A practical guide to taking your driving test

Once you’ve passed your theory test, the practical driving test is all that’s standing between you and the freedom of the open road. Here’s our guide to what to expect, including FAQs and top tips to increase your chances of passing.

Once you’ve passed your theory test, the practical driving test is all that’s standing between you and the freedom of the open road. Here’s our guide to what to expect, including FAQs and top tips to increase your chances of passing.

Daniel Hutson
Motor insurance expert
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Posted 14 JANUARY 2020 Last Updated 21 DECEMBER 2021

How do I book a driving test? 

You’ll find a step-by-step booking process at gov.uk. But remember, before you apply for your practical driving test, you need to pass your driving theory test. 

To book your driving theory test you need your: 

  • UK driving licence number
  • Email address
  • Credit/debit card details. 

The same applies for booking your practical driving test, with the addition of: 

  • Your theory test pass certificate
  • Your driving instructor’s personal reference number, so you can check that they’ll be available on the day. Some people also like to have a lesson before they take their test to get warmed up.

What does the driving theory test consist of? 

The theory test is divided into two parts and they’re both carried out on the same day. 

First, you’ll have 57 minutes to answer 50 multiple-choice questions. Then your perception of hazards will be tested during 14 different video clips . You need to pass both parts to be awarded the theory pass certificate. If you fail either one of them, you’ll need to take the full test again. 

Your pass certificate number lasts for two years – so keep it safe. If you don’t pass your driving test in that time, you’ll have to pass the theory test again.

If you don’t pass, you’ll get a letter at the test centre which will tell you where you dropped points, so you know what to practice for next time. You’ll have to wait at least three working days before you’re allowed to take your test again. 

You can practise online with a mock theory test.

When will I be ready to take my practical driving test? 

Passing your driving theory test is the first step, but after that it’s the time you spend on the road that makes all the difference. 

In most cases, your instructor will tell you when you’re ready and everyone learns at their own rate. But, according to the DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency), it takes about 47 hours of driving lessons plus around 20 hours of additional private practice with a parent or a friend

The more experience you have in the car, the more knowledgeable you’ll become about road signs and practical hazard spotting. This is useful when it comes to the theory test, as well as preparing you for the practical test.

Can I take my driving test in my own car? 

If you’ve been practicing in your own or your parents’ car, and you’d like to use it for your driving test, there’s no reason why you can’t – as long as it meets the requirements. Read our guide to taking your driving test in your own car for more details.

What should I take with me to my driving test?

Your test will be cancelled without a refund if you don’t have the following with you: 

  • UK driving licence. If you don't have a photocard licence, you’ll need to bring a valid passport and your paper licence. If your licence is from Northern Ireland, bring the Northern Ireland photocard and paper counterpart.
  • Theory test pass certificate. If you’ve lost yours, contact the DVSA with your name and driving licence number. You’ll be sent a letter that you can take to your test, instead of your pass certificate.
  • A face covering (unless you’re officially exempt from wearing a mask). 

If you wear glasses for driving, remember to take those, too. You might also need to practise wearing them with a face covering if covid restrictions apply. Glasses are not a good enough reason for not wearing a mask.

How is coronavirus affecting driving tests? 

Coronavirus restrictions are subject to change. Current requirements include taking a face mask with you for the test itself and you are advised to take a rapid lateral flow test beforehand. 

If you’re using your own car, rather than your driving instructor’s, you’ll need to wipe down the interior, including the dashboard, and remove any rubbish and other items from footwells, door pockets, seats and cup holders, before the test. 

During the test itself, you must also keep a front or back window open on each side of the car to keep it properly ventilated. This means warmer clothes might be needed too. 

You should also cancel your driving test if: 

  • You, or someone you live with, have covid symptoms
  • You’ve been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace
  • You’re quarantining 

If you’re self-isolating, email the DVSA using the subject: ‘COVID-19 short notice cancellation’. It will then rearrange your test date and send you the new details

For the latest on how coronavirus might affect your driving test, visit GOV.UK.

How long is a driving test? 

Your driving test will usually last around 40 minutes

The exception is if  you’ve been banned from driving and told by the court that you need to take an extended driving test. Then it’s likely to take around 70 minutes.

What happens during a driving test?

The practical driving test is made up of five parts and they apply whether you’re driving a manual or automatic car.

  • An eyesight check
  • ‘Show me, tell me’ safety questions
  • General driving ability
  • Reversing your vehicle
  • Independent driving

1. The eyesight check 

To test your eyesight, you’ll be asked to read a number plate from a distance: either 20 metres if it’s a new-style plate (two letters followed by two numbers such as AB55 CTM), or 20.5 metres if it’s an old-style plate. 

If you fail the eyesight test, you’ll fail the driving test immediately – so make sure you take your glasses with you.

2. ‘Show me, tell me’ safety questions 

Your examiner will ask you two questions, sometimes called ‘show me, tell me’ questions.

  • With a ‘show me’ question, you’ll need to demonstrate how you’d carry out a check, such as: ‘show me how you’d use the windscreen washer and wipers’.
  • A ‘tell me’ question requires you to explain how you’d carry out a check, such as: ‘tell me how you would check that the power steering is working before starting a journey’. The ‘tell me’ question is done at the start of the test before you start driving. 

The questions aren’t meant to flummox you. They’re intended to show that you understand how to carry out basic safety checks. 

There are 14 possible ‘tell me’ questions and seven ‘show me’ questions that you might be asked, so as long as you’ve familiarised yourself with the current questions, which are on the gov.uk website, there shouldn’t be any surprises. But be warned, they can change from time to time.

3. General driving ability 

The examiner will give you directions on what to do and where to drive. This won’t include motorways during your test.

At some point, you’ll be asked to pull away (from behind a parked car) and pull over (to the side of the road). 

You may also be asked to do a hill start.

Your examiner will ask you to do one of the following:

  • Park in a parking bay, either by reversing in and driving out, or driving in and reversing out – the examiner will tell you which way round to do it.
  • Parallel park at the side of the road.
  • Pull up on the right-hand side of the road, reverse for around 2 car lengths and then re-join the traffic.

4. Reversing your vehicle

Your examiner will ask you to do one of the following:

  • Park in a parking bay, either by reversing in and driving out, or driving in and reversing out – the examiner will tell you which way round to do it.
  • Parallel park at the side of the road.
  • Pull up on the right-hand side of the road, reverse for around two car lengths and then re-join the traffic.

5. Independent driving 

This part of the test is to show that you can follow directions, either verbal from a satnav or using traffic signs (or both). 

If the examiner tells you to use a satnav, they’ll set it up for you – you won’t have to provide one or be able to use your own. 

For this section of the practical test, your examiner will stay quiet unless you need extra direction – for example, if you can’t see a sign because it’s blocked by trees or a bus. Then they’ll guide you until you reach the next sign. You are allowed to ask questions if you’re unsure of anything. 

Driving off-route won’t necessarily affect your test result, so stay calm and the examiner will try to help you get back on route. You won’t get a fault for taking a wrong turn.

What are the most common reasons for failing a driving test? 

Whether you’re lacking experience or nerves get the better of you, on the test day itself, it’s very common not to tick all the boxes. According to the DVSA, just under 50% of people fail on their first attempt. 

If you think you’ve made a mistake, try not to get flustered as it might not be as bad as you think and letting it worry you could knock your concentration. 

There are three different faults you can make: 

  • Dangerous faults – involves danger to you, the examiner, the public or property. Make one of these major faults and you’ll fail the test.
  • Serious faults – potentially dangerous and another major fault that will also cause you to fail.
  • Driving/minor faults – not considered dangerous as a one-off, but if you keep making the same mistake, it will be counted as a serious fault. Provided you don’t have more than 15 minor faults, you can still pass.  

Reasons for failing a driving test include: 

  • Not looking properly at junctions or showing poor judgement when you pull out in front of other vehicles.
  • Not using your wing and rear-view mirrors properly, either missing necessary checks or using them too late.
  • Lack of steering control and not keeping a steady course, for example mounting the kerb.
  • Incorrect positioning at a junction when turning right and cutting the corner.
  • Incorrect positioning during normal driving – for example, not being in the middle of a marked lane.
  • Not moving away safely by forgetting to check blind spots and indicating correctly.
  • Poor control when pulling away, including stalling, rolling backwards or moving with the handbrake on.
  • Failure to respond correctly to traffic lights – for example, waiting at a green filter light or stopping in the area designated for cyclists.
  • A complete misjudgement or significant loss of control will count as a serious fault. Otherwise, you’ll collect a fault if you need to reposition to correct a loss of control or fail to respond to road markings, such as stopping in a box junction when the exit isn’t clear or crossing solid white lines in the middle of the road.

Tips to help you pass your driving test 

As well as getting plenty of practice in different driving and traffic conditions, you can increase your chances of success by putting some of the following into practice: 

  • Get to know the way to your test centre. You’ll feel more relaxed making a familiar journey.
  • Do a mock driving test. Follow one of the popular routes under test conditions so you have a better idea of what to expect.
  • Warm up beforehand. A lesson with your driving instructor before your driving test will help you get in the zone.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to get there and avoid any last-minute stress.
  • Have an early night. You need to be as alert as possible and a good night’s sleep will help.
  • Stay off the stimulants. Avoid alcohol the night before and too much caffeine on the day of the test itself if it makes you jittery.
  • Book a morning test – particularly if you suffer from nerves. You won’t have to spend all day worrying about it.
  • Practice taking deep breaths. This will help calm and steady you.
  • Exaggerate mirror checks. Your examiner may miss eye movements. Turning your head slightly will emphasise that you’re taking the necessary precautions.

How will I know if I’ve passed my driving test? 

Whether you’ve passed or failed, your examiner will tell you immediately after your test and give you plenty of feedback.

While we’d all like to pass first time, if you have failed, don’t let the disappointment deter you from listening to what they’ve got to say – it’s great advice to help you improve for your next test. 

If you pass your driving test, your examiner will give you a pass certificate. They’ll also ask if you want your new full driving licence to be sent to you automatically. If you don’t, you’ll need to apply for one within two years of passing.

I’ve passed my driving test – what happens now? 

Getting your pass certificate doesn’t mean that you know it all. The more you drive, the more you’ll learn. 

If you want to build up your confidence, an advanced driving course might be the answer. It could even help reduce your car insurance premiums, as it will help you become a safer, more competent driver.

What about car insurance? 

As a new driver, you’re likely to be paying higher car insurance premiums until you’ve built up your no claims discount. This is based on the number of years you’ve been driving without having to make a claim. 

The secret to finding the best cover for you lies in comparing car insurance quotes from a wide range of different insurance providers. 

That’s where we can help. All you need to do is tell us a bit about you, your car and what you need, and we’ll show you policies based on price, policy cover level, add-ons or annual or monthly payment terms.

Frequently asked questions

How much does a driving test cost?

A theory test for cars costs £23 and the driving test costs £62 (or £75 at weekends). And remember, if you’re using your driving instructor’s car, you’ll also have to pay them for their time too. 

If you’re a disqualified driver taking an extended driving test, prices increase to £124 for the theory and £150 for the practical.

What if I’m not free for the test date I’ve been sent?

Once you’ve been allocated a test slot, you can easily change it to a day and time that’s more convenient. 

You might find that the next suitable date is many weeks ahead. It’s better to book it so you know you’ve got a test confirmed, but keep an eye on the cancellations. If a gap opens up, you can jump in. 

Visit gov.uk to change your driving test appointment.

What happens if my driving test is cancelled?

There are various reasons why your driving test might have to be postponed. If it’s due to coronavirus, you’ll be sent a new test date. You’ll be able to change that date if you can’t make it. 

In the case of bad weather, like fog, high winds or ice on the roads, check with your test centre to find out whether they’re going ahead with tests or not. You’ll find a phone number on your booking confirmation email. 

If it’s not possible for your test to take place, for example if the examiner is ill, the DVSA will automatically book you in for the next available date. You’ll be sent details within seven working days. 

You can claim for out-of-pocket expenses if the DVSA cancels your test at short notice, unless the cancellation is due to bad weather.

What if I need to cancel my driving test?

If you’re ill on the day of your test or the car you’ll be using breaks down, you’ll have to rebook and pay for another test.

Can my instructor come on my driving test?

Your instructor or a friend or relative is normally allowed to sit in the back of the car during your test, as long as they’re over 16. However, as a covid safety measure, this is not currently allowed. 

Your examiner will ask if you want someone to be with you when you find out your result and get feedback. 

You will have to take your test in English or Welsh, so you can’t bring along anyone to act as an interpreter.

Do I need car insurance as a learner driver?

If you’re learning to drive with an instructor in their car, they’ll probably take care of the insurance and the cost will be included in the price of your lessons. 

If you’re practising in a parent’s car, they can add you as a named driver to their existing car insurance policy, although it’s likely to increase the cost of their premiums. 

If they’re not willing to do that or you have your own car, then you’ll need learner driver insurance. 

As with car insurance for fully qualified drivers, you have a choice of policies: third party only, third party, fire and theft and comprehensive. You might also like to think about temporary cover for a short-term solution – for example, if you want to put in a week or two of concentrated practice before you take your test.

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