Advice for Massachusetts Road Test
November 23, 2013 9:05 AM   Subscribe

I will be taking my first road test on Monday, in Massachusetts (specifically, Lynn). I'd like to hear from people who've taken this test in the past. What were you asked to do? I'd particularly like to hear from people who've failed the test: where did you fall down?

P.S. I've seen this question and this question, and the answers to them were helpful. But I'm looking for advice specifically about Massachusetts.
posted by HoraceH to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Make sure you pull the wheel all the way over to the right after parallel parking on the perhaps imaginary hill. Brush up on your hand signals.
posted by vrakatar at 9:16 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I took mine in Fitchburg and I almost failed. I was taking it in a stick-shift car and was a little iffy on my hill start in it. The testing guy made me promise to work on my hill starts. If I recall correctly, I did parallel parking, hill starts, following posted road signs (I know people who failed in MA for speeding), using turn signals, knowing hand signals. I had another friend who failed in MA because she was asked to make a left turn into one of those roads that has a little island in the middle and a "do not enter" sign on the part of the road you are NOT supposed to drive into. She thought it was a trap and so didn't turn at all. There will not be that kind of "I am trying to trip you up" question on the road test, in my experience. Other things to try to keep in mind: safe following distance, keeping an eye on your rearview and side mirrors, wearing your seatbelt and coming to a complete stop at intersections (if you can't see, come to a complete stop and then inch forward, do not pull forward to where you can see (past the stop sign) and then stop). Good luck!
posted by jessamyn at 9:34 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you have a chance, drive around the area where you'll take the test. If you know some 16 or 17 year olds and didn't take drivers ed/aren't a teenager, ask them, because everyone know the exact routes we had to do to pass the test. Drive around the area right by the testing location and look at speed limits and signs.

I took it in Mass about right years ago. (Not in Lynn) We had to drive a short distance and change lanes, parallel park, and do a three point turn. You had a fifty-fifty chance of having to do it on a hill, in which case there was some weird thing you had to do with an emergency brake. They quizzed me on hand signals and when/how to use headlights.
posted by raeka at 9:39 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding what jessamyn said about coming to a complete stop and then make sure you wait three seconds. (I also took mine in Fitchburg :) )
posted by raeka at 9:41 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh god yes the emergency brake! Turn your wheels whichever way you are supposed to turn them on your hill parking job and set the brake, you will fail if you do not set the brake (so many non-brake setters in my cohort).
posted by jessamyn at 9:43 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I failed mine the first time, in Quincy. I made two big mistakes: 1. I made a right turn too fast/sharply and unfortunately there was another car pulling out of a driveway at the same time, we almost collided and 2. I botched the parallel parking part by starting too close to the car in front of the spot.

I'm still a bit pissed about #1, because the cop gave me way too little notice to make the turn. I was coming off a 30 mph street, and didn't have much time to slow down.

However, there is a lot of variation in the cops that give the test. My first one was like robocop. My second one was a nice, rotund Irish cop out of central casting who took the time to ask me what went wrong the first time. I answered him honestly and he said "this time will be better," and basically just made me drive around the block. Obviously I passed that time.

Yeah, definitely try to find out what the route is. I took the test in my twenties, so I wasn't in drivers ed, but I paid for a few sessions with an instructor and they seemed to know the routes.
posted by lunasol at 10:15 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mind the painted lines -- if it looks like you would be safer pulling a bit further ahead so you can see or whatever, forget that, and pay attention to the lines. I did fail the first time, mostly thanks to a wretched tester who sang out turns at the last possible second and just generally tried to provide a high-stress experience, either to really put people through their paces, or because she didn't have a very good idea of how to do her job; it wasn't clear. I can't actually remember why I failed now; I just remember being totally strung out by the wretch doing the testing. A few weeks later I had a relaxed and friendly tester and aced it. Go in with the idea that failure here is totally fine, because it is.

If you are asked to do a three-point turn, do a three-point turn, even if you can more easily circle to finish up with the end result of a three-point turn.

The stress-inducing tester had an issue with eyeglasses and claimed glasses wearers had to clearly turn their head when looking to demonstrate they were looking as she couldn't see people's eyes if they had glasses on (??). I would hope that she was highly unusual, but if you wear glasses and have multiple pairs, go with the pair that least obstructs the view of you to others.
posted by kmennie at 11:41 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I took mine many moons ago in Reading, but I had a friends who took his the exact same day in Lynn. Moreover, we both had pretty much the exact same test which I (thankfully) passed, but he failed. The difference between the two of us was the three point turn. In both cases, we were deliberately brought down a very narrow road and told to perform the maneuver (narrow enough that it would have been damn near impossible to conduct in just three "points.") I did it, but it ended up being like a five point turn because I wasn't willing to risk hitting the curb. My friend tried to force it, ended up clipping the curb on his turn, and failed as a result.

We both also had to do pretty much the same stuff described above too... parallel park, always drive the speed limit, actually stop at a stop sign, know your turn signals, etc...

Hope that helps and good luck!
posted by Rewind at 12:35 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I took it in Lynn at the armory in 2007. There are no hills in the testing area, so the hill start/stop was imaginary. The parallel parking was also mostly pretend -- there was only one car parked on the road, so I had to go through the motions, but there was no need to worry about tucking into a small space.

I did not take formal lessons. When I felt ready for the test, I called up Olbash in Swampscott and arranged it. He picked me up and went over a checklist with me immediately before the test. It was very straightforward.

Good luck!
posted by Marit at 2:19 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

My test was in Plymouth, and was super duper easy. I didn't even go out onto a public road – essentially I was just made to drive down a long driveway, execute a three-point turn, and then drive back. That said, one of the things I remember being taught to do during my test was to adjust my driving position and mirrors before getting started, and to verbalize "I am now adjusting my driving position and mirrors" so that the tester knew that that's what I was doing, even if they were all fine.

Also, they want to make sure that you are aware of what's going on around you while you're driving. Scanning your mirrors as you go along is important, and also whenever you are asked to do a parking maneuver, or to reverse or do a three-point turn or whatever, you should make it really obvious that you're looking all around to make sure that everything is clear around you as you execute the maneuver. They also want you to signal all your turns and lane changes, of course. Remember that even if you're in a turn-only lane where turning right or left is your only option you are still legally required to signal.

And yeah, hand signals. For some reason those are still required on the Massachusetts test, as far as I know. It's not hard but make sure you know 'em, it's easy to forget to do that because you will probably never use them again in your entire life.

Lastly, make sure that your car is good to go. I know somebody who wasn't allowed to take his test because he had put window tint on the wrong side of his windows (!) which made it hard to see out of the car. You probably won't do anything that boneheaded, but you want to make sure that all your lights (brakes, headlights, signals) are working and that your parking and regular brakes work as they should. If any of those things aren't working right then you probably will be told to reschedule and come back with the problem fixed.
posted by Scientist at 2:35 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and yeah, complete stops! Come to a complete stop (wait until you feel that tiny jerk as the car goes from a very slow roll to a dead stop) either behind the stop line (not the stop sign, I'm talking about the white band that's painted across the road) or far enough behind the car in front of you that you can see the bottoms of their rear tires. Count to three before taking off, out loud if you have to (they won't fail you for counting out loud).

Leave the recommended two-second following distance between you and the next car while driving, even if it seems excessive. If you're unfamiliar, the way you do that is you watch the car in front as it passes some landmark, and then mentally count out two seconds, making sure that you yourself don't pass that landmark before you get through with the second "two-mississippi". This is sometimes more distance than is practical in real life, but the test is about being able to follow the rules, not about being practical.

If you do a right on red make sure you've come to a complete stop for three seconds, signaled, checked to make sure nobody is coming, and verbalized to the tester "I have checked and it is now safe to turn" before making your turn. There's nothing wrong with talking your way through the test, if it helps you remain calm and remember what you're supposed to do – as I said above it's not something that they're going to ding you for, and it can help the tester be certain that you've done the right thing.

Drive smoothly. Make your accelerations, stops, and turns as smooth and gradual as you can under the circumstances. If the car is jerking around a lot they're definitely going to ding you for that. Don't accelerate into any yellow lights – if you see a yellow coming up, err on the side of just stopping instead of continuing through unless it would be genuinely dangerous to stop.

Speed limits should be obvious, but make sure you are actually obeying the posted speed limit during your test. I know that the standard in Massachusetts is to drive about 5mph over the limit (more on the highway, but you won't be going on the highway during your test) but while the tester is in your car you need to make sure that you are going at or just under the actual number on the signs. (If there isn't a convenient sign remember that built-up areas where the houses are less than I think 250 yards apart are generally 30mph in Massachusetts.)

Look out for school zones, and if you pass into an active one make sure that you are doing no more than 20mph by the time you cross into it – that means you need to start decelerating before you get to the actual beginning of the zone. Many school zones in Massachusetts do not come with "end school zone" signs so before you speed up again make sure that you've either seen such a sign or that you are well clear of the school.

When you make turns, make sure that you're not crossing over any lines you're not supposed to. Oftentimes when making a left turn for instance, drivers will make a round turn that cuts across the tip of the cross-street's right lane. You are supposed to make square left turns, where you pull forward some and then turn left a bit more sharply, such that you do not cut the corner of the turn.

Read up on the documentation that you're supposed to bring. They'll want to see your learner's permit and the insurance and registration for the car, at least. I don't know if Massachusetts requires anything else but find out and make sure you have it. That's another silly way that you could end up getting sent home before your test even starts. And be on time, even though the people at the DMV probably won't be. If they are miraculously on time but you're late, I doubt they're going to wait around very long before cancelling your appointment.

Practice your parallel parking, three-point turns, and reversing. You may well be asked to do any or all of those, and they're the trickiest part of the test for most people. Make sure you know them cold, so that you don't freak out testing day and knock over a cone in a parallel parking space.

If you show up in a manual transmission car they will make you stop on a hill and balance on the clutch, to show that you can do it and that you can execute a proper hill start in a manual. If you show up in an automatic then it won't come up.

Whew, that's everything I can think of. Honestly though, you're going to be fine. Just drive like the proverbial grandma and make sure that you signal. Remember, for my (Plymouth) test I didn't even have to go onto a public road! Yours probably won't be that easy, but it's probably not going to be particularly vicious either. If you should happen to fail – probably due to a silly mistake or a bad tester, rather than some basic incompetence – you can always take it again, so the stakes aren't as high as they're often made out to be. Even if it takes you three tries and three months of making appointments, it's not going to matter a bit ten years from now.
posted by Scientist at 3:00 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh and hey, two more quick things: one, if you don't have a driving instructor and want to make sure that you know the "right" way to parallel park (which really does help in the real world!) you should watch this video. It does a good job of laying out the procedure. It really does work best if you follow the formula (though you might have to make minor adjustments for your particular car) and that's the way that the DMV is going to want to see you do it.

Two, turn your cell phone off before the test starts, or just leave it behind. The last thing you want is to get interrupted by a ringing phone while you're trying to relax and concentrate on your test.
posted by Scientist at 3:09 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have three experiences with the MA RMV road test.

When I went for mine a million years ago, the inspector asked for my mom's driver's license, and sent us home. She'd apparently kept her old one and tossed the new one when it arrived. He nicely let us drive away, even though neither of us was legal...

When my wife was getting ready to take the test, we went to the Registry (Lowell), and watched a couple of other people taking their tests. We actually followed them, to make sure they did the same things. Then my wife practiced doing those things until they were easy. She passed the first time.

When my son took it (also in Lowell, but 10 years later), he failed. The guy had him drive on the Lowell Connector, and my son didn't notice that the speed limit drops from 55 to 35. The guy also complained that my emergency brake wasn't adjusted strongly enough.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:56 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was with my daughter when she took the test in Lynn last August. She failed. But for no Lynn-specific reason, she just completely blew through a stop sign. But one important piece of advice from her: if you DO fail, the guy might ask you if you want to continue anyway, just to see the course. Definitely continue.

The course seemed easy to me, no booby-traps, but then, I have 35 years of driving experience so I think I take a lot for granted.

Good luck!
posted by primate moon at 6:12 PM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I took my driving test in Lynn, as the last appointment on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The testor had me take 4 left turns and return to the parking lot so he could leave early for Thanksgiving, so my advice is change you appointment to Wednesday.
posted by hworth at 6:28 PM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

About the parking brake: there's more to it than setting when parking. I failed my first test because of this. When you get in the car to begin the test, put on your seatbelt, turn on the ignition, and before you switch the gear out of park, check the parking brake to make sure it is off. You are supposed to do this every time you get in the car and you need to demonstrate on the test that you know to do this.

When I took my first test, unbeknownst to me while I was getting in the car, the tester pulled the parking brake and set it. When I got in, not having pulled the brake myself, I didn't bother checking it. Well, you are supposed to. So before I even put the damn car in drive, I got dinged on not checking the brake. Then I got another point during parallel parking, and that was all she wrote. Go through all the motions.
posted by Miko at 9:18 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I failed to use my turn signal when I pulled away from the curb after the parallel park. This was over 40 years ago but I assume the same rules apply.

I failed 3 times and it was a good thing. I wasn't ready.

Have been driving over 40 years now.
posted by andreap at 12:52 PM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thank you to everyone who answered my question - this was a great help! I passed my test this morning.
posted by HoraceH at 10:10 AM on November 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

Hooray, HoraceH! Congratulations on getting your driver's license! Glad we could help.
posted by Scientist at 5:38 PM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

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