Before you can get behind the wheel of a truck, you first need to get a state CDL Permit. To obtain a permit, you’ll have to pass the General Knowledge Written Exam with a score of at least 80%. Usually, the permit (as well as the CDL) will have to be issued in the state that the school you attend is located (if you do go to a school). Then, when you go back home (if your school is in a different state from your home), you’ll have to transfer your license to your home state.
Your permit authorizes you to drive a truck as long a CDL-licensed driver is in the passenger seat, which is what will happen at your school. The permit usually expires after 6 months, and some states may limit the amount of times you obtain a permit without then obtaining your CDL license. Once you obtain your CDL permit, you’ll need to take several other written exams, which your school should prepare you for.
Written Tests to Get Your Class A CDL
- General knowledge test. You will need to take this test in order to get your CDL permit. This test must be taken by all CDL applicants.
- Air brakes test. Knowledge about the air-brake system and operating an air-braked vehicle. If you’re going to be driving vehicles which have air brakes, you must take this test.
- Combination vehicle test. Knowledge about driving combination vehicles.This test must be taken by all class A CDL applicants, or those who will drive tractor trailer or tractor semi-trailer combinations.
Note: It’s also a good idea to also take the optional tests to obtain additional endorsements. This will ensure that you’ll have all the endorsements authorizing you to drive that type of equipment and be prepared for any possible carrier requirements, or opportunities for better pay, etc..
- Hazardous materials test. If you’re going to haul loads which have enough hazardous materials to require placards, then you must take this test. For most people, this is the most difficult test, and in most states, you must re-take the test every time you transfer, or renew your license.
- Tanker Vehicles test. If you’re going to haul tankers which hold liquid or gas, you must take this test.
- Doubles/Triples test. If you’re going to pull double and/or triple trailer combinations, you must take this test.
Skills Tests to Get Your Class A CDL
After you’ve finished your training, you must take these driving skills exams which are administered by the state, or an authorized third-party tester.
- Skills and driving test: Included are shifting, forward maneuvering, and several backing maneuvers. Part of the test takes place on a closed testing range and part on the public roads.
- Pre-trip inspection: This is usually just a verbal test you do in the presence of the tester inside/outside of the truck. You’re required to discuss the entire pre-trip inspection procedure.
Note: Many truck driving schools will help you prepare to take and pass the tests through a CDL Preparation Course. But some schools expect you to study and get your permit on your own. Others do help you prepare somewhat, but only provide the bare minimum of preparation.