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What is Involved in a Driver's Test?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 23, 2024
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In the United States there are two types of driver's tests: a written test and a skill test. The prospective driver must first pass a written driver's test to receive a restricted license, or learner's permit. After a period of time the driver can take the skill test. Upon passing the skill test, an actual driver's license is issued. In some states, the driver must periodically take a written driver's test from that point forward in order to keep the driver's license current.

A written driver's test is designed to ensure the prospective driver is knowledgeable about the rules of the road. Questions vary and tests change periodically to circumvent cheating, but a free study booklet is always available from the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). All tests are based upon information contained in the booklet.

Material in the study booklet covers such diverse rules as when to engage a turn indicator; speed limits in construction and school zones; what to do when approaching a stopped school bus with blinking lights; right-of-way courtesy; reading road signs; and how to change lanes or pass properly. People often remark that questions are “tricky” or worded ambiguously. Fortunately, there is no time limit on the driver's test, so take your time and read the questions carefully before answering.

The written driver's test is a multiple-choice test. Often more than one answer seems plausible, in which case the best answer should be chosen. After completing the driver's test the applicant turns it in and waits while it is graded. A passing grade will either merit a learner's permit or renewal of a driver's license. A failing grade will necessitate the applicant take the test again at a later date.

Upon receiving a learner's permit, the holder can drive a vehicle as long as an experienced, licensed driver is present. If the new driver is a minor, parental permission is also required. Laws vary from state to state, but generally a minor must hold a learner's permit for a period of six months before being eligible for a driver's license. Adults might be eligible in as little as three weeks.

Once eligible, a final driver's test is required: a test of skill. A parent might accompany a child to the DMV in the family car. The parent (or friend) waits at the DMV while a DMV agent rides along with the applicant for the driver's test. The DMV agent will direct the driver to take certain roads and perform certain maneuvers. The agent will observe the applicant's knowledge of the car's operational functions, awareness of the road, and driving skills. This driver's test commonly takes 15-20 minutes.

If the applicant passes the skill test, a driver's license can be issued. Normally a person who keeps his or her driver's license current throughout life does not have to take a skill test again. Every few years a written driver's test may be required in order to renew the driver's license.

DMV offices are very often crowded. It is a good idea to make an appointment to take a driver's test, and save yourself unnecessary waiting. If you plan to take a written driver's test be sure to pick up a study booklet at least a few days ahead of time. This should give you plenty of time to study. Tests are offered in various languages and you can re-take a driver's test (written or skill) as often as is necessary to pass.

WikiMotors is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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