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A practical guide to taking your driving test

The driving test stands 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.

The driving test stands 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.

Written by
Rory Reid
Car and technology expert
Last Updated
11 min read
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How do I book a driving test? 

You’ll find a step-by-step booking process for both the theory and practical parts of the test at GOV.UK. But remember, before you book your practical driving test, you need to have passed your driving theory test. 

To book your driving theory test you need your: 

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

If you’re booking your practical driving test, you’ll need all the above in addition to:

  • Your theory test pass certificate
  • A car – most people use their driving instructor’s, but you can also use your own car if it meets the rules.
  • 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 takes place in DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency) Theory Test Centre and is divided into two parts. They’re both carried out on the same day. 

First, you’ll have 1 hour and 20 minutes to answer 50 multiple-choice questions. Then your perception of hazards will be tested during 14 different video clips. The clips will consist of everyday road scenes that contain at last one ‘developing hazard’. One of the clips features two developing hazards. Developing hazards are things that would cause you to take action, such as slowing down or changing direction. You need to pass both parts to be awarded the theory pass certificate. If you fail either part, you’ll need to take the full test again on a different occasion. 

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 that’ll tell you where you dropped points, so you know what to practise 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? 

In most cases, your instructor will tell you when you’re ready and everyone learns at their own pace. But according to the DVSA, it takes about 45 hours of driving lessons plus around 22 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? 

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.

If you wear glasses for driving, remember to take those too.

You should cancel your driving test if you need to self-isolate because of COVID-19. You can reschedule it for free at 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 show the examiner 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’d check the brake lights are working on this car’. The ‘tell me’ question is done at the start of the test before you start driving. 

The questions are intended to show that you understand how to carry out basic safety checks. You’ll get one driving fault, also known as a ‘minor’ if you get one or both questions wrong. 

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.

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 behind another car. 
  • Pull up on the right-hand side of the road, reverse for around two car lengths and then re-join the traffic.

You won’t be asked to reverse around a corner, but it’s a good idea to know how to do this anyway.

5. Independent driving 

This part of the test is to show that you can follow directions, either verbal from a satnav, 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? 

47.1% of people passed their driving test between January and March 2022. According to the DVSA, the top reasons for failing the driving test are: 

  1. Not being observant enough at junctions
  2. Entering a roundabout with a vehicle approaching from the right
  3. Making no effective observations at all
  4. Making no observation when joining a dual carriageway from a slip road
  5. Going straight ahead from a crossroads
  6. Looking too late
  7. Repeatedly not looking left when turning left
  8. Not using mirrors correctly when changing direction
  9. Not steering enough or steering too late when turning
  10. Repeatedly mounting the pavement when pulling up to the left. 

But if you fail, you’re not alone – around 50% of people do.

Will making a mistake mean I fail my driving test? 

Not necessarily. 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. 

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.

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 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.
  • Practise 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? 

Your examiner will tell you whether you’ve passed or failed on the day and will give you immediate feedback.

While we’d all like to pass first time, don’t let the disappointment deter you from listening to what they’ve got to say if you have failed – 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, as it will help you become a safer, more competent driver.

You also might want to put P plates on your car. These aren’t compulsory, but they let other drivers know you’re new to the road and hopefully encourage them to be patient with you.

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 great value cover 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, evenings and bank holidays). 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, the theory test is still £23 but prices increase to £124 for the practical (or £150 at weekends, evenings and bank holidays).

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. 

Visit to change your driving test appointment. If you give less than three working days’ notice, you’ll need to pay again. 

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.

What happens if my driving test is cancelled?

If it’s not possible for your test to take place, for example if the examiner is ill or the weather conditions are dangerous, 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. 

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 typically take care of the insurance and the cost will be included in the price of your lessons. But if you’re learning in your own or a parent’s car you’ll need to sort out learner driver insurance.

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