The practical driving test

Taking your driving test can be a stressful time, but you can help yourself by being well prepared. We’ve put together a guide to the practical test, so you know exactly what to expect.

Taking your driving test can be a stressful time, but you can help yourself by being well prepared. We’ve put together a guide to the practical test, so you know exactly what to expect.

Daniel Hutson
From the Motor team
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Posted 10 SEPTEMBER 2020

How is the coronavirus pandemic affecting driving tests?

The coronavirus pandemic is impacting many aspects of driving and using your car. To help answer any questions you might have, see our coronavirus and motoring FAQs. For the latest on coronavirus restrictions, see GOV.UK

What can I expect from my theory test? 

Before you can take your practical driving test, you’ll need to have passed your theory test. The theory test is divided into two parts, both of which are carried out on the same day. First, you’ll need to answer 50 multiple choice questions. Then your perception of hazards will be tested during 14 different video clips. You must pass both parts to be awarded the theory pass certificate.   

Your pass certificate number lasts for two years – so keep it safely. 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 be told in a letter which parts you didn't score enough in to pass, so you know what to learn and revise. Even if you passed one part you'll have to take the full test again. You have to wait at least three working days before taking your test again.. 

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

In most cases, your instructor will tell you when you’re ready but, on average, it takes about 47 hours of driving lessons (and around 22 hours of additional private practice with a parent or a friend).
Remember, too, the more experience you have in the car out on the road, the more knowledgeable you’ll become about road signs and practical hazard spotting. This will be useful when it comes to the theory test, as well as preparing you for the practical test. 

What should I take with me to my driving test?

You’ll need to take your driving licence, your theory test pass certificate and any prescription glasses you need for driving. 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.

If you have lost your theory test certificate, contact the Driver and Vehicle Standards Authority with your name and driving licence number. You'll be sent a letter that allows you to take your test. But remember to allow sufficient time for this to be done, otherwise you’ll have to rearrange your test.

Most people will use their driving instructor’s car, but you can use your own car so long as it meets all the rules.
Your examiner will ask whether you want someone to come with you during the test. If you do, you can have your instructor or a friend or relative sit in the back of the car (they must be over 16). Your examiner will also 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.

What can I expect when taking my driving test?

The test itself will usually last around 40 minutes and it’s the same for a manual or automatic car. The test is made up of five parts:

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

If you’ve been disqualified and told by a court that you must take another driving test, you will have to take an extended driving test of 60-70 minutes.

1. The eyesight check

You’ll be asked to read a number plate – the distance you’ll need to read it from will depend on the style of number plate. If it’s an old-style number plate, you’ll need to read it from 20.5 metres away. If it’s a new-style plate (two letters followed by two numbers such as PA55 IST) you’ll be expected to read it from 20 metres away.

If you fail the eyesight test, you’ll fail the driving test and the test is over – 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 will require 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, but 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, there shouldn’t be any surprises. But be warned, they can change from time to time.

3. General driving ability  

You’ll be given driving instructions and, at some point, you’ll be asked to pull away (such as from behind a parked car) or pull over (such as to the side of the road). You may be asked to do a hill start and you might have to do an emergency stop (the examiner will give you a warning before he asks you to do this).

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 2 car lengths and then rejoin the traffic.

You won't be expected to do any motorway driving on your test.

5. Independent driving  

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

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

During this part of the test, your examiner won’t ask you anything; you are, of course, allowed to ask questions. If you can't see a sign, for example it is blocked by trees or a bus, the examiner will give you directions until you reach the next sign. 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 can make me fail my driving test?

These are the top ten reasons for failing a driving test. The more practice you have, the less chance you’ll have of making any of the following mistakes:

  • Not looking properly at junctions or showing poor judgement when you emerge into the path of other vehicles.
  • Not using your wing and rear-view mirrors properly, such as missing necessary mirror checks or using them too late.
  • Lack of steering control and not keeping a steady course in normal driving, such as mounting the kerb.
  • Incorrect positioning at a junction when turning right and cutting the corner.
  • Incorrect positioning during normal driving – if lanes are marked, make sure you’re in the middle of the lane.
  • Not moving away safely by forgetting to check blind spots and indicating correctly.
  • Poor control when pulling away such as 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 accuracy failure 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.

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

You will pass your test if you don’t make more than 15 driving faults (sometimes called minors) and have made no serious or dangerous faults (sometimes called majors). If you think you’ve made a mistake, don’t get flustered as it might not affect the result.

Whether you’ve passed or failed, your examiner will give you feedback. While we all hope to pass first time, if you have failed, don’t let the disappointment deter you from listening to this feedback – it’s great advice to help you improve for your next test, after all.

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

How can I get a good deal on my car insurance?

Remember, you’ll need learner driver car insurance when learning how to drive, as well as new driver car insurance once you’ve passed your test. As essential as they are, both types of insurance can also prove costly. If you’d like to find a good deal, the secret lies in comparing car insurance quotes from a wide range of different insurance providers.  

That’s where we can help and 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. 

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