Taking and passing the knowledge exam to get a driver's license can be stressful for anybody, but maybe even more so for those whose native tongue 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 rising, the agency recently added two testing locations where a proctor or interpreter can read the test aloud. Oral tests are now offered in Eagan, downtown St. Paul and Anoka.

"As we work with the community, we are learning what they need, how we can support them and provide service 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 increasing use."

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 offer more exam slots to customers.

"Seven people taking a test at one time is more time efficient than one person," DVS spokesman Mark Karstedt said.

DVS has translated questions that appear on the Class D driver's test into eight languages, but some concepts can be hard to translate. There is no direct translation from English to Hmong for the word lane, for example, so the test still can be confusing, Xiong said.

That is where an interpreter holding a valid Minnesota driver's license can accompany a test taker and read them the questions.

With the help of an interpreter, "they [exam takers] may have a better understanding," Xiong said. "It's not a perfect process, but it is important work to provide."

To ensure the integrity of the test, a DVS staff member is present when tests are given to make sure talking is restricted to exam questions.

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

"We can reword or go more into detail to help the customer understand the questions," Karstedt said.

Would-be drivers opting for an oral exam are given the same questions as anybody who would take the traditional computer-guided written test.

Oral exams for individuals are available at most exam stations across the state, but due to space constraints, group testing is available only at the three metro locations. But DVS potentially could conduct group tests 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 driver's licenses.