Failing the MSF Course: How, Why, and How to Avoid Failing

triumph motorcycle

The MSF course can be an exciting step in getting your motorcycle license. Unfortunately, it can also make newcomers nervous with the risk of failing. In this article, I’ll explain why some students fail and how you can avoid failing or quickly bounce back from failing the MSF.

You can fail the MSF Course if you do not pass the written and riding tests given at the end of the course. The written test is multiple choice and will go over the lessons from MSF Handbook. The riding test covers 4-6 riding drills that are graded on a point system. If you make too many errors on either test, you will fail.

As scary as that may sound, there is no need to be nervous about either test or get too down on yourself if you do happen to fail.

In this article, I break down some of the ways you can fail the MSF course along with a few tips to help you avoid failing. And if you found this article after failing the MSF course, don’t feel discouraged, I have a few tips to help you bounce back and get back on the road to getting your motorcycle license.

Can You Fail the MSF?

As I mentioned before, the MSF course ends with two tests – a written test in the classroom as well as a riding test out on motorcycles. And just like any test, you can fail.

You can fail the MSF course if you make too many errors or do not complete the exercises during written and riding tests. In addition to failing the tests, you can fail the course if you do not have the right gear, show up late, or are unsafe on the motorcycle.

Although there are quite a few ways to fail the MSF course, there are even more ways for your to prepare and pass.

How Can You Fail the MSF Course?

When people talk about failing the MSF course, they are often talking about the 2 tests given at the end of each class – the written and riding tests. But you can actually fail the course before you even get to the testing.

Here are all the ways you can fail the MSF course:

1. Arriving late

The class will be on a time limit and showing up late could prompt the instructors to fail you out of the course. It also doesn’t send the right message that you’re serious about learning.

2. Not wearing the required gear

In addition to showing up late, showing up without the right gear could lead to the instructors failing you out of the class. Wearing the correct gear is important to your safety and is mandated by the MSF requirements. For a breakdown of what gear to wear, check out this article on what to wear to the MSF course.

3. Not paying attention or following instructions

If you are not paying attention or fail to follow instructions, the instructors could see this as you not taking things seriously and will fail you. Not to mention, all of the drill instructions will take you complete focus.

4. Dropping the bike

Dropping the motorcycle during the test will result in an instant fail. Some schools will allow a drop or two during the practice drills but once you’re up for the actual test, a drop will result in a fail.

5. Going too slow

Some of the practice drills require you to have a good amount of speed. If you are going too slow, you won’t be able to do the drills correctly. This can also be a sign that you are not comfortable with the motorcycle yet.

6. Hitting too many cones

During the test, you will have to weave around or stay within the placed cones. Hitting these cones will start to add up points that could cause you to fail the MSF course.

7. Putting your foot down during the box drill

The riding test includes the figure-8 or box drill, where you will need to complete a figure-8 or u-turn within a rectangular box. If you put a foot down during this drill, it will add points towards failure and can even fail you outright.

8. Stalling the motorcycle too many times

If you stall the motorcycle more than once or twice during the riding test, you can end up failing. At the very least, this will add a lot of points against your score.

9. Not stopping at the required distance

The riding test also features a few braking drills. If you don’t stop within the required target area, this can fail you or add points against your score.

10. Exiting the assigned areas during drills

A lot of the drills will require you to maneuver within a limited amount of space. If you exit these areas or cross a boundary line, you can quickly start to add up points toward failing.

11. Taking too long to stop during a quick stop

One of the riding test drills will require you to complete an emergency braking maneuver within a time limit. If you don’t get up to speed fast enough before stopping, you will run out of time and fail this drill.

12. Getting too many answers wrong on the written test

The written test is multiple choice and will go over the lessons you learned in the MSF handbook. If you answer too many questions wrong, you won’t meet the required 70-80% accuracy you need to pass the MSF course.

13. Accumulating too many points

Finally, the riding test is graded on a point system where every mistake will add points to your score. The more points you have, the higher your chance of failing is. Most schools allow for 16-21 points before you fail the riding test.

Don’t get too worried about all these reasons people fail. Most of the time, students already have a decent grasp on the drills before they are tested on them. As long as you don’t get caught up in your head, you will do surprisingly well.

Common Reasons Students Struggle With the MSF Course

In addition to all the ways you can fail the MSF Course, there are a few areas where students struggle the most. Here I will break down some of the problems students face during the MSF course, as well as a few ways you can overcome these issues.

Being unprepared

Problem – Sometimes students struggle with being prepared for the MSF course. They will either show up late, without the right gear or in the wrong mindset for success. Luckily, this is one of the best and easiest things to remedy.

Solution – After signing up for the MSF course. Make sure you read the confirmation email or documents you received. This will give you all the information you need as far as where the course will be held as well as what time you should arrive. It will also tell you the gear requirements so you can make sure you have everything you need. Finally, it will show you where to find the official MSF Handbook. By studying this handbook, you can prepare for the classroom portion of the course and will be confident that you will pass the written test at the end of the class. For a more detailed breakdown of what to do after signing up for the MSF, check out this article on preparing for the MSF course.

Being anxious and nervous

Problem – New riders can be a little nervous going into the course, especially if they have no experience. This nervousness can cause new riders to mess up and feel that much more unsteady on the motorcycle. This will cause you to lose confidence and will affect every drill you do.

Solution – By mentally preparing for the course a few days before your first day, you can get into a better mindset so you are prepared for the challenges the course throws your way. You should also learn to recognize when you are feeling anxious so you can breathe and relax. by recognizing these feelings you can mitigate them and focus back on learning and having fun.

Struggling with the clutch and friction zone

Problem – One of the things students struggle with the most is the clutch lever and the friction zone. This refers to the point at which the clutch begins to engage and starts putting power to the back wheel. Most students are abrupt with how fast they squeeze and release the clutch lever. This will cause the motorcycle to jerk or stall, which makes students even that much more nervous. As well, students get nervous about twisting the throttle, usually causing them to stall the bike, as they are not giving it enough gas as they release the clutch.

SolutionThe solution is to focus on the slow and smooth operation of the clutch lever. The clutch determines how much power you can put to that back wheel. You can twist the throttle to red line but as long as you have the clutch lever pulled in and disengaged, the motorcycle won’t move an inch. And it works like a dimmer switch, where a slow release will only allow a fraction of the power to go to the back wheel until the clutch is completely engaged. And if you feel the motorcycle stalling, give it more throttle. Remember, as long as you are slow and smooth on the clutch, the motorcycle will behave accordingly, regardless of how much you twist the throttle. To get a better feel of the clutch and throttle, practice with the friction zone between drills, when you’re waiting in line, and during quick breaks on the bike. I did this in between drills, where I would use the friction zone to “rock” the bike back and forth. This allowed me to get comfortable with the “bite point” of the clutch and also made me comfortable using more throttle so I didn’t stall.

Struggling with slow-speed maneuvers

Problem – Slow speed maneuvering causes the bike to feel more unstable and will make new riders feel unbalanced. This causes them to look down instead of where they need to go making the problem even worse.

Solution – The first solution is to always look where you want to go. It seems counter-intuitive, but we tend to steer the motorcycle where we are looking, regardless of our skill. By looking where you want to go, you will naturally get better at making the bike follow along. The real ninja tip though is to keep the motorcycle in the friction zone with your foot on the back brake. Just like a bike, motorcycles want to stay upright when they’re moving. When you release power to the back wheel at low speeds, the motorcycle becomes extremely unstable and you lose your ability to balance it with the throttle. By keeping the motorcycle in the friction zone, it will want to stay upright and if it starts to feel unstable, you can easily regain balance by adding a little throttle. And don’t forget to use that back brake. While the front brake will be the majority of your stopping power, the back brake does wonder for slow-speed maneuvering. Lightly using the rear brake at low speeds will make the motorcycle more grounded and stable, almost making it feel like you’re pulling a trailer behind you. And if you need to slow down, you can easily use the back brake to regulate your speed during the slow speed drills. By staying in the friction zone and using the back brakes, you will have a lot of confidence with your slow-speed maneuvers. And for extra credit, try to practice on a regular bike. A lot of the same principles apply, especially vision, and this can prepare you for the course.

Being tense and stiff on the motorcycle

Problem – In addition to being nervous, a lot of new riders end up keeping their arms and body stiff on the motorcycle while having too much grip on the controls. This causes them to lose a degree of articulation when it comes to maneuvering the motorcycle and even makes their inputs more jerky and abrupt. This creates a recipe for disaster where the new rider doesn’t feel in control of the bike and is more prone to fall.

Solution – Being nervous is normal but try to remember to relax and be as light on the controls as possible. Motorcycles seem to behave and handle better the lighter you are on the controls. Remember to breathe and be loose. I try to keep a bend in my arms at the elbow and will even flap them up and down while on the bike to remember to be loose. You should also remind yourself to be light on the throttle and handlebars, only using just enough grip to keep your hands from sliding off. This will be a slight challenge as you build up your muscles for riding, however, being loose and light on the motorcycle will help you progress that much faster.

What Happens if You Fail the MSF Course?

Unfortunately, it is possible to fail the MSF Course. But don’t let that discourage you or prevent you from trying. It is more common than you think and there’s a good chance there will be multiple people who fail in each class. Here is what happens when you fail the MSF course:

If you fail the MSF course, the instructors will pull you aside during the drills or after the course completes to let you know that you need more practice. They will let you know what mistakes you made as well as how you can improve. You will then be dismissed from attending the rest of the class and will have to reschedule to take the course again at a later date.

Again, don’t be discouraged. The MSF course is all about learning a new skill and that is exactly what you do during the course, regardless if you pass or not. No matter what, you are a better rider than you were when you first stepped foot in the class and you are that much closer to getting your license – which is what it’s all about.

What to do After Failing the MSF Course

Again, there is no shame in failing the MSF Course, it happens to the best of us. In fact, I know of a few good riders who failed their MSF course 1-2 times before getting their license. Don’t let a failure discourage you from getting your motorcycle license, here is what you should do if you fail the MSF Course.

You should ask the instructors why you failed and how you can improve. Also, ask if they have any tips or instructions to help you improve outside of class. Once you have an idea, go ahead and immediately reschedule to take the MSF course at a later date. While you wait for the next course, study, research, and practice where possible so you can be more prepared for your next attempt.

Although you may be upset that you failed, make sure you reach out to the instructors immediately after class or as soon as possible so you can ask them questions. The instructors are invested in your success and will gladly tell you what you did wrong and how you can improve. Take this constructive criticism to heart and try to make a plan to improve. Remember that you’re still learning and can always improve, regardless if you pass or fail.

After you talk with the instructors, you should immediately schedule to take the MSF course again but at a slightly later date. A lot of students who fail get discouraged and will not feel motivated to take the class again, especially the longer they wait. By immediately signing up for another class, you incentivize yourself to do better so you can pass the course the next time around. And while you wait, you can use this time to practice or prepare for your next attempt.

Depending on what you struggled with during the course, you may benefit from practicing on a regular bike. This will help you learn to use better vision and will build your confidence with sow speed maneuvering.

Do you Fail the MSF if You Drop the Bike?

I know I touched on this before but a lot of people are worried about what happens when you drop the motorcycle. This happened during my class and seems to be a common theme in most MSF Courses.

You will fail the MSF course if you drop the motorcycle during the testing portion of the class, however, most classes and instructors will not fail you if you accidentally drop the motorcycle during the practice drills. This is usually up to the instructor’s discretion, as they will assess your safety and the events of the fall to see if you are safe to keep riding.

As I mentioned, you can usually get away with dropping the motorcycle during the practice drills. This is when students are just starting to learn their bikes and small falls can be common. The instructors will assess you, the bike, and the details of the fall before deciding whether it is safe to let you keep riding or if it is best if you stop.

Unfortunately, this is not the case during the actual testing portion of the course. The MSF guidelines are explicit and you will fail immediately if you drop the motorcycle during the riding test. The instructors must follow the rules laid out by the MSF rulebook and do not have any pull here.

How Hard is the MSF Basic Rider Course?

I know it may seem like there is a lot to worry about but remember that the MSF course is designed with the absolute beginner in mind. I had never worked a clutch or throttle when I first walked into the class, but by the end of the second day, I had passed and was ready to get my license. Still, some new riders will be nervous that the course is hard.

The MSF course can be challenging but is not hard to pass or complete. The course is designed for complete beginners and will start with the most basic lessons before progressing to more advanced skills. Although some of the riding drills can be challenging, the written portion is easy and most students pass the riding portion as well.

Just don’t get too discouraged or scared to fail. Like all new endeavors, being bad at something is the first step to being good at it too. I walked into my MSF course scared because I had no experience, and 2 days later I emerged victorious with a certificate for my motorcycle license. A few of my friends weren’t so lucky but were determined to get their licenses as well. And even though they had to retake the MSF, their determination and ability to overcome ensured their success.

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