on a highway. These questions appear on the California DMV test, and you probably don’t pay too much attention to these laws when you read them in the handbook. That is why the DMV tests make sure you know them.

Examples of the second, are questions about headlights, following distances, safety belts, traffic signs, and signals.

Detailed questions about penalties, license restrictions, and other administrative numbers are not common, but they pop up on the tests in some states. Having a rough idea about those is usually enough. You should, as an example, know when a violation is a severe one or a just small fault.

About Mark
Problem solver. Entrepreneur. Music nerd. Traveler.


  1. @Mohammed: As described above – use both the handbook and the tests! Every single question on the real exam is based on the information in the handbook.

    You should not rely solely on the DMV practice tests.

  2. I am trying to study to get my permit what is the best way to study the book or practice tests some people tell me that there is nothing in the book that on the test

  3. Sadly, in MA, “having a rough idea about penalties, license restrictions, and administrative numbers” was not adequate. They seemed to make up over half of my daughter’s test~ she studied, and took MANY practice tests~ went in confident and came out blown away by the number of questions that had nothing to do with driving, and all about penalties (And moped questions? Why is that even on a driving permit test~ I’d expect that to be on the Motorcycle test…?). Very frustrating!

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