Failing the Written License Exam

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It's no secret that the written driver's test can be tough no matter what state you live in. But why exactly do student drivers fail the written exam? Here are some possible reasons, as well as suggestions on how to prepare properly for the test.

Reason #1: Reading Instead of Studying

As you likely know, the questions on the written exam are based on your state's driver's manual. The mistake that most student drivers make is simply reading the manual over once or twice before the test, instead of actually studying it.

Since you'll need to have a clear understanding of all the rules and regulations of the road in order to receive a passing score, it's often best to avoid passive learning. A few tips you should use include:

  • Make flash cards and have a family member or friend quiz you.
    • This is especially helpful for road signs and laws.
  • Highlight and underline important sections.
  • Take notes as you read.
  • Review sections you don't understand.
  • Summarize the material on a separate sheet of paper to gauge your level of understanding.

Reason #2: The Exam Format

Walking into an exam not knowing what to expect can be a recipe for disaster. A few of the common reasons the format of the written driving test could be problematic include:

  • Timed questions.
    • In some states, each question may have a maximum time in which you are required to answer the question—this is especially pertinent for computerized exams.
  • Scenario-based questions.
    • These exam questions are designed to test your level of comprehension. If you've only read the manual and not studied it in detail, these questions may cause confusion.
    • Similarly, if you've simply memorized the scenarios provided in your manual rather than deeply understanding their application, you may not be able to make the correlation to the different scenarios written on your test.
  • The passing percentage.
    • Most students that take the written exam aren't aware of exactly how many questions they're allowed to miss. This can lead to either a false sense of security, or conversely, a detrimentally high stress level.

Reason #3: Cramming Too Fast

Students who are nervous about passing a test often result to studying for long hours the day prior to the test. This is usually not recommended because:

  • You'll be sleep deprived.
    • Lack of sleep can affect your memory.
  • It'll be harder to concentrate.
    • Attempting to remember massive amounts of information you've just learned can make concentration on each individual question more difficult.
  • You won't retain the information as well.
    • Cramming may help your short-term memory, but under stress, you'll be more likely to forget what you've studied.
    • Learning the information in the weeks prior to the exam instead of attempting to memorize the manual in a short amount of time will result in less stress and a better score.

Reason #4: Getting Too Nervous

Being a little nervous before an examination is normal. But when you let nerves create unnecessary pressure, the fear of failure can affect your performance.

Instead of letting nerves get to you:

  • Practice confidence (even if you don't feel it!).
    • If you've studied and prepared in the weeks prior to the exam, be confident that you've taken the necessary steps to be successful on test day.
    • Even if you are feeling nervous, using the “fake it 'til you make it" method may be more powerful than you realize!
  • Try to relax.
    • Relaxation techniques can be a good way to keep yourself from getting too nervous before the exam.
    • Practice deep breathing, positive visualization, or any other technique that you may find helpful.
  • Have a strategy.
    • Often, nerves will develop during an exam when you come across a question in which you are uncertain of the answer.
    • Instead of letting this affect the rest of your test, have a strategy for dealing with tough questions.
      • Eliminating choices that you know to be incorrect is one approach that will give you a better chance of selecting a correct response.
      • You can also skip the question for now, moving on to the questions you feel confident answering. This prevents you from wasting too much time on a single question, and you can come back later and dedicate your remaining time to figuring it out.

Reason #5: Not Utilizing Practice Tests

Many people don't realize that they can take a practice exam before heading to the DMV for the actual test. Getting used to the format of the written exam by taking practice exams can help you to build confidence and decrease your nerves.

Some states even provide practice tests themselves. Additionally, there are other sites that offer practice tests for every state. The questions generated on these practice tests typically come from your state's driver manual and closely resemble what you can expect on the written examination.

Find the test that you feel is challenging enough to give you the preparation you need to walk into the DMV and ace your test on the very first try. Good luck!

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