CDL Examiner Interview – Mark T.

Two hanging red traffic lights

The CDL Skills Test, which includes the road test and backing test, requires you to get behind the wheel of the truck to prove your ability. There’s no replacement for practice in the real world, but at, we’ve provided the next best thing.

Read our interviews with real CDL instructors to find out all about what they look for during the CDL Road and Skills Test. We also ask about the pre-trip inspection. Learn the most common mistakes, the best tips, and more.  Our questions start in bold.

What is the most common mistake that aspiring drivers make on the CDL Skills Test?

The most common mistakes made by testers include shifting issues and coasting too far. Students have trouble getting their gears, and miss a gear when they try to recover. There are all sorts of problems with coasting. Coasting through a turn is an automatic failure, as well as through a stop sign or yellow or red light.

Coasting would be truck is out of gear do to driver missing a shift.  So the truck is in neutral and coasting.  The is considered to be out of control.   Driver must be in the truck  at all times

Prior to arriving at the testing facility what should the prospective driver expect to happen and what mental preparation do you suggest?

Just relax! Most people fail the first time because they’re nervous. They know the material, but they do something silly. Just learn the material and perform.

What is something that jumps out at you that tells you the driver is prepared for the test before they ever climb in the vehicle?

They’re not nervous. Instead, the tester is confident, and ready to go and get it over with because s/he knows the test will not be an issue.

What is the one thing that a prospective driver should NEVER do?

Don’t ever take a chance. If you’re making a left turn and think you have to hurry to try to beat the other car, don’t rush. Be safe instead. If you do this and beat them, you got lucky, but if not, you can hurt someone, cause property damage, and will automatically fail. If you wait for the car to make the turn first, you’re safe and right every time.

When you have a driver who has made a mistake, do you take into account how fast they recover from it, or do you stop the test?

You take into account the situation and how quickly they recover. The severity of the mistake is important. If you’re stopped at a red light and stall the truck when getting ready to make the turn but don’t coast into the intersection, that’s fine. Start it up and continue, no problem. However, if you coasted over the red light or coasted into the turn, it’s an automatic failure. Again, shifting is very important. If you cannot recover, however, it’s considered an “unsafe act” as well, which is an automatic failure.

Which mistakes are those which would make you stop the test? Which mistakes will you grade on a “lesser scale” than others?

Hitting a curb with any part of the truck is an automatic failure. So is running a railroad crossing with the lights on, running stop signs, failure to use turn indicators in intersections, etc. Anything that is considered an illegal, unsafe act is an automatic failure.

Actions that would only cost you some points include stalling the truck behind a stop line and not using turn indicators for a lane change with no traffic around. It really depends on if the mistake counts as an “unsafe act”.

Do you vary the course which you test; or could the student practice the test course and successfully pass the test if they fail the first time.

The courses vary. Each must be approved by the state, and most locations have 5-6 courses. Some things a course must have include 4 lefts turns, 4 right turns, merges to and from the interstate, some highway driving, and railroad crossings (school zones are not required). They can have a two-lane road, but at some point the course must have a lane change as well.

When the student starts their “walk around” pre-trip inspection, do you ever give any verbal cues to indicate they have missed something?

Simply, no.

If a student is extremely nervous, do you account for that in any way?

No, however, you are allowed to probe. If the student mentions a part during the inspection, you can ask: “is there anything else?” If the tester is extremely nervous, I may tell him to relax and breathe and can compliment him on a portion of the test well done, but I can’t be a cheerleader.

When it comes to the actual evaluation, nervousness has no bearing on points or whether the tester passes or fails. If you’re nervous and mess up, you fail. If you’re nervous and perform great, you pass, though the latter is not as common.

How do you tell a student that they lack the knowledge to continue and they need to retake the CDL Skills Test?

I simply let the tester know that s/he did not score enough points. On the pre-trip inspection, only so many points can be missed. Wherever you fail, that’s where the test ends. Some states actually pick back up from where you failed last time. You have to retest within a week in those cases if I remember correctly, but it varies by state and it’s best to look into your state’s specifics.

Have testers ever failed anyone for anything other than the information on the pre-trip inspection?

Failure to use three points of contact when getting in and out of the truck is pretty much the only one I can think of.

What is the most satisfying testing experience you’ve experienced? Why?

When you have tested the person once or twice and each time they improve and they finally come back and you know that it’s just changed their life tremendously. They’re usually the most complimentary ones. They thank me but I tell them that they’re welcome but they did all the work. It’s really nice to see someone work hard and succeed. I hope they will continue and get with the right company, because their first can make or break them. It sucks to see a 40-50 year old man cry because he failed the test. He’s not crying for himself: he doesn’t know how to tell his wife and kids.

If you had to pick one thing to tell prospective drivers prior to coming to test, what would it be?

Be prepared. The pre-trip and airbrake test are two trouble areas with most. That’s nothing but book studying. You can make mistakes because you’re nervous, but if someone fails the pre-trip or airbrake test, it’s generally because they didn’t put any effort into it. For those people, when you tell them they’ve failed, you don’t really feel sorry. You HAVE to put the effort into learning the easiest parts if you want to succeed at the rest.

When you complete the test and you tell the student they’ve passed, what is the typical response?

They say thank you, and are very happy. Some want to shake your hand, and some are emotional and want to give you a hug. Many ladies and even some guys will start crying out of happiness. A long 6 weeks to 3 months of studying has finally paid off for them. They get a fantastic relief that now they at least have a shot.

What should students expect after the CDL Skills Test?

As far as the next phase in their driving career, they have to find the company that will take new drivers, and it’s very important to make an educated and correct choice. The first year or two in the trucking industry will determine your career.

Most places don’t hire new drivers without a minimum of two years experience. Any company looking at a driver record with two years experience and no accidents will hire you. You’re at the top of the pool of applicants then, and that’s what you want. One year with an accident? Plenty of those. Whatever’s going on in your life now might change in two years.

If you have two years of safe driving, you get to pick what you want to do. If you’re not the best, you’ll have to make it work if you continue driving and will have to adjust to the company instead of vice versa.

How long have you driven a truck prior to becoming a tester? Is that average for other testers?

I have driven for over 30 years prior to being a tester. It’s not the average; they try to get as many years of driving as possible, as well as a good record, because they want people who understand how to drive a truck. The average is from 15-20 years. A few testers have 10 years and lots of 30 years too.

 What made you decide to become a DMV CDL Tester?

I like working with new drivers, and in all honesty, it’s profitable too. In a day’s time if you have 5 tests at $100 each, that’s $500 a day.

Have you ever passed someone that you felt would not make a good truck driver and later that “gut feeling” proved correct?

We don’t get follow-ups from drivers. I would never pass someone that I thought was not safe. Even if the points are good, you can still fail them as an examiner if you feel they are unsafe. I usually don’t have to do that though because if they’re that unsafe, they probably did an automatic fail already anyway.

What is most challenging for testers in the Basic Control Skills portion of the test? 

 Shifting gears in manual transmission.

 Top 3 things that people fail on the pre-trip.  And why.

Fifth-wheel components, braking issues, and airbrake test. Some people just don’t know their parts. As for the brakes, it’s 5 points per brake, that’s 15 points total, which is a lot. On the airbrake test, people usually get wrong numbers or do it out of order.

Top 3 they fail the most (or make the most mistakes) on the road test.  And why.

Shifting, turns, and rushing. Shifting because it’s a skill you have to be proficient with, turns because they usually hit a curb because they don’t have spatial awareness of the trailer, and rushing because they just do. Something like not stopping after the light turned yellow (which will turn to red before you’re able to completely clear the intersection) will impede traffic and be considered an unsafe act.


About The Author
Contributor: Mark T. (Examiner with the DMV for 5+ years.), Martina Szabo (Writer, traveled OTR, and helped Schneider redesign their training yard).