How to (Not Freak Out Too Much) Pass the Written Driver’s Knowledge Test in a New Town

So you don’t have to go through a parallel parking nightmare in a repeat of the harrowing skills test you took as a teen

Whew! Dodged that bullet… Photo by BezeVision on Unsplash

Nailed it.

Remember “The Last Thing?” I wrote that before jumping headlong into studying for my new Idaho driver’s license. Apparently, every time you move, you have to take a written knowledge test. At least up here in the Northwest. Sucks, for sure.

This morning, I went through two more practice rounds online to get my eyes/brain cells to wake up, drove to the nearest DMV, did the Sign of the Cross (saw an elderly gentleman do the same in line), and took the driver’s license written test — missing only one question.

I also sailed through the vision exam, and tried to smile without showing my teeth for the new driver’s license photo.

Not everything went smoothly.

Despite passing, I never got the Star driver’s license (Enhanced in Washington state) I wanted.

Life tends to throw curveballs, even when you’ve thought of every possible obstacle. And, I thought I did.

Mine turned out to be proof of residency.

I went in over-prepared, as usual, bringing a utility bill, my monthly paycheck still in its envelope mailed from Edmonds, WA, and the lease. I also brought my marriage certificates, certificate of birth abroad, and birth certificate, to show I was married to the man whose name was on that bill.

Nope. Not good enough for government.

The clerk kept asking if I had a bill with my name on it. “I can’t accept this one, because it only has your husband’s name. Do you have a bank or credit card statement?”

I could see where this was going. I wouldn’t even make it to the written test.

She said I could get a regular driver’s license instead, then later, I could upgrade to the Star Card when I acquired the necessary papers. After talking to my husband on the phone (he luckily answered in the middle of his Zoom meeting), we agreed to go for the regular license.

Honestly, that was the hardest part.

“I learned some time ago that while we live in a 3D world, there is a 4th dimension of time and we access it through our imagination. Whatever we put into our imagination and sustain with emotion will eventually cast a shadow in the 3D world for us to experience. Now that’s where fear comes in.” —Daniel Asuquo, ”Hello Fear,” No Echo

I can’t give you cheat sheets from the actual test (no smartphones allowed in the testing room), and I wouldn’t anyway. But I can help with some tips to keep you from a nervous breakdown. Believe me, you’re not alone. Everyone in the DMV looked like they were headed to the electric chair.

How to Survive the Written Knowledge Test:

  1. Don’t try to game this shit. Read the driver’s license manual. The ones who skip this step and take the test cold are in for a rude awakening. My realtor failed her first try, coming in from California several years ago. Man, was she pissed. Do yourself a favor and download the PDF from your state’s DMV website, or go in person and buy a copy. Go over the manual word for word once, twice for insurance, then study sections (traffic signals, signs, rules of the road). Read it for information, as if you need it desperately. For example, pretend a cop nabbed you for DUI and issued a citation. What do you do? Read the manual, read the manual, read the manual as if your life depends on it. Or risk failing, miserably, having to go back and fork over another $3, and more of your time.
  2. Go over practice tests online, then go over them again and again and again. At every opportunity. Download a good app. Then, go to town on that sucker. There’s no excuse. Taking a shit? Practice on your phone. Commercial breaks? Practice on YouTube. Bored out of your mind? Practice. Practice until all that info starts sinking in, because it will eventually. It took me a week. Nobody can remember everything. The Idaho manual is 137 pages of governmental legalese, using fancy words nobody understands to say something simply (“increase following distance”). For Idaho, I found this awesome DMV Written Test site that offers 24 different versions to practice on. They explain the answers too, which is more important than rote memorization.
  3. Bonus points. Notice the test questions in play as you drive around. Some people are visual. I know I am. It helped a lot to see what the words meant as I drove to the supermarket and picked up takeout. When you’re out and about and aware, you understand context better. Why the Idaho manual focuses so much on the various signs and railroad crossings makes sense when you’re in the thick of traffic.
  4. Turn to your favorite Medium writers for moral support. A few days before I went in for my driver’s license, I stumbled on “Hello Fear” by Daniel Asuquo over at No Echo. Asuquo’s witty, wise essay sustained me during bouts of crippling self-doubt and despair. Yes, over a fucking driving test. His witty, wise words of wisdom eased the stress ball I kept rolling myself in, especially during the actual test. I decided to let go and let whatever happens happen. Even if … confession time … it meant learning to finally master parallel parking and taking that damned skills test all over again. My worst fear. “I learned some time ago that while we live in a 3D world, there is a 4th dimension of time and we access it through our imagination. Whatever we put into our imagination and sustain with emotion will eventually cast a shadow in the 3D world for us to experience. Now that’s where fear comes in,” he wrote. Listen to the man.
  5. For god’s sakes, do something else. Don’t be like me. Fill your days and nights with fun, engaging activities. Double-down on your job. Let yourself be distracted by the news and gossip of your melodramatic friends, and the petty glad-handing social media. Whatever it takes to take the foot off the gas of your nameless fears over failing the driving test, a mere bump in the road of life. My subconscious mind wound up stepping in after three days of obsessively taking practice tests for three-five hours straight late into the morning light. Every time I’d try to study, I’d be struck with an overwhelming urge to write (procrastinate) stupid essays about stupid shit.
  6. Remember, you don’t have to go for the Enhanced Driver’s License/Star Card if you already have a passport. If you’ve just moved into town and want to get in under the 90-day deadline to turn in your old license, you may not have all the proof of residency yet. If you don’t have a passport, either, go ahead and aim for the regular driver’s license, then, as you accumulate the proper docs for the upgraded credential, get it later.
  7. Take the test during slow times. My realtor’s husband suggested this one. You’re not limited to the town you live in. You can travel five-15 minutes farther to a smaller town to take the test, I hear. In Twin Falls, that place is Filer. “Nobody’s there.” If you insist on going to a busy city’s busy DMV, go early in the morning. Like 8 a.m. when everyone’s fresh as a daisy, including those humorless drones behind the plexiglass. I pushed it by going after 10 a.m., which was just about perfect. By 11 a.m., a line began to form. PS. Don’t bother joking around; you could be Eddie Murphy, and they won’t crack a smile.
  8. Request reading and vocal instruction. You can have them set you up with a test, where there’s vocal instruction over headphones and you can read the questions on your own. Take your time and take advantage of the other features, including repeating and setting aside a question for later.
  9. Pass it on. Don’t be selfish. You know how hard this is. Help a brother and sister out when it’s their turn to take the knowledge test. This goes for anything in life. If you’ve been through it, share your own experiences and advice, and support those who haven’t yet. Don’t leave them twisting in the wind. Nobody went out of their way to guide me through this process. I had to figure it out mostly on my own. I reached out to my realtor friend, too, and she gave me as much info as she could remember. Remember, people won’t do jack-shit unless you ask. So, ask. Even if it means asking complete strangers who serve your steak and eggs with grits. You may be surprised by how generous they are.
  10. Celebrate your victory. Even if you barely passed, remind yourself that you passed. That’s what matters. Pat yourself on the back. Take a selfie of you holding up your temporary license, and go pig out at your favorite landmark restaurant. Have that pie.

I did.

After a week of over-studying, today I passed the Idaho Class D Driver Written Test. Officially an Idahoan! Celebrated with a late breakfast at Norm’s Cafe.

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