Driving Theory Test

Preparing for your theory test

Here's a look at what you can expect

Total Reading Time: 13 mins 0 secs; Author: The AA; Last Updated: 20 October 2023

Being ready for your driving test is no mean feat. Your driving instructor thinks you’re ready for your licence, and it’s time to put that to the test.

To make sure you don't fail any answers through nerves or a lack of preparation, here's everything you need to know about passing the driving theory test.

theory test study

What is a driving theory test?

The aim of the driving theory test is to prove your knowledge of the rules of the road. It’s necessary to pass this before you can take the practical driving test.

The driving theory test is divided into two parts: multiple-choice questions and a hazard perception test.

The theory test is set by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) in England, Wales and Scotland; and by the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) in Northern Ireland.

All provisional licence holders need to pass the theory test before booking a practical test. This is also the case if you're applying for a different category of licence, such as a bus or lorry licence.

Do I need to take the theory test?

Yes. If you’re a learner driver, you'll need to take the driving theory test before you take your practical driving test.

Once you’ve passed the theory test, don’t rest on your laurels. If you don't pass your practical test within 2 years, you'll need to retake the theory test.

You'll also need to take your theory test again if you’re upgrading an existing licence to drive something else, such as a motorbike.

Do you need to pass the theory test before driving lessons?

You can start your driving lessons before taking the theory test – a pass isn’t necessary at this stage. You will need your provisional driving licence, however. More on this in a moment.

It’s possible to take the driving theory test before taking lessons, but this isn’t the common approach. After all, one of the best ways to learn and retain the rules of the road is by real-world practice.

One thing we will say though is that it’s advisable to apply for your driving theory test as soon as you can. At the time of writing, there can be a long wait before getting a theory test date. This should give you plenty of time to familiarise yourself with The Highway Code and rules of the road.

Can you drive with a provisional licence without passing the theory test?

You certainly can. The main requirement for being able to take driving lessons is a provisional licence. You’ll need this whether you’re having paid lessons, or learning with a friend or family member.

Find out how to get a provisional driving licence here, including the conditions you’ll need to meet.

When can I do my theory test?

As soon as you have your provisional licence, you can take your driving theory test. As mentioned, it’s a good idea to apply for a theory test at the earliest possible time, due to potential delays.

What age can you do your theory test?

You can take the driving theory test at any time after you turn 17.

You can take the theory test at 16 if you receive the higher rate of the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance.

How do I book a theory test?

You’ll need your provisional licence to hand, and a credit or debit card to pay for the test. You can book a theory test online here, or apply here if you live in Northern Ireland.

You can also find your nearest driving theory test centre here.

If you don’t have an email address, you’ll need to book over the phone. Call 0300 200 1122 Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm; or – if you live in Northern Ireland – call 0345 600 6700 Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm.

Can I change my theory test?

It’s possible to reschedule a theory test, as long as you give 3 working days’ notice, and you won’t be charged. Be mindful of Sundays and bank holidays though.

If you need to change or cancel your theory test within 3 days, you’ll lose your original fee. However, there are circumstances under which you may be able to get a refund. These include if you can’t attend because of illness (including COVID-19), if you’ve suffered a bereavement, or if you’ve had your licence stolen.

You can cancel your theory test online here, and also find out more details about how to apply for a refund if you need to.

How much is a theory test?

A driving theory test for a car will set you back £23. Unlike the practical driving test – which is more expensive on evenings, weekends and bank holidays – the price is always the same.

There are separate rates if you’re learning to drive in a different vehicle. And it'll cost more if you’re taking an extended test for disqualified drivers. You can see the driving test costs for all vehicles here, or the fees in Northern Ireland here.

Preparing for your theory test

The best way to prepare is to study – either with dedicated study guides or by taking a practice test online.

It’s also well worth thoroughly revising road signs for your theory test. You can download The Highway Code traffic signs here (PDF, 821 KB).

Previously the DVSA recommended a minimum of 20 hours’ theory test revision to fully prepare you for the exam. While this is no longer the official recommendation, it’s still a good rule of thumb.

How do I practise for my driving theory test?

You can take the DVSA’s practice theory test here. It’s free to do, and contains mock tests for cars and other vehicles, plus three hazard perception clips.

Bear in mind that these exact questions and clips won’t be used in the theory test. They will give you a good idea of how the test works, though.

Driving theory test app

You can also get further invaluable practice in by downloading The AA theory test app. This includes comprehensive learning materials, all The Highway Code information you need, and sample hazard perception videos. And you can download it here:

Prep for a pass, with The AA Driving Theory app

Available now for Android and iOS devices

Download The AA Driving Theory App on Google Play StoreDownload The AA Driving Theory App on iOS App Store

How long do theory tests last?

The driving theory test is roughly an hour and a quarter long. The multiple-choice part of the test lasts 57 minutes, and the hazard perception comprises 14 clips which are roughly a minute long each.

It’s also worth noting that you need to arrive at the test centre 30 minutes before the test. As such, you should be in and out in about an hour and 45 minutes.

What happens in the multiple-choice test?

In the multiple-choice part of the theory test, you’ll be tested on your knowledge of driving theory and The Highway Code.

The test will cater for the type of vehicle you’re applying for a licence for. So if you’re taking the test for a motorcycle, some of the questions will be specific to motorbikes.

How many questions are in the theory test?

There are 50 questions in the multiple-choice section of the theory test.

As the test is 57 minutes long, you’ll get a little over a minute to answer each of the 50 multiple-choice questions. You have the time, so be sure to read each question carefully before choosing your answer. Rushing answers can too often lead to mistakes, so take the time to properly digest each question.

What is the pass mark for the theory test?

You’ll need a minimum of 43 correct answers to pass this section of the theory test.

The best kind of preparation for this part is studying The Highway Code. Not only will it include all you need to know about road signs, markings and the rules of the road to be a safe driver, it’s the source material for the questions used in the test.

What can I expect from the hazard perception test?

A short tutorial video will explain this part of the test, which is computer-based. The objective is to test your awareness of potential hazards while driving.

You’ll then be shown a series of 14 videos – each roughly a minute long – depicting everyday driving scenarios. You'll have to identify the developing hazard: something that would cause the driver to take action, such as brake or change direction. This could be related to other vehicles, pedestrians or road conditions. One of the videos will have two developing hazards to identify.

The earlier you spot a hazard, the higher you’ll score. In both the car and motorcycle test, there are 15 scorable hazards, and you can earn up to 5 points for each. There won't be a chance to review your answers – you just get one shot at each. To pass, you need to score at least 44 of a possible 75.

If you fail either the multiple choice or hazard perception, you’ll have to re-book and take both parts of the theory test again.

How long does a theory and hazard perception test take?

It takes between 15 and 20 minutes to complete this section of the theory test. As mentioned, there’s a short introductory video to begin; followed by 14 video clips, each of which are roughly a minute long.

What to bring to the theory test

You must arrive at least 30 minutes before the start of your test, and you'll need to take your provisional driving licence. Your test can be cancelled (and not refunded) if you don't bring this with you.

What special requirements are catered for?

The DVSA and DVA cater for a range of special requirements, including reading difficulties, hearing difficulties, or specific educational needs. Be sure to get in touch and let them know your requirements ahead of your theory test.

How do I get my theory test results?

After you’ve finished, you’ll be given a printout of your theory test result at the test centre. If you pass, you’ll receive your pass certificate number, which you'll need when you book your practical driving test. You can also get your pass certificate number at GOV.UK.

If you don’t pass, you can retake the test, but you’ll need to wait at least 3 working days.

How long is the theory valid for?

Your theory pass certificate is valid for 2 years. Don’t let it expire though… If you don’t pass your practical driving test during this time, you’ll have to retake and pass the theory test again.

What happens if I fail my theory test?

It won't be the news you’re hoping for, but if you don't pass your theory test, you’ll have the chance to take it again after 3 working days. There are also no limits on how many attempts you can take.

You’ll also get a letter at the test centre showing which parts of the test you answered incorrectly, so you can fill in your knowledge gaps.

Your driving instructor will offer as much support as they can to help you pass the theory test. So study hard, stay cool, calm and collected, and you’ll be on your way to being road-ready in no time.

How common is it to fail the theory test?

According to DVSA statistics, the theory test pass rates between April 2022 and March 2023 were 44.2%1. Or, to put it another way, 55.8% of those who take the test fail.

This might seem high, but it’s important to remember that drivers must be equipped with an excellent knowledge of the rules of the road, in order to be safe. It’s also worth noting that the figure includes individuals who have failed their tests multiple times in the space of the year.

Plus it means that, if you fail your test, you’re in good company. The best thing you can do is pick yourself up, book a new test, and revise your weaker areas thoroughly before taking it again. Good luck – we’re rooting for you!

1 https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/car-theory-test-data-by-test-centre