Sunday, March 2, 2014

How to pass a motorcycle written test

First, let me make it very clear, I despise and dislike tests. Second, let me also make it very clear that tests are necessary.

Why this oxymoronic observation? Read on to learn more...

I prepared hard for the motorcycle written test at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). I read the California Motorcycle Handbook end to end. I read the California Driver Handbook, both the iBook and PDF versions. I took the sample tests in the iBook version and on the DMV web site. I downloaded apps for my iPhone and took those tests as well. The online tutorial was helpful as well.

I did not make many mistakes in the practice tests, but it really bothers me when I don't know the answer or if I have to guess. I went back into the Manuals, and occasionally the YouTube videos to seek clarification. The thought at the back of my mind was, questions I've never seen may appear on the test and I have to have all the information I need in my head so I can get to the answer by using common sense and first principles.

Having taken the Basic Rider Course sponsored by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, I was exempt from the skill test at the DMV, but I was determined not to let that lower my guard. While you cannot learn how to drive by reading books and manuals, the information provided will save me time when learning on the bike.

Fast forward... I passed the written test. I was pleased, because my plan worked. My plan is described below:

  • I accepted that tests are necessary and it will keep me and others safe if I go thru the process. This foundational and fundamental belief cleared the way for me and every obstacle to preparing and taking the test suddenly become enjoyable.
  • I separated "knowing how to ride" from "taking a test." Knowing how to ride will save my life. Knowing how to take a test will get me a license. No license, no ride.
  • Knowing how to ride is also foundational and fundamental. Otherwise I might pass the test with guesswork, and that will result in my forming bad habits. If I can guess my way out of a test, I can guess my way out of tough situations, right?
  • I noticed most of my issues were with the vocabulary used in the manuals and by the instructors. The concepts were easy and intuitive, after all I have the experience of riding motorcycles. So if I did not understand what was spoken or written, I would take extra care to research and learn it.
  • Some of the questions were phrased ambiguously. At such moments, it is critical for me to suspend judgment and focus on what the answer needs to be. This taught me how to focus on eliminating the wrong answers or selecting the best one. Getting upset at a poorly worded question is pointless.
  • I looked for and used all the free resources. There is quite a bit available. I almost paid for iPhone apps to get additional practice questions, but their design did not inspire confidence and ultimately it did not matter.
Here is the tipping point for me: On the morning of the test, I watched a few YouTube videos where actual tests administered recently were posted. After going thru a few, I felt really well prepared. Was this cheating? Not in my case. I was determined to be knowledgeable and the written test was just a mere "check in the box" at this point. If I did not pass the test, I would spend time preparing for the next one, not to mention added cost and a loss of confidence.

Psychologists will have a field day with my line of thinking. They will tell you about my "fear of failure," "obsessive compulsive behavior," "perfectionist," "anal retentiveness," and perhaps an esteem problem. Napoleon Hill will tell you it is perhaps a "fear of success."


On the one hand, such coaching and feedback is distraction. None of these people are experts on who I am. It is critical that I understand what makes me comfortable, what makes me tick, how I learn and retain information, and what test taking strategies work for me. Once I understand myself, I will be a high performance test taking machine. 

On the other hand, such coaching and feedback is a description of how I come across. To that extent, it is valid and useful. There is no way to keep everyone happy along the way, but I try not to do anything to make it worse. For example, if I am studying hard, I try not to ignore my duties (doing the dishes, walking the dog, take the garbage out, put the laundry away) and try not to be irritable in my demeanour. No one should feel I am under stress from studying for a test. 

Focus and dedication will pay off. I can only get better.

Day to day interactions and incidents in the workplace are also tests. A dysfunctional co-worker, micromanaging boss, irrational executive, demanding customer, you take your pick of what causes you stress in the workplace. Your task is to treat each interaction as a test and learn how to pass it using systematic methods and without stress. 

Add to that marital challenges and teenagers in the house. In my case I have a spouse who is 99% perfect and kids who are near role models of good behavior. So why do I have trouble with "tests" at home? See above for some reasons.