The process in New York is time consuming and often infuriating. But not impossible. We talked to dozens of instructors, driving-school owners, and brand-new drivers to figure out the tricks to passing, from practicing turns in a Costco parking lot to picking a test site way out in Queens.
➽ Memorize the DMV’s study guide. It’s “word-for-word the same questions” you’ll find on the test, says Josh Pugh, a newly minted permit holder. You must correctly answer 14 out of 20 questions (including two out of the four about road signs). According to several test instructors, the most commonly missed questions tend to pertain to alcohol — specifically, people not knowing that if you’re driving and over 21, your blood alcohol content legally has to be below .05 percent. So remember that.
➽ Consider taking your five-hour pre-licensing course above a Chinese banquet hall. Governor Cuomo recently signed a bill that will allow New Yorkers to take the course online, but the new legislation won’t go into effect until June. The best bet for now is to decide how you’d prefer to spend those five hours. Perfect Park Driving School on the Lower East Side incorporates a long video into its course, while at the family-owned Cedeno Driving School in East Williamsburg, you sit in a horseshoe formation while discussing road safety with an instructor. Many former students report not learning much during the courses, so one option is to get it over with at Leung’s Driving School in Chinatown, then meet up afterward with friends for family-style fried Peking pork chops at Royal Seafood downstairs.
➽ Get a friend to drive with you in Marine Park. Anyone who is over 21 and has a license can legally teach you how to drive if you’re over 18. Try practicing in Floyd Bennett Field in Marine Park, a regular training ground for sanitation drivers cruising around over 1,000 acres of empty space, or in the Costco parking lot in Astoria, a ghost town after closing.
➽ If you want to get test-ready in a week, go to school. Cedeno has gotten students like Stephanie Hon, 29, road-test ready within a week’s time (two lessons and a five-hour pre-licensing course was basically all it took, she says). Mert Cercioglu, 21, says to ask for the “perma-chill” instructor Benjamin at All Seasons Auto School in Bayside. His relaxed approach had Cercioglu parallel parking almost perfectly in roughly ten tries.
➽ Take a technically illegal test run. New York road tests are offered in every borough except Manhattan, and the sites are often located in public spaces (Laurelton’s goes through Francis Lewis Boulevard; Red Hook’s includes Atlantic Avenue and Court Street). While it’s against the law for student drivers to practice on road-test sites for their exams, some instructors say that as long as you go after hours, you’re unlikely to be stopped. And while no one is technically advocating that student drivers go this route, it is a surefire way to familiarize yourself with the particular turns and terrain (like hidden road signs or oddly shaped intersections) you’ll encounter on the actual test.
➽ Practice turning. A lot. Though would-be drivers tend to obsess over their parallel-parking acumen, turning into the wrong lane on a two-way road is the most frequent cause of failure by test takers, according to Leoni Pimentel of Akademia Driving School. A good place to practice is on Pleasant Avenue heading to 119th Street.
➽ If you want to schedule your test quickly, plan to go upstate. Yonkers and Orangeburg in particular, says Nick Kaplan of Beep Beep Auto School, tend to have more readily available spots than city test sites. But if you do want an appointment in the city fast, some schools — including Beep Beep and New York Road Tests — can rush to get you an exam date within a week for $80 to $90.
➽ For an easier test, take the F to Cunningham Park. It has wider-than-average two-way roads. Mark Millar of Focus Auto Driving School also recommends the Seaview and Jamaica test sites in Brooklyn and Queens, respectively, for having very little traffic and no lane switching or busy intersections.
➽ Emphasize head turns like you’re “trying to win the Latin Grammys,” Hon recalls her Cedeno instructor advising her. Simon Miyerov, owner of Drive Rite Academy, also mentions the importance of exaggerating your driving skills to hammer home to the proctor that you’re familiar with the rules: He recommends waiting at least three seconds at a stop sign, switching on your turn signal 100 feet before the intersection, and looking over your shoulder more than once before changing lanes (especially when there’s a bike lane). It’s equally important, though, not to appear tentative — proctors are rumored to fail people for seeming uncertain.
➽ For those simply looking to renew their license, it’s possible to do it online. You just have to take a vision test first at a DMV-approved vision-test provider, which will electronically submit your results to the DMV.
➽ And if you fail your driving test, consider advanced lessons. Schools like Revolution Driving School on East 32nd Street offer classes in highway merging; night, rain, and snow conditions; and even how to manage tolls and gas-station visits.