Taking your driving test is an exciting rite of passage - but it can also be a confusing and nerve-wracking experience. It all seems a lot simpler with good preparation, though. Here’s everything you need to know about the big day, from how to prepare your car to what your examiner is looking out for.
Administered by the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency), the UK driving test assesses your ability to safely control a vehicle on public roads. A successful pass will earn you a full driving licence for a car. (By the way, the test requirements differ if you wish to drive another type of vehicle, such as an HGV, or tow a trailer.)
When you turn 15 years and 9 months, you can apply for a provisional licence. This allows you to start driving on UK roads, provided you are accompanied by a full licence holder, such as a qualified driving instructor. If a friend offers to accompany you while you gain some real-life road experience in between your professional lessons, in either their car or your own, it’s crucial to have the correct learner driver insurance in place. Don’t fall before the first hurdle!
The driving test itself consists of two main parts: a theory section which must be passed successfully in order to move on, and then the practical. You have to be at least 17 years of age to sit the theory test (here’s some helpful tips!). If you pass, you are given a maximum of two years to take the practical driving examination.
Okay, so you’ve passed your theory test, chosen where to take your driving test - believe it or not, some test centres have way higher pass percentages than others! - and booked a date. What now?
As with any test, good preparation is crucial. There’s no denying that being assessed is a scary experience, so ensuring that you are ready will help to alleviate some of those fears.
Whether you’ve been having lessons from a professional driving instructor or a friend, it’s important you take your test in a vehicle that you are familiar with. Your instructor’s car will most likely be test-ready. However, if you plan to use your vehicle, there are several requirements that your car must comply with. These include:
Asides from the legal requirements, there are a couple of preparations that are important if you’ve chosen to use your own car for your driving test:
Don’t face the nightmare of a test cancellation because you forgot the paperwork. There are several things you need to take with you to the test centre:
If you’d like someone to accompany you during the driving test, your instructor or a friend can sit quietly in the backseat. There are certain rules they will have to obey, but it can be reassuring to know that they are there.
Think about what you’re going to wear. Comfortable, well-fitting clothes are the way to go, avoiding anything that might restrict movement or get caught on the gear stick or handbrake. Choose your shoes carefully, too, focusing on the heel and sole specifically - you don’t want your foot to slip off the clutch pedal and cause you to stall.
Don’t worry if your test examiner doesn’t talk much. Most will initiate a conversation to put you at ease and may then fall silent, but if, like many of us, talking to yourself helps you relax, you won’t be penalised for this. Remember, too, not to be alarmed if they appear to be making a lot of notes - examiners are only human and can forget things just like the rest of us, so it makes sense to write things down.
Overall, test examiners want to see safe, calm driving. They judge every test by the same standards, are trained to be objective and fair, and ultimately, want you to pass. Seeing upwards of seven candidates every day, with each test lasting around 40 minutes, they understand that you’re likely to be nervous, and will do their best to put you at ease.
Throughout your test, the examiner is looking for good control of the vehicle, great observational and anticipatory skills and quick, sensible reactions. You should be able to demonstrate smooth acceleration and deceleration, braking, and accurate steering. It’s also important to have the confidence to select the appropriate gear for the road conditions, and always be aware of what’s going on around you. The examiner will want to see you judging the safest time to carry out what he has asked.
The driving test consists of five parts, designed to demonstrate everything you’ve learned and to replicate conditions that drivers experience on the road.
The eyesight check
On the walk from the test centre’s waiting room to the car, your examiner will ask you to read a number plate around 65 ft, or 20 metres, away. This is a straightforward pass/fail test. If you fail this, you won’t be allowed to continue.
Next, the examiner will ask you two questions relating to vehicle safety. The ‘tell me’ question will occur before you start driving and involves you explaining how you’d carry out a certain safety check or task. The ‘show me’ question, asked while you’re driving, involves you showing the examiner how you’d carry out a safety task.
You’ll gain a minor fault if you get either or both questions wrong. By the way: the examiner will also be assessing you on when you deem it a safe time to demonstrate the ‘show me’ question. Don’t do it at a busy junction, for example. You will never be punished for putting safety first on the test.
This part of the test is designed to show your general driving ability. The examiner will give you directions, and you may be asked to:
The examiner is looking for safe and steady progress along the road, with manoeuvres carried out as calmly and as smoothly as possible.
The examiner will ask you to perform one of the following:
In order to successfully pass this section, you should reverse with confidence and accuracy, make all the necessary observations, and act accordingly.
For the final 20 minutes of your test, you’ll be expected to drive, following the road signs, or directions on a sat nav - the examiner will set this up for you. If you take a wrong turn or miss one altogether, you won’t be penalised and you’ll be given instructions to get back on route.
The examiner is looking for steady progress while observing the rules of the road. They will expect you to select the correct gear for whatever road conditions you experience, respond accordingly to any unexpected incidents, and carefully plan your upcoming manoeuvres, such as approaching a roundabout or overtaking a vehicle.
In particular, you should be aware of stopping distances - keeping a safe space between you and the vehicle in front, appropriate use of the MSM (mirror, signal, manoeuvre) procedure and making other road users aware of your intentions, via signalling, speed and road positioning.
Want a sneaky look at the actual examination marking sheet? 👀.
There are 3 different types of faults that your examiner can give:
In the event of the examiner failing you, you can rebook your test for a date at least ten working days away. However, it could be a good idea to wait a little longer so you can book in some more practice to go over mistakes made in the test.
If you’ve passed your test, the examiner will hand over your authorised pass certificate, explaining any faults you made before wishing you on your way.
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