Taking your driving test for the first time can be a nerve-wracking experience. Putting your hands in the correct position, remembering to use your turn signal, and making sure you are staying within the speed limit can all be overwhelming for a new driver. Whether you want to calm your nerves or just be better prepared for the test, these steps will show you how to pass the California driving test. 

Read the California Driver Handbook

The first thing you will want to do when preparing to pass your driving exam is to read the California Driver Handbook. It will offer you insight on topics such as an introduction to driving, navigating the roads, laws and rules of the road, as well as safe driving habits. They created all the questions for the written portion of the test directly from the handbook. Therefore, knowing this handbook forward and backward is a great way to ensure that you pass the California driving test. 

Familiarize Yourself With the Vehicle 

After reading the driver’s handbook, you will want to get familiar with your car’s mechanics. Knowing where the key features are on your vehicle is critical to passing your driving test in California. By understanding and being ready to use your car’s safety features, you will be better prepared to make quick decisions if needed. Once you know how all safety features operate, the only thing left to do is get behind the wheel and practice.

Practice Driving

You will want to set aside an adequate amount of time to drive the vehicle you plan to use for your driving portion of the test. Minors must complete 50 hours of driving practice, 10 of those being at night, before taking the road test.

While learning to drive, you will want to practice parking straight in a parking spot, using the brakes and acceleration, and using your mirrors. Practicing in an empty parking lot is often the safest choice for a new driver. Once you feel confident in your driving skills there, you can take it to the main roads. You will want to practice a few maneuvers, as they will likely come up during the test. These include:

  • Changing lanes
  • Observing right-of-way
  • Right and left turns
  • Stopping at stop signs and traffic lights
  • Backing up
  • Following at a safe distance
  • Driving in traffic
  • Being aware of your surroundings
  • Keeping your eyes on the road
  • Knowing what to do if an emergency vehicle approaches from any direction

The more you practice driving, the more comfortable and confident you will be when it comes time to take your driving exam. 

Know the Vehicle Requirements for the California Driving Test

In the state of California, there is a pre-drive checklist that your car must pass before taking your driving test. Your test will be rescheduled if any of these safety features aren’t up to par on your vehicle. This checklist includes:

  • Current registration, insurance, and inspection sticker.
  • Verifying that the driver’s side window rolls down.
  • The windshield provides a complete, unobstructed field of view.
  • There are at least two mirrors ‌on the vehicle. One mirror must be located on the left side of the car.
  • Both turn signals work.
  • Both brake lights must be operational.
  • All four tires must have 1/32 inch tread depth.
  • The horn must be in working condition and loud enough to be heard from a distance of at least 200 feet away.
  • The foot break must have at least one inch of clearance between the pedal and the floorboard when the pedal is depressed.
  • You must correctly demonstrate arm signals such as left turn, right turn, slowing down, or stopping.
  • The front passenger-side door must open and close properly.
  • The glove box door must be securely closed.
  • All vehicles must have functioning seat belts for both you and the examiner.

It’s a good idea to make sure all of these features work before the day of your exam. 

You will also be asked to locate and demonstrate the use of critical components on your vehicle, such as the:

  • Front windshield defroster button.
  • Emergency flashers (hazard lights).
  • Headlight switch.
  • Windshield wipers.
  • Parking brake (emergency brake).

If your vehicle does not meet all the standards listed above, there are other options to take your driving test. You can ask a friend or family member to accompany you in their car. You can also get a vehicle through driving school or reserve one ahead of time online through services such as Skip.

How to Pass the California Driving Test: Taking the Exam

In California, you will want to schedule your road test ahead of time by making an appointment at the DMV. Walk-ins are not an option—you will be denied if you show up without an appointment. On the exam day, try to get to the DMV office early if you can. Being late will cause you to have to reschedule. Upon arrival, you will want to ensure that you have your paperwork, permit, valid insurance, and registration accessible and organized.

California allows for practice in the DMV parking lot before your test. It is wise to take advantage of this and get familiar with the area as part of your road test will happen here. 

Once you feel comfortable with the area, you can check in. Once checked in, you will be asked to pull your car around to the side of the building where the test starts. The examiner will ask for your driver’s license, permit, and registration. They will then ask you to demonstrate your knowledge of the features listed in the “Know the Vehicle Requirements” section. Finally, the driving portion of the test will begin.  

You can get up to 15 points deducted without failing the exam, but you will automatically fail if you make any significant mistakes. By taking your time (and a deep breath), you will make fewer mistakes. All of your practice and studying will pay off as long as you don’t rush through the exam. 

Taking a driver’s exam doesn’t have to be scary, as long as you are prepared. Studying and practicing will help ensure you pass the test on the first try. By reviewing the step-by-step process of how to pass a California driving test, you should be a licensed driver in no time. 

To prepare for your permit exam, click here for our DMV-certified Online Driver’s Ed course.