How To Study for a CDL Test To Earn a Passing Score

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated July 25, 2022 | Published May 25, 2021

Updated July 25, 2022

Published May 25, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many jobs require you to have a commercial driver's license (CDL), such as school bus drivers or equipment operators. If you want to pursue these careers, it’s important to know how to study for a CDL test so you can pass the exam. Understanding various study methods can help you earn a passing score on the test so you can meet certain job requirements.

In this article, we explain what a CDL test is, describe how to study for a CDL test and list jobs that require you to have a CDL to help you explore your career options. 

What is a CDL test?

A CDL test is an exam you take to earn your commercial driver’s license. This license allows you to operate large commercial vehicles and buses on public roadways. Most states require you to pass a written exam and a driving test to earn your CDL. There are different types of commercial driver’s licenses, which may require additional exams. For example, if you plan to transport hazardous materials, you may be required to take a specific exam for this endorsement.

Related: 17 Types of Jobs That May Require a CDL License

How to study for a CDL test

As with any test, it's important to implement various study strategies to prepare effectively for a CDL exam. Use these tips to study for a CDL test:

1. Plan ahead

Set a day to take your CDL test and start studying in advance so you're fully prepared on the day of the exam. Some states require you to take a training course to help you prepare. If your state doesn't, you can still sign up for an online or in-person course to help you learn the material. Research different programs that offer this training course and select the one that works best for you. Beginning your CDL studies early can help you feel more confident about getting a passing score.

Related: FAQ: Do You Need To Take a Class To Get Your CDL?

2. Know what to study

Before you study, determine the exact material you're expected to know for the CDL test. Review the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) CDL study guide for your state. The study guide separates the test into different sections based on the CDL manual. Take notes on key concepts in the guide to help you study. Some of the general elements covered in the CDL DMV handbooks include:

  • Combination vehicles

  • Air brakes

  • Transporting cargo and passengers

  • Transporting hazardous and flammable content

  • Tank vehicles

  • On-road driving exam

  • Applying for a CDL

  • Towing trailers

Based on the CDL you're pursuing, you may also want to study specific topics, such as hazardous materials or school bus driving. Focus on your weak areas to help improve your confidence in those subjects.

Related: How To Apply for a Commercial Driver License (CDL)

3. Take a diagnostic test

Consider taking a diagnostic test to determine the information you already know. A diagnostic test can help you identify areas where you can improve to help you focus your study time more efficiently. Some websites let you take a free general knowledge practice exam for your state. Taking a diagnostic exam also provides insight into what to expect on the day of the CDL exam.

Related: 11 Test-Taking Strategies To Help You Prepare for an Exam

4. Gather your CDL study materials

Compile all the notes from your reading and graded practice tests for every study session. These materials may include your CDL manual, a study sheet and a CDL test prep book. Having all of your study materials together makes for a more efficient study session with plenty of resources and materials for you to use.

Related: How To Study Effectively: 22 of the Best Study Tips

5. Use flashcards

Use flashcards to test your knowledge on specific subjects. You can make your own flashcards or find a website or app to download them. Consider making flashcards for subject areas where you want to improve your knowledge. If you make your own flashcards, you can test yourself on the material or have a friend or family member ask you the questions on the flashcards. The more time you spend practicing with your flashcards, the more prepared you may feel for your CDL exam.

Related: 26 Memorization Strategies

6. Consult with others

Sharing knowledge and ideas with other students can help improve your skills and expertise. Join different study groups or forums with other prospective test takers, whether online or in person. Consulting with others can help you brainstorm and provide ideas on how best to answer specific types of CDL questions.

You can also consult with other people who've taken the test. Consider asking them what to expect and what study methods worked for them. Their firsthand experience provides additional insight that can help you prepare for your own test day. If you don't know anyone to ask, solicit advice from other commercial drivers through online forums and message boards.

5 jobs that require a CDL test

Earning a CDL can present you with many career opportunities in the workforce. Knowing what jobs require a CDL test can help you meet the job requirements for those positions. Here are five jobs that typically require a CDL. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, visit indeed.com/salaries.


1. Bus driver

National average salary:$41,530 per year

Primary duties: A bus driver transports people to a particular destination via a designated route. They pick up and transport passengers to certain locations and assist passengers with disabilities when they board the bus. They obey traffic laws and regulations to transport occupants safely to their destinations.


2. Highway maintenance technician

National average salary:$48,516 per year

Primary duties: Highway maintenance technicians maintain, repair and clean highways. They remove snow and ice from highways, repair and install traffic signs and pavement markings and comply with all safety rules, policies and procedures. Highway maintenance technicians also move supplies and materials, perform preventative maintenance and respond to public inquiries.


3. Construction equipment operator

National average salary:$49,303 per year

Primary duties: Construction equipment operators maneuver heavy materials at a construction site. They clean, maintain and control equipment, inform crew members of machine actions using different signals and drive equipment. They report malfunctioning equipment to their manager to ensure a safe working environment.

4. Dispatcher

National average salary:$61,678 per year

Primary duties: Dispatchers receive messages and arrange for other personnel and vehicles to complete a service. They receive and record both non-emergency and emergency calls, address issues, provide solutions and receive dispatch orders. They schedule and dispatch drivers to coordinate efficient routes for on-time deliveries.

Related: Learn About Being a Dispatcher

5. Truck driver

National average salary: $81,148 per year

Primary duties: Truck drivers transport goods and raw materials by driving a truck to and from distribution centers and manufacturing plants. They drive and operate a truck, load and unload cargo, refuel the truck, follow traffic laws and record cargo deliveries. They inspect their truck to ensure it’s operating safely and complete paperwork to document their routes.

Related: Learn About Being a Truck Driver

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