First-hand experience and tips on how to pass a driving test, even if you are alien

fhwaAre you going to apply for your first American DL and looking for some useful tips on how to pass driving test in the USA? If you are a US citizen, who is born in the country, you are likely to be enrolled in one of driver education and training programs which are adopted in many states and developed to embrace young Americans straight from high schools. So, you may learn about how to pass your driving test being a teenager and you have a good chance to get your provisional driver license before you enter college.

As for me, I came to the USA having a student visa (F-1) and no DL from my own country, and I had no idea about how to pass a driving test in any state. Now I have the experience of obtaining DL in California and changing my license in New York, since I have been working there legally after I finished university. On my way to receiving the US driver license I collected much information about how to pass driving test and I am quite sure it will be useful for both US-citizens and aliens, especially for international students.


Where to Start?

Sure, start from visiting your local DMV web-site! Though some of them are poorly designed and aren’t user-friendly, usually they cover all basic requirements based on peculiarities of local legislation. Yes, one of the most complicating things about getting DLs in the USA is varying requirements in each state. When I am asked about how to pass a driving license exam, I have to ask back – which one?

For example, in states like Florida, Texas or California you can’t be accepted to the exam without completing a special online drugs/alcohol traffic awareness course, while in other states including New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, North and South Dakota you don’t have to complete such a course. A friend of mine went to New Jersey to get his DL without passing the road test – it turned out that in contrast with New York, there you can pass only the knowledge exam and skip the road test by showing your domestic DL (if you have one). So, there are really quite manypitfalls and peculiarities in DMV requirements in different states, not to mention the fact that the requirements may change over time – so make sure to check the information through the official website!

As for me, I was lucky to be over 18 by the time I have decided to get my first American DL, and thus, I didn’t need to complete any education and training courses for minors. But if you are younger, it is very likely that some kind of education courses is a must have for you. So, find a school approved by your state and enroll in it, since you will have to provide at least a certificate of enrollment to be accepted to your knowledge test.



The next step is to gather all papers required by your local DMV with account of you age and status. The basic list includes:

  • papers proving your birth of date and full name;
  • documents verifying your legal presence in the country;
  • SSN verification;
  • proofs of your California residency.

Since I was a student with F-1 visa at the time, I didn’t have social security number. It was necessary to provide a document proving that I didn’t need SSN, and I got a letter from my university authorities and then went to a local social security administration office, where they issued a necessary letter for DMV (stating that as an international student who was studying at a local university, I was not supposed to have a social security number, but they gave me permission to apply for a DL). As for other verifying papers, I submitted my international passport with I-94 form issued by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and I-20 form from the university, as well as my student card and health insurance card.

My friends, who were also alien, most often used their Green Cards, naturalization certificates, I-797 forms, DLs from their domestic counties, translated and notarized marriage or education certificates, lease agreements, utility bills and bank papers. If you are a US citizen, you will hardly have any problems with gathering documents, unless you are a minor. In this case, you need to get your legal guardian signatures on your DL application form prior to the knowledge test, and then you will need these signatures on each following step until you are of lawful age.

By the way, about the DL application forms: I am not sure about other states, but in California there are not available online, so you need to take the form from a local DMV office or to order it via the phone (they will mail the form to your address). I took the form in an office – it was faster way and I had a chance to look around prior to coming there for my exam.

Also, don’t forget that in many states you have to make an appointment for passing the tests, though in some offices walk-ins are accepted. But to be honest, I prefer the offices working by appointment, because I saw those long lines at DMV offices working on a first-come basis.

As for fees: unlike in many other states, where you cannot pay right on the spot and so you must bring some proof of payment along with the other documents, in California you are allowed to pay on the spot by:

  • cash
  • check
  • money order
  • ATM/debit cards

Also, Internet and over the phone transactions with MasterCard, Visa or e-check are accepted and you can send your $33 check or money order by mail. However, in other states there may be less payment options and you may be required to pay in advance (otherwise you won’t be admitted to the exam).


How to Pass DMV Permit Test?

Sure, collecting the documents is not the biggest of your problems compared to getting prepared to the exams. The task is much easier if you obtained a DL in your home country or completed some education and training course. I did neither the first nor the second, so I had to start from the very beginning – from learning the California Driver Handbook. I really read it from cover to cover (and found some useful information I couldn’t find on the DMV web-site), but, of course, I failed to remember all the traffic rules on the first try and I couldn’t quite understand how I was supposed to act in certain driving situations. As I found it rather boring to read the handbook all over again, I came across a with sample driving test and started to train for the knowledge test there.

In fact, the California Driver Handbookgives some samples of questions that are asked during the written exam, but there are too little of them and this helps only in general understanding what kind of questions may be asked. So, I truly recommend you to find any sample driving test with answers – not so much to memorize all the answers by heart, as to come to grips with those practical driving situations. A sample permit test will help you in checking your knowledge and you won’t need to learn the handbook almost entirely, because you will be able to focus on your weaknesses revealed during the preparation. And if the sample test is well designed, it is real fun to pass it, ticking off the multiple-choice answers, reading tips and explanations – this is much more exciting than perusing the handbook.

Well, I had my practice until I was able to make only 1 or 2 mistakes, but it is not necessary to sweat over the test, as you are allowed to give 30 correct answers out of 36. Note, that if you are under 18, you will be given 48 questions, while a passing score is 38 correct answers.

When I went to the nearest DMV office (which, as I heard, was less crowded at the same time), I brought the completed application form and verifying documents, gave them to a DMV official and then get my fingerprints scanned and my vision checked. Then I waited a little to have my photo taken and at last get my paper with test questions. In my DMV office there were no computer-based tests, so I was just standing in a screened off spot with a kind of high table and was ticking off answers using a yellow pen. First of all, I answered the questions I was sure about and then I took some time to think over the questions that were somewhat challenging. If you take a computer-based exam, you can skip some difficult questions and come back to them later. If you score the required number of correct answers, you won’t need to come back to those difficult questions at all.

I made 2 mistakes and passed the test quite quickly and easily. But if you fail, you have 3 chances to retake the test and I believe that it is just impossible toflunk out if a person got prepared with a sample knowledge test. If you are alien and your English isn’t good enough, you can fail just because you can’t understand the test questions, but in many states there are language options for passing the written exam. In California, the test is available in 34 languages and you can ask for an interpreter at no cost making an appointment through DMV staff. Since I was pretty confident in my English fluency, I didn’t use this option, but one of my friends did and passed the test, too.


How to Pass Your Driving Test?

After passing the written test, I got my learner’s permit and had to think about taking the road test. As I said, I had no DL from my own country; otherwise I would be able to drive all alone and to pass the behind-the-wheel test as soon as I could make an appointment. But in my case, I had to get some behind-the-wheel practice before moving to the road test and I was allowed to drive only under supervision. I had no problem with finding an eager-beaver among my fellow-students, but I did have many problems with obtaining the necessary skills. And yes, I had to rent a car, since my friends were pleased to offer their vehicles, while we were practicing on parking lots and deserted roads, but they quitted the habit when it came to city driving – and I can’t blame them. Anyhow, I needed an insured car for passing the road test, so I got one. In fact, thinking about how to pass your road test, don’t forget about DMV requirements for cars and their insurance, as you need to provide a corresponding proof of financial responsibility. But if for some reason you haven’t got your own car, you can rent it at a driving school, as well as you can get behind-the-wheel training there. But 8 hours of driver training usually costs about $500, so I’d better rely on friends and relatives.

Well, when I was ready to take the road exam, I made an appointment, went to a DMV site and provided:

  • my instruction permit;
  • a rental contract with my name in it and car insurance proof;
  • a friend who was a valid licensed driver and over 18;
  • a car with valid registration.

I don’t remember all details, but it seems like the most important thing in passing the exam is to look over your shoulder each time you make a maneuver and to park accurately. Also there were some lane changes, U-turns and crossing intersections, but this isn’t difficult, if you really practiced a lot. Though I made several small mistakes, I passed the test and soon got my DL by mail – and I wish you good luck, too!

augusta free press news