If you’ve decided to embark on a career driving trucks, you may be feeling excited, nervous, or both. Your next step in that career is going through CDL training, and that can be a scary thing.  It doesn’t have to be. Knowing about the process before you start can relieve some of the stress.Is CDL training hard? CDL training involves classroom sessions to discuss techniques and basic requirements. There’s also a driving component, where new drivers learn how to maneuver a truck. While these tasks may seem daunting, preparing for training and attending the sessions can help improve one’s chances of success.

If you’re about to go through CDL training, you may be scared or anxious. However, the process isn’t as overwhelming if you know what to expect. Consider this your guide to CDL training so that you can enjoy the process rather than fear it.

What Is CDL Training?

CDL stands for commercial driver’s license, so CDL training is basically like driver’s education but for truck drivers. Just like how you probably had to go through some training to get your traditional driver’s license, you also have to go through training specifically for a CDL. This training is more specialized, and you’ll learn a lot about how to drive large vehicles.

  • Like a standard driver’s education course, CDL training includes a classroom component. This is where you sit in a room with other CDL trainees and an instructor, and you’ll learn some of the basics.
  • After the classroom sessions, you’ll also have training where you’re in the driver’s seat. This might include time driving on a driving range, driving on the road, or both.
  • Both elements are important for CDL training for different reasons. In the classroom, you’ll learn some of the terminology and safety basics.
  • On the other hand, you won’t get to put those into practice until you get to practice driving a commercial vehicle.

When you go through CDL training, you need to be focused so that you can take in the information. You might get a lot of information in a short amount of time, and you need to be able to absorb that information. Your driving time will also be essential so that you know how to operate the type of commercial vehicle that you will use in your job.

As you go through CDL training, keep your eyes on the prize. It can get stressful at times but try to make the most of the experience.

Classroom Sessions

While not everyone takes a driver’s education course in high school, many do. If you took that kind of course, you might find that CDL training is similar. Of course, this time, you’re training to drive a specific type of vehicle that many people will never touch.

During your classroom sessions, you’ll learn some things that will help prepare you for your first time driving a truck. Topics might include how to inspect a truck before you go on a trip, how to plan a trip, and how to log your driving. You might also learn about how to read maps and what sorts of permits you’ll need to drive certain vehicles.

Classroom sessions will also help you prepare for the written CDL exam. Again, like with a regular driver’s license, a CDL permit has a written requirement. Even if you know how to drive a truck without any issues, you can’t get your CDL without passing the written portion.

Depending on the training center, you may need to pass the classroom portion before they let you behind the wheel of a truck. Since driving a truck is your goal, you want to make sure that you pass the classroom part. That way, you won’t have to take it over again, which can be a waste of time.

Getting Behind the Wheel

Once you pass the classroom portion of CDL training, you will have a chance to get one-on-one instruction while driving a truck. If your school has a driving range, you might start training there so that you’ll have some leeway at first. However, you will probably also get practice on the road at this point.

  • During this part of CDL training, you’ll be in the driver’s seat of a truck, and someone will be in the passenger’s seat.
  • Typically, you’ll drive with a professional trainer sitting next to you. They will be able to tell you what to do and how to do it.
  • You may start out on a driving range, which will allow you to practice certain things without having to deal with other cars.
  • After you get comfortable on a driving range, your instructor will probably have you practice on the road. The more practice you have on a highway, the easier it will be when you’re on your own.

Getting behind the wheel for the first time can be scary, and it may be hard at first. However, with practice, it will probably get easier. At the very least, you will improve your skills, and you can become more confident on the road.

How Long Is CDL Training?

The length of CDL training can vary based on multiple factors, but the average program length is about seven weeks. However, some programs may take less than a month, while others take more than six months. Since there’s no standard length for a CDL training program, you can probably find one that suits your needs.

If you need a shorter program, you can look for one. On the other hand, if you want to be able to drive multiple types of commercial vehicles, you may need more training. It may also take longer if you need extra practice driving or if you have trouble with the classroom section.

The good news is that CDL training can be very flexible. If you have other commitments, you can adjust your training schedule around them. However, you can also power through training if you want to start working as soon as possible.

The right CDL training program for you might differ from that of another driver, and that’s perfectly fine. If you have access to multiple programs, consider each of them and their duration to find the best option for you. It’s easy to find schools to trucking schools with a Google search, but it’s more difficult to figure out which one is right for you.

Unfortunately, most sites that list best schools include their schools.  Check out your state’s transportation website to check for schools that have been accredited.  Another option is to look for schools run by trucking companies—they have a vested interest in making sure you can get your CDL.

Consider the Type of CDL

While many of us don’t think about it, there are different types of driver’s licenses. Different types of licenses allow you to drive certain vehicles. Not only do CDLs differ from traditional licenses, but there are also different licenses that fall under CDLs.

  • One of the most common CDL classifications is Class A. To drive a vehicle with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of 26,001 or more, you need this type of CDL.
  • The Class A license also includes towed vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 pounds.
  • You’ll need a Class B license to drive a vehicle that doesn’t have a trailer, and that can include straight trucks, buses, and box trucks.
  • A Class C license will allow you to drive a vehicle that has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of 26,000 pounds or less.
  • That same license will also allow you to drive a vehicle with a trailer that weighs less than 10,000 pounds.
  • You can also drive a vehicle that transports 16 or more people with a Class C CDL.

Depending on what type or types of vehicles you want to drive, you may need to go through training for multiple CDL types. This could affect the amount of time it takes for you to get through CDL training. Training for multiple types at one time might also make training more difficult.

Your Personal Schedule

The next thing that could determine how long it takes for you to get through CDL training is your schedule. If you are already competent at driving your personal vehicle, you may not need as much practice driving. That could be especially true if your vehicle is a pickup truck or another larger car.

On the other hand, if you aren’t that confident in your driving skills, it may take more time to get through CDL training. You may need more time behind the wheel to become confident. Similarly, your knowledge of trucks could have an impact.

If you can take in new information easily, the classroom training may be a breeze. However, it may be more difficult if you need a lot of time to absorb new facts. Needing more time doesn’t mean you can’t get a CDL, but it does mean you may have to work harder than someone who learns faster.

While this isn’t something you can control, you may have to take the weather into account. If you start your CDL training in December or January, you may have to deal with some winter weather delays. A lot of snow or ice could delay your practical training sessions, which could further extend your training.

To Go Full-time or Part-time

One part of your schedule that you do have control over is if you pursue CDL training full-time or part-time. There are pros and cons of both programs, and it’s worth considering those options to decide which is best for you. Of course, a full-time program won’t take as long as one that’s part-time.

Full-time CDL Training Part-time CDL Training
  • Typically meets five days a week
  • Usually meets all-day
  • Classroom time goes by faster
  • You might get to start driving in less time
  • You’ll have to learn a lot of information in a short amount of time
  • Not a great option if you have other responsibilities, like family or a job
  • Might only meet a couple of days per week
  • It probably won’t be all day, though some programs might meet that long
  • Will take longer to get through the classroom portion
  • You’ll have more time to digest information
  • You may have to wait longer before you get to drive

The decision to go to CDL training full-time or part-time is a personal one. Only you can make the decision for yourself, though you should consider what you have to do outside of training. While a full-time program may be shorter, it could be more stressful.

Time in Class or On the Road

The next thing to think about is how much time you will spend in training, either in a classroom or driving. Some programs may only require 30 hours in the classroom, while others may require up to 80 hours of classroom time. Now, shorter doesn’t always mean better.

Even though a shorter program doesn’t require as much time in class, you may need to spend more time outside of class. That could involve extra time studying the terminology and other materials. It could also mean more time practicing driving.

In a longer program, you will have more time in a class where you can ask questions and work with your instructor. That can be especially beneficial if you don’t learn quickly, but it can also be helpful when you’re new to the industry. Plus, your classmates may ask questions that you never thought of, but the answers may be important.

You should also consider how much time you’ll spend driving with an instructor. Depending on how fast you learn, you may need more or less time. Ideally, you should spend as much time as possible in this stage of training so that you can be prepared for anything once you get on the road alone.

Test Schedules

Just as different CDL training programs can vary, so can the test schedule. Unlike with a traditional driver’s license, you can’t just go to your local DMV and ask to take the test. In some cases, there may be a specific day that you go to take the exam.

  • Some states, like Texas, require you to schedule your driving test.
  • Not only will that help you prepare for the test, but it means you may have to wait to take it.
  • You may also have to reschedule your test if something comes up. Rescheduling may take a while.
  • You’ll have to schedule the test based on when someone qualified can administer it. After all, it’s a specialized test, and you can’t have just any driver in the passenger seat.

Hopefully, you can schedule your test for a good day and time. However, you may have to be flexible, and that could lengthen the amount of time it takes to get your CDL. Still, it’s not a huge issue to overcome, and it usually doesn’t affect how long or hard CDL training is.

How Many Questions Are on the CDL Test?

Once you complete CDL training, you have to continue studying so that you will be prepared for the test. The written part of the CDL test has 50 questions, and they’re multiple-choice. You won’t have to worry about writing your own answers, but you will have to know the answers to the questions.

To pass the written test, you will need to get at least 80 percent of the questions correct. For a test with 50 questions, that means you’ll need 40 or more correct answers. You’ll have a bit of room for error, but of course, you still need to prove that you know your stuff.

The test is a timed test, and you’ll have one hour to answer the questions. You don’t have to feel rushed to answer them, but still, you only have a little over a minute per question. The more you study ahead of time, the easier it will be when you take the written exam.

As long as you study and can answer the questions, you shouldn’t have a hard time passing. You can give yourself extra practice by completing an online practice test.  Click here if you want to find out each state’s CDL requirements.

How to Prepare for the CDL Test

At its core, preparing for the CDL test is like preparing for any other test. You have to go to classroom training, participate, and ask questions. After you finish that portion, you should practice driving as much as you can so that you’ll have even more practical knowledge.

  • If your CDL training program finishes and you have a while until you take the test, use this time wisely. Study the written materials as best as you can.
  • Employ some of the methods you might have used in school, like making flashcards or asking a friend or family member to quiz you.
  • When it comes to driving, reflect back on your time in training. Think about what your instructor had to remind you about most.
  • On the other hand, remember what your instructor repeatedly praised you for. That way, you will know what your strengths and weaknesses are for when you have to take the road skills test.

CDL training can be hard but taking the CDL test can be even scarier. You have to know your stuff before they give you a license to drive commercial vehicles. While that can seem daunting, it will also be a major accomplishment.

Final Thoughts

CDL training can be hard, but it will be what you make of it. If you spend your time dozing off, you will have a harder time than if you remain active and engaged. The better you do in training, the easier it will be, and that will also be true when you take the CDL test.

About the Author

Blythe Brumleve
Blythe Brumleve
Creative entrepreneur in freight. Founder of Digital Dispatch and host of Everything is Logistics. Co-Founder at Jax Podcasters Unite. Board member of Transportation Marketing and Sales Association. Freightwaves on-air personality. Annoying Jaguars fan. test

To read more about Blythe, check out her full bio here.