How to Pass Your Driving Test the First Time: Avoiding Common Mistakes

[Guest post by instructor and car captain Eva Flores! We'll be running a series of posts by her, getting her insights into everything related to driving lessons. In this post, she talks through a common problem for new drivers: being nervous about getting behind the wheel, and provides tips to overcome a fear of driving.]

When I took my drive test many, many years ago, I was confident I’d ace it. I got a 96. Close, right? The drive test examiner said I accelerated DURING the climb of the hill instead of BEFORE the climb. It wasn’t even a big hill. One minor error = 4-points off of my drive exam score. I should point out not every infraction will equate to a 4-point drop in drive score. Parents, if you are from my generation then you remember having to practice, and practice, and practice parallel parking and 3-point turns. Luckily, for this generation of SMART drivers, it is no longer a requirement during the drive test. (Whew, sigh of relief.) However, I must note, that at some point in your driving career, every driver will have to parallel park their vehicle. If you have a self-parking vehicle, awesome! I wonder how well it would perform parallel parking on a San Francisco hill? For the rest of us, parallel parking is actually pretty fun…after the second or third time. It’s all about the angles.

So, if parallel parking and 3-point turns aren’t required, what is?

I’d like to note that since these two drive skills are no longer required, the techniques and skills left to perform at a satisfactory level should be on point. No sugar-coating. You must demonstrate the following maneuvers during your behind-the-wheel examination:

  • Pre-Drive Checklist: demonstrate emergency parking brake, arm signals, windshield wipers, defroster, emergency flashers, headlights, turn signals, headlights, foot brake, horn
  • Parking Lot Driving: Leaving and Returning to the DMV
  • Intersections: Up to eight total, including speed, yields, traffic checks, braking, and limit lines
  • Business/Residential/Rural Driving: traffic checks, speed, spacing, lane position, etc.
  • Entering/Backing Along Curb
  • Lane Changes
  • Turns: Up to four lefts and rights, including signals, full stops, limit lines, steering control, speed, turning too wide or too short, turning into the correct lane, etc.

Why do students not pass their driving test the first time? 

I say this to all my students, make sure to SMOG!

  • Signal
  • Mirror
  • Over-shoulder
  • Go

I can’t stress enough how important and critical it is to look over your shoulder for turns. Yes, even for left turns. There could be a bicyclist/motorcyclist right behind you and you might not know it. Always make sure to clear your blind spots for turns and lane changes.

I took an adult student to the DMV for her drive test the other day. (One of the many services we offer at!) We went over the evaluation form and drove around the area for a bit of practice and reassurance before the drive test. She assured me she wasn’t too nervous and would remember all the techniques we went over. I watched her drive away. Ten minutes later, she pulled back into the DMV. The drive test examiner informed me that she did not pass. According to the examiner, the reasons why she and other students fail the first time are:

  • Nerves: Try not to let your nerves get a hold of you. Try to relax, be confident, and just let all the skills and techniques you’ve learned shine through
  • Wide Turns: on a right turn on a 2-lane road, you should end up in the right lane, not the left. Students oftentimes make wide turns, then try and correct themselves by getting in the correct lane without signaling or looking over their shoulder, which results in an automatic fail
  • Bike Lanes: Whether the bike lane is dashed or solid, signal 200 ft. in advance, SMOG, and put your tires into the bike lane before making a right turn

Real talk, tips and feedback from former students on how to pass your driving test the first time 

  • “My friend failed for running a yellow light because it turned red while crossing the intersection.”
  • “Over-exaggerate your head turns for lane changes”
  • “I failed because I didn’t get into the bike lane and didn’t look over my shoulder.”
  • “If you’re female, wear your hair in a ponytail and wear hoop earrings.”
  • “Just make sure to look over your shoulders even if you feel it’s not necessary & when driving on side streets keep scanning the road like shoulder to shoulder.”
  • “Look on YouTube for DMV drive test routes”

Avoid These Bad Habits to Pass Your Driving Test the First Time 

Sometimes students pick up bad habits, especially if there has been a huge gap from the date of the last lesson to the days prior to the drive test. Habits range from driving with one hand, to taking your hands off the steering wheel. Keep hands at 9-3, drive with palms down, and demonstrate hand-over-hand turns. The other night, I had a student tell me that while she was practicing driving with her dad and SMOG-ing, he said, “You know, you don’t have to keep looking over your shoulder.” She said, “OH, YES I DO!!!”

If you want to pass the drive test the first time, remember: It’s all in the details:

  • SMOG
  • Stop ahead of limit lines
  • Traffic Check: Look shoulder to shoulder, use your mirrors
  • Stay committed to your lane and follow it through for turns
  • Watch your speed
  • Keep adequate space cushions
  • Make complete stops: no California rolls

I always advise my students to check out the CA DMV YouTube Channel for helpful tips and information on preparing for the drive test. You can also find us on YouTube for more resources and tips on how to become a SMART, safe and defensive driver.

SAVE BIG on Auto Insurance!

Stay Informed

Stay current with blog updates, new offers, and exclusive deals! Join our mailing list today.