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DVS expands driver’s license oral exam options for non-English speakers

Taking and passing the knowledge test for a driver’s license can be stressful for anyone, but perhaps even more so for those whose first language is not English.

To eliminate the language barrier, the Department of Vehicle Services (DVS) offers oral exams in multiple languages ​​to individuals and groups. With demand for the service growing, the agency recently added two test sites where a proctor or interpreter can read the test aloud. Oral tests are now offered in Eagan, downtown St. Paul and Anoka.

“By working with the community, we learn what they need, how we can support them, and provide services to all Minnesotans,” said Pong Xiong, director of DVS, the division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety that administers the written tests. and issues driver’s licenses. “We want them to have the best experience with DVS. We hope to see increased usage.”

The DVS gave 461 oral exams to individuals in 2022 and conducted tests for 175 groups last year. Oral tests can take up to 90 minutes per person and are labor intensive, Xiong said. By allowing DVS staff to administer or proctor tests to groups of three to seven people, the agency can provide more exam slots for clients.

“Seven people taking a test at the same time is more effective than one person,” DVS spokesman Mark Karstedt said.

DVS has translated the questions that appear on the Class D Driver’s Test into 14 languages, but some concepts may be difficult to translate. There is no direct English-to-Hmong translation for the word lane, for example, so the test can still be confusing, Xiong said.

This is where an interpreter with a valid Minnesota driver’s license can accompany a candidate and read the questions to them.

With the help of an interpreter, “they [exam takers] can have a better understanding,” Xiong said. “It’s not a perfect process, but it’s a lot of work to be done.

To ensure the integrity of the test, a DVS staff member is present when the tests are given to ensure that the conversation is limited to the exam questions.

Oral exams are not limited to non-English speakers. DVS staff members can read the test questions to anyone who has difficulty reading or understanding the test questions.

“We can rephrase or go into more detail to help the client understand the questions,” Karstedt said.

Prospective drivers opting for an oral exam are asked the same questions as anyone taking the traditional computer-assisted written exam.

Oral exams for individuals are available at most state exam stations, but due to space constraints, group tests are only available at the three metro stations. But DVS could potentially conduct group testing in places such as a community center in Greater Minnesota, Xiong said.

DVS is preparing to offer more oral exams starting Oct. 1, when under a new state law, unauthorized Minnesotans can apply for a driver’s license.

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