The practical driving test: How it works and what happens if you pass or fail (plus our top tips!)

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There are two driving tests

The Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) practical driving exam is the second of two tests that learner drivers need to pass to get a full GB driving licence.

To take your practical test, you’ll need to be at least 17 years old, have your provisional driving licence, and have passed a driving theory test within the last two years.

How to book your test

If you’re learning to drive in Great Britain (England, Scotland, or Wales), you can book your test on the GOV.UK website.

If you’re learning to drive in Northern Ireland, you can book your test on the DVA website.

It costs £62, and you’ll need to know your provisional licence number.

You’ll also have the chance to ask for any assistance you might need. The DVSA may be able to provide extra support if you have a disability, condition, or learning difficulty that might make the test harder for you.

There might be a longer wait time than usual

Normally, it’d be unusual to wait more than a couple of months for a driving test appointment.

But during the coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of thousands of driving tests were cancelled — so there’s quite a big backlog now, and wait times could be much longer.

On the day

You can expect to be at the test centre for about one hour. Aim to arrive at least 10 minutes early, as you’ll have a bit of paperwork to do before the test starts.

The actual test takes around 50 minutes, and is broken down into five parts.

Eyesight check: Your examiner will ask you to read a vehicle registration plate from about 20 metres away. If you can’t read it, you’ll fail automatically. So if you need glasses, make sure you bring them.

Show me, tell me: Your examiner will ask you a couple of vehicle safety questions — one where you need to explain the answer (show me) and another where you’ll have to demonstrate some kind of safety check. You can find a full list of the possible questions on the GOV.UK website.

General driving: Once you’re on the road, your examiner will observe your driving in various road settings. You won’t be asked to drive on the motorway, and your examiner will give you directions.

Reversing your vehicle: At some point, the examiner will ask you to do one of three manoeuvres, to show that you can safely drive your car in reverse. They are:

  • Reverse (or parallel) parking
  • Bay park
  • Pull up on the right hand side of the road, reverse for two car lengths, and then move back off.

Independent driving: After all of this, you’ll probably have about 20 minutes left for independent driving. For this section, you’ll follow traffic signs or a satnav to show that you can drive safely while directing yourself. Taking a wrong turn doesn’t count as an error, though — as long as you’re safe.

There are a few rules…

You can have your instructor with you

But that doesn’t mean you get any extra help, though. They’d have to sit in the back, and stay quiet the whole time.

You can also bring someone other than your instructor, if you prefer.

You can use your own car

If you think it could help you, you can use your own car in your driving test.

There are a few requirements, but you should be good to take your test in most UK cars — and it doesn’t need to have dual pedals.

But keep in mind that if you’re taking your test in a car without dual pedals, your examiner might feel the need to intervene sooner if they think something’s going wrong. And once the examiner steps in, it’s unlikely that you’ll pass.

Your examiner might also be examined

Sounds weird, I know! But you may have another examiner in the car during your test. They wouldn’t be testing you though — they’d be making sure that your examiner is doing their job properly.

This doesn’t happen too often. But strangely enough, your test could be cancelled if you don’t consent — without a refund.

If you pass

Congratulations! You’re ready to hit the road.

You’ll get your pass certificate straight away, and you’ll have the option to hand in your provisional and order a full licence on the spot. You can also apply for your full licence later on — but you’ll have to do it within two years.

You can drive, get insurance, and even buy a car before your full licence arrives. But make sure you take a photo of your provisional on your phone, just in case you need a photo of your ID for any reason (such as signing up to Cuvva!).

If you used our learner’s insurance to take your driving test, you’re still covered to drive back (as long as you go straight home). But after that, your temporary learner policy won’t be valid, and you’ll need to get covered again as a full licence holder — remember to update your licence details in the app.

If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again

Hopefully you’ll pass on the first try. But if you fail your driving test, you certainly wouldn’t be alone. The pass rate is only around 50%. And if it makes you feel better, a few of the Cuvverati (what we call our team members) had to attempt their driving test several times before they passed!

Your examiner should tell where you went wrong, so you’ll be aware of what areas you need to brush up on. But just in case, you can find out the top 10 reasons that people fail their driving test on the GOV.UK website.

It’s probably worth getting in a few more lessons with your driving instructor before you try again.

But try not to feel too down. Dust yourself off, get back to the books, and try again. You got this!

Top tips on how to pass your driving test

We’ve put together some advice from two of the UK’s leading driving schools, on how to give yourself the best chance of passing your driving test.

From the RAC

Be on time: Getting there 10 to 20 minutes early means that you shouldn’t miss your test, even if something goes wrong. This also gives you time to relax and get in the zone (as well as sorting any paperwork that you might need to fill out before your test).

Have a lesson beforehand: Getting in some last minute practice will help you “warm up” and hopefully calm some of those pre-test nerves. It will also give you an opportunity to ask your instructor any last minute questions.

Use your instructor’s car: The RAC recommends using your instructor's car to avoid any issues with the vehicle meeting the test centre’s requirements — and so that you’ll know exactly how to answer the “show me, tell me” questions for the car that you’re being tested on.

Choose your test centre wisely: Some test centres have higher pass rates than others. This often has something to do with how busy the roads are in that area. If there are lots of confusing and complicated junctions nearby, that could also affect how many people pass there.

But while pass rates may be important, there are a few other things to consider. It’s probably worth picking a centre near your house, so that you can spend a good amount of time practicing on the test routes. Your driving instructor might also have a preferred test centre where they know the roads best.

You can find data on driving test centre pass rates on the GOV.UK website.

Take your driving instructor with you: The RAC say that it’s a good idea to ask your instructor to sit in on your driving test for reassurance, and so if you do fail, they’ll be able to give you better feedback.

But we’re not 100% sure if we agree. For some people, having their instructor watching might add to the pressure of taking a driving test.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t take your instructor with you. But it’s a personal choice, so we’d just encourage you to think about which scenario would make you feel most comfortable.

From Bill Plant

Practice your manoeuvres: Getting your manoeuvres down will help you feel more confident during one of the more tricky parts of your test, and help you get to grips with your car’s controls.

Know your routes: You’ll usually follow one of a selection of set routes during your driving test — your instructor should have some knowledge of them. If you look online, you may even be able to download some of the routes onto your GPS.

We wouldn’t recommend relying on the routes too much, though. It’s a really good idea to practice on driving test routes. But in your test, you’ll need to be prepared to drive safely in any condition. So you should prioritise learning the rules of the road over memorising your routes.

Speak up: Make sure you communicate with your examiner when you need to — especially if you’re unclear on an instruction that they’ve given you.

Choose a professional driving instructor: Bill Plant recommend choosing a qualified instructor over a friend or family member. And we agree — professional instructors go through months of training, and they spend most of their time on the road, helping people prepare for their tests. They’ll have much more knowledge than your average driver.

We’d add that it’s important to go with an instructor who you feel comfortable with. They don’t have to become your best friend — but if you really don’t get on with them, or you don’t like their teaching style, it might be better to go with someone else.

Don’t overthink!: No matter how you think you’re driving, it’s the examiner who eventually decides whether you pass or fail. So you might feel like you’ve made a mistake and failed, but your examiner might not have even noticed an error. Stay calm, stay positive, and keep focusing on driving safely.

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Radically better learner’s insurance

If you’re learning to drive and want to get in a bit of extra driving practice on top of your lessons, why not give our temporary learner’s cover a try?

With Cuvva, you can insure yourself on a friend or relative’s car within minutes, through the app. Our learner policies are separate from the owner’s main insurance — so if you were to have an accident (hopefully you won’t!) their insurance wouldn’t be affected.

So grab your licence, make sure you’ve got your supervisor, and get a quote today.

FAQs

Can I change the date of my driving test?

You can change your test date online. Normally, you’d have to do this at least three working days in advance. But if you can’t make your test because you’re self isolating, you can rebook your test at short notice.

How can I find my closest test centre?

You can find your nearest test centres on the GOV.UK website. You don’t have to go for the closest centre to your house.

How old do I need to be to do my driving test?

You’ll need to be at least 17 years old, have your provisional licence, and have passed your theory test.

How do I book my test?

You can book a driving test on the GOV.UK website.

How long does the driving test take?

You can expect to be at the test centre for around one hour.

How much does it cost to take a driving test?

At the moment, the practical driving test costs £62 on weekday daytimes, and £75 on evenings, weekends, and bank holidays. This applies to Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

You can pay by credit or debit card.

Are test centres open?

Yes, driving test centres have reopened. But because they were closed during the Coronavirus lockdown, there’s a bit of a backlog. So you might have to wait longer for an appointment.

Updated on 12th October 2021