Passing the Test

Posted by on May 18, 2011

drivers_licenseWell I finally passed my written test for my Chinese Driver License!  It took me 4 tries!  (89, 87, 89 and finally 97)  I’ve written about the process previously.  But an update is due.

First the things first a bit more about resources that finally enabled me to pass.  Here’s a set of delicious bookmarks on the topic, which includes the following two recommendations.  I think by far the most thorough discussion on the subject is the post on The In particular his chart referenced above of Traffic Cop hand Signals was helpful. By far though the thing that helped me the most was the ThinkNao China Drive iPhone App, thanks to the tip from Juliet London. (Also mentioned in the The MiddleKingdom post)

There are several aspects with the Chinese driving test that make it difficult.  First is the sheer number of questions that they draw on 1320.  I know that sounds like a lot, but try wading through them. Just a once over takes hours.  The ThinkNao app does a great job of categorizing the questions :

  • Regulations (441)
  • Road Signs (285)
  • Safety (239)
  • Special Conditions (127)
  • Emergency (142)
  • Operating vehicle (64)
  • Special situations (49)

This allows you to focus in on smaller bite size chunks of questions.  Each question is presented to you in the test format : multiple choice or true or false.  And in the review section if you miss a question they put it on the end of the question list and ask you again until you get all of them right.   They also have a test mode where they randomly select 100 out of 1320 (just like the real test).  At the end they tell you your percentage and let you review the questions you got wrong.

This is the second reason the app is great is it lets you keep testing over and over and over.  Lots of practice is what you need, reading the book is very difficult because it doesn’t ingrain in you the requisite memory muscle.  In the end this test is very “Chinese” because the approach is very Chinese : rote learning and memorization vs. comprehension and review.

I never got a copy of the rules and regulations, though they do in fact exist.  I never read an explanation of what a “level crossing” was (manned or unmanned), its a rail road crossing. I never read about the max speed on the freeway and the various speeds per lane.  It is all imparted and intuited from the questions themselves.  You don’t learn the principles; you have to memorize them from hundreds of questions and they are interspersed among lots of other questions on different topics.

Chinese Driving Signals

Lastly one of the most frustrating aspects about the test is that from my western perspective many of the questions make no sense.  A friend commented on Facebook about how it sounded Kafkaesque , which is defined as : “marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity.”  That pretty much sums it up aside from the menacing aspect.  The first way its disorienting is the driving regulations and the questions have no bearing on how people actually drive in China.  And strangely given the reputation of communist countries (although China is a long ways away from communism) regarding rules, there is very very little enforcement of the rules.  I pass police cars all the time on my bike and riding in cars and they never pull anyone over (except for truck drivers who have overloaded their trucks) consequently no one seems to pay them the slightest mind.  They do however give out tickets for infractions of speed and “major” things like running red lights via traffic cameras.  But everyone seems to know where these are and modifies their behavior accordingly.  This all makes the fact that you have to take a written test seem a little pointless, a cog in a strange bureaucracy that has codified a process that serves no purpose.

Then there are the stories of the fact that people that work for the Embassies in Beijing don’t even have to take the written test, they just pay for their medical exam and the form fee and they get a license.  Finally its the fact that to my rationalist point of view many questions just don’t make sense.  Some of this is because I have no familiarity with they way things are done, like the traffic signals above.  Without any explanation or ever having observed them in real life they are just completely foreign to me.  The fact they are to be interpreted as if viewed from the side vs. head on, helps a little but I ended up having to just resort to rote memorization.  (And even then I got very lucky and had zero questions on my last exam about cop traffic signals).  But some of the questions just seem downright silly, and while you can memorize the answers it feels like an exercise  in a surreal game of “The Emperor has no clothes”.

And so here are a few more of my favorite questions from the exam :

  1. Before the drive escapes from a fire disaster, he should turn off the ignition switch, cut off the power switch and the blind, and manage to turn off the fuel tank switch.
    • True or FalseAnswer : true, which makes perfect sense because in a fire disaster I am cool calm collected and able to follow a check list.
  2. When a vehicle rolls continuously to a deep ditch, the driver should swiftly hide his body to the lower space in front of his seat, hold ____________ to stabilize his body so that his body will not roll and get hurt.
    • The pedal
    • The steering column
    • The steering wheel
    • The gear leverAnswer : 2  which again makes perfect sense right?  In the middle of a roll I’ll just overcome inertia and swiftly hide my body down there and hug that steering column.
  3. When there many wounded persons, those who should be sent to hospital last are the persons _______.
    • Suffering cervical vertebra damage
    • Suffering massive hemorrhage
    • Suffering breathing difficulty
    • Whose intestines and veins are exposedAnswer : 1 I have no idea what cervical vertebra damage is….
  4. When a vehicle overturns slowly and jumping out of the vehicle is possible, the driver should jump in the direction of the overturn.
    • True or FalseAnswer : false, duh!  That would put you in the path of the overturning car and and you’d be crushed!
  5. When encountering a blind man on the road, the driver should _____________
    • Honk to indicate him to yield
    • Swiftly bypass
    • Follow closely
    • Reduce speed and evadeAnswer : 4 And this is one of the best and easiest and parts of many of these kinds of questions, the answer is ALWAYS to reduce speed. Always.
  6. When there is a sudden braking failure, the drive should evade people first and things second when evading obstacles
    • True or FalseAnswer : true.  These are actually great words to live by in many facets of your life.
  7. When a head-on collision is unavoidable, the driver should free the steering wheel, raise the legs and lie sideward on the right seat at the moment of the head-on collision.  This can ensure his body is not stuck by the steering wheel.
    • True or FalseAnswer : True.  I’ve been practice this one. I’ve almost got it but getting it “at the moment of head-on” is a little tricky.  You have to be very fast, like Mr. Miagi when he catches that fly with chopsticks.
  8. After a vehicle falls into water, the driver should keep calm and tell the passengers to be calm, have deep breath and open the doors or windows to escape when water nearly fills up the compartment.
    • True or FalseAnswer : True, this is so so true… last time I crashed in the water we all rolled up the windows and it was really hard getting out.
  9. When encountering old people walking on the road and obstructing the traffic, the driver may continuously honk to urge them to yield.
    • True or FalseAnswer : False.  Sadly I observe this to be true almost daily riding my bike to work people love their horns here.
  10. When the driver senses he will inevitable be thrown out of the vehicle, he should violently straighten both his legs to increase the force of being thrown out and jump out of the vehicle.
    • True or FalseAnswer : True.  This explains a lot about life actually.  I’ve been plagued with this weird sensation lately. I thought it was deja vu but now I realize its the sensation of the inevitable hitting me right before the inevitable happens.

At least I got a good laugh when studying for the test.  And I wonder if there isn’t some mid-level bureaucrat somewhere in Beijing that made up these questions chuckling to himself as well.

19 Responses to Passing the Test

  1. WildCelticRose (Lisa)

    Cervical Vertebrea are the bones in your neck.

    A neck injury (common and must be ruled out in any car accident) can be transported last because they just need to be immobilized. If your guts are hanging out, you need to get into surgery. (not to mention the risk of infection)

    So that answer, clears up my question about the question, It assumed that there was adequate medical care and transport for all patients.

  2. Gloria

    Hi Mark,
    Thanks for this site, and the humour used in addressing these questions- now I know I will not forget the answers when I take the exams.
    Just wondering where I can buy the book? I do not have a iPhone so cannot download the app.
    Many thanks

    • Mark Griffith

      I bought my book at the licensing division. I tried 3 times by studying the book, but I think the best thing you can do is take practice tests over and over. If you can’t get the iPhone app you might also try getting ahold of the excel questions from this site. I think you have to email the guy directly.

  3. Gloria

    Just thought – question 10…..
    Will this driver have a seat belt on? Will he be hit from behind? When he straightens his legs will that enable him jump higher and thus avoid injury? I can make sense of some of them, but still trying to understand this one

    Question 8- if you wait for the car to fill up with water before opening the door… Does that make you more buoyant in the water or does this question just one of those people cannot understand?


    • Mark Griffith

      You know I don’t think that your meant to really understand some of these questions. I don’t think they logically even make sense according to the laws of physics. I would just “accept” them and memorize the answer. 🙂

  4. Ryan Vande WAter

    I would like to point out a glaring error in this post: It is NOT Mr Miyagi who catches the fly with chopsticks. It is Daniel. :^) As a punishment I will now “sweep the leg.”

    OK, back to the discussion of avoiding frontal collisions, or what to do when you cannot avoid.

  5. Soenke

    Sorry to write again, but I feel my post needs a little explanation.
    To make it short:
    The english real test is done from new 900 questions today, but the english version of these new 900 questions is not available on the internet – at least I did not find them.

  6. Mark Griffith

    Soenke, the thing that worked the best for me was to use the iPhone app and take the test over and over and over. 😉

  7. Soenke

    Once again sorry (today is not my day it seems…)
    My first post got lost somehow, my fault.

    What I wanted to say is this:
    There is an old test of 1500 questions. You learned it Mark, also myself and many others. But for the real test they pick the 100 questions out of new 900 questions, so there have been 600 deleted. Moreover, which makes it really bad, some of the remaining questions have been changed, so learning the 1500 Q+A does only help partly and the rest is a matter of chance.

    The new 900 Q+A are there – but only in chinese, not in english.

  8. Christina

    Hi Mark
    Robert just gave me your link, because I kept asking about these questions for the driver license.
    You made me laugh sooo much, because sitting over these questions I kept on thinking that maybe my english is just not good enough. But reading about the cervical vertebra and not even a native english speaker knowing what that is, gave me new hopes.

    Thank you for the link for the IPhone app

  9. Cao Cao

    After failing twice and 24 hours prior to my next test appointment I found your blog.
    I was desperately searching for a traffic police hand signal explanation after my wife (Chinese) gave up on me. She just passed the written test herself but could not explain my WHY, turns out she just memorized all the hand signals, questions and answers.

    Thank you for your honesty in telling everybody that you failed 3 times. I had doubts about myself after the second time. Inflammable matches, leeward fire fighting (I’m not a sailer) or carriageways haven’t come up in my 30 years of driving.
    Thinking back, seeing a lady next to me jumping up-and-down in joy after she passed should have been and indication that it is not that simple.

    My recommendation:
    Take the test until you know the answers by heart.

    Thanks to your blog I finally passed today.

    • Mark Griffith

      Glad that you passed, its a clear example of Chinese education system. Memorization and rote learning to be sure. 🙂

  10. Ving

    Hey Mark,

    I am also considering getting a Chinese license and this is a great guide. The questions don’t seem to make sense, which probbably makes it a little harder to select the most relevant answer?

  11. David

    Hi Mark,

    Just saw this… after a year… I’m the published or China Drive, the iPhone and Android app that helps people pass the Chinese Driver’s License Exam. We’ve just updated it.

    If anyone want the iPhone version they can go here . If someone wants the Android version email me at dvd (at)


  12. Reni

    Hilarious…made for a good read & a laugh!

  13. Robin

    Hi Mark,
    Thanks for your very informative Blog. I took the advise you gave and passed the test for my Chinese Document for motorized vehicle when motorizing on the road card!!
    (driving license) Lol! Thanks so much got 95%
    Now I just have to lean how to get to where I am going yesterday : )

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