So you're almost there. You’ve had your lessons, you’ve passed your theory test, and now the only thing between you and the open road is the practical test.
Read on for a run-through of everything you need to get your practical test booked, prepared for, and (fingers crossed) passed.
Why do I need to take the practical driving test?
The test assesses your ability to:
- Demonstrate safe, independent driving in a variety of road and traffic conditions.
- Show a working knowledge of the Highway Code.
When can I take my practical driving test?
You can book your practical driving test if you're at least 17, have a valid provisional licence, and you've passed your theory test. Once you've passed the driving theory test you’ll receive a pass certificate number, which lasts 2 years. Make sure you pass your practical within this time, or you’ll have to take and pass the theory test again.
But how do you know when you're ready? Although the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) says there’s no minimum number of lessons or hours of practice you need, the average is 45 hours of driving lessons, supplemented by 22 hours of extra practice.
Your driving instructor will let you know when they think you've got the potential to pass your test and they'll discuss suitable dates for you to have a go. But if you feel confident in your abilities, talk to your instructor so they're aware.
How is coronavirus affecting practical driving tests?
You can currently take the driving test in England if you previously had your test cancelled, or if you’re classed as a critical worker. Otherwise, you can't book a new test at this time. Driving tests resume in Wales on Monday 17 August 2020, and are suspended in Scotland. Northern Ireland is adopting a phased approach to driving tests starting again.
If you’re able to take your practical driving test, there are likely to be some restrictions, and you must follow government guidance in the test centre to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The situation is frequently changing. For up-to-date information, you can read the latest driving test guidance here if you live in:
How do I prepare for my practical driving test?
If this is your first time taking the test, here's how to make sure you're in the best possible position to pass:
- Before you take your test, make sure you feel ready. Don’t just rush in because you want your licence.
- Swot up on the Highway Code.
- Practice your skills and manoeuvres as much as you can.
- Ask your instructor to spend some extra time on anything you’re feeling unsure about.
- Visit the test centre beforehand so you're familiar with the journey and your surroundings.
- If you know you'll be nervous, try to book your test in the morning so you can get it over and done with.
- The day before your test, look after yourself. Try to get some exercise, avoid going out, and get plenty of sleep.
- A few hours before your test, limit your screen time so you can minimise distractions.
What do I need to take to my driving test?
The test will take place at your local test centre. On the day, make sure you take:
- Your provisional UK driving licence.
- Your theory pass certificate.
- A car – most pupils will use their instructors' car, but you can use your own too.
Your instructor will usually offer a final lesson immediately before your test appointment for a refresher of everything you've learnt, and to discuss any last minute concerns and generally 'warm up' before the real thing.
If you don’t have a photocard licence, you’ll need to take your paper licence and a valid passport. If you don’t have your theory test certificate, get in touch with the DVSA well in advance, or the Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA) in Northern Ireland. If you give them your name and driving licence number, they'll send you a letter which will allow you to take the test.
What happens during the test?
The practical test usually lasts around 40 minutes, although it’s likely to be longer if you’ve been disqualified previously. It’s the same test for both manual and automatic vehicles, and is made up of:
1. The eyesight check
First of all, the examiner will check that your eyesight’s good enough to drive. So don’t forget your glasses if you need them.
You’ll be asked to read a number plate from 20 metres away, which is roughly the length of 5 cars. If you can’t read the plate you’ve failed the test and it ends there.
2. ‘Show me, tell me’ safety questions
You’ll be asked 2 vehicle safety questions by the examiner, known as ‘show me, tell me’. This is to show you know how to perform basic safety checks.
The ‘tell me’ question will require you to explain how you’d carry out a certain activity - for example, how to open the bonnet and check there’s sufficient oil in the engine, or where to find the recommended tyre pressures, and how to check the pressure. There are 14 possible ‘tell me’ questions.
For ‘show me’ question you'll need to demonstrate how to carry out a certain activity - for example, wash and clean the rear windscreen, or sound the horn. There are 7 possible ‘show me questions’.
You can read a full list of ‘show me, tell me’ questions on GOV.UK.
3. General driving ability
The examiner will give you driving instructions, much the same as you’ll be used to from your lessons. You’re likely to be asked to do some or all of these:
Pull away, for example from behind a parked car.
Pull over, usually at the side of the road.
Perform a hill start.
Perform an emergency stop - you’ll be warned in advance before being asked to do this.
There are some things you won’t be expected to do on your test, such as motorway driving.
4. Reversing the vehicle
To test your reversing ability, the examiner will ask you to do one of these:
Park in a parking bay. You’ll be asked either to reverse in and drive out, or drive in and reverse out.
Parallel park. This will be performed at the side of the road by at least one parked car.
Reverse for around two car lengths. For this, you pull up on the right-hand side of the road. Once you’ve completed the manoeuvre, you’ll be asked to rejoin the traffic.
5. Independent driving
This section of the test is to show you can follow directions from a sat nav, traffic signs, or both - rather than from the examiner. If you’re following a sat nav, the examiner will set it up for you. Although the examiner won’t ask you anything during this part of the test, you can ask them questions.
There are times the examiner might step in, for example, if you take a wrong turn or you can’t read an obstructed sign. If the examiner has to give directions, don’t interpret this as having failed or being marked down. Going off-route won’t necessarily affect your test result.
How is the practical driving test scored?
Unlike most tests, the perfect score here is zero. The examiner marks you for each fault you make. You won’t generally be told what faults you’ve made during the test, and won’t know your result until the test is complete.
There are 3 different types of fault:
A driving fault, also known as a minor. These aren’t dangerous faults, and won’t necessarily cause you to fail - unless you get more than 15 minors. Or if you keep making the same mistake, that can become a serious fault - which is also a fail.
A serious fault, also known as a major. These are errors which could be dangerous. Just one serious fault means you’ve failed, but you’ll still carry on with the test.
A dangerous fault means you’ve put yourself, the examiner, the public and/or property in actual danger. This is not only an instant fail, but the test will end there. Keeping everyone safe is the examiner’s number one priority.
How might I fail my practical driving test?
According to the DVSA, the pass rate in 2018/19 was just 45.8%. The top 10 most common mistakes leading to a failed test are:
Observation at junctions. If you don’t look properly while pulling out at a junction, or exercise poor judgement while emerging into the path of traffic, then you’ve committed the fault responsible for most test failures.
Improper use of mirrors. You could fail if you don’t look in your mirrors while manoeuvring or changing direction, or if you do it too late.
Steering control. Where you lack control, or fail to maintain the right course. Keep both hands on the wheel as much as possible.
Incorrect positioning at junctions. Most commonly cutting corners while turning right.
Not moving away safely. This could be caused by not checking your blind spot or failing to indicate.
Response to traffic signals. If you don’t respond to traffic lights correctly, such as running an amber light, or stopping on the section designated for cyclists.
Poor control while moving off. For example, if you roll backwards, or leave the handbrake on.
Incorrect positioning while driving normally. Make sure you’re in the middle of the marked lane. Learner drivers are often caught out by cutting corners or veering across lanes at roundabouts.
Response to road markings. Always be aware of road markings. For example, don’t enter a box junction unless your exit is clear.
Lack of control while reverse parking. Don’t perform this manoeuvre too quickly or recklessly. Take your time, and keep checking your mirrors.
Can I take someone else along to the driving test?
Yes you can. The examiner will ask if you’d like to be accompanied on your test. You can take along your instructor, or a friend or relative to sit in the back, as long as they’re over 16. You can also be accompanied when you get your test result and feedback.
You can’t take an interpreter, as the driving test needs to be taken in English or Welsh.
How will I know if I’ve passed the practical test?
Unless the test has been stopped prematurely, your examiner will direct you back to the test centre. When you’ve parked up, they’ll tell you your test result and give you feedback.
If you have 15 minors or fewer, and no serious or dangerous faults, then congratulations - you’ve passed! You'll receive a pass certificate and be asked if you’d like your licence sent to you automatically. Otherwise you have 2 years to apply for one.
If you’ve failed don't be too downhearted. You can try again - just be sure to listen to the examiner’s feedback, as this will stand you in good stead for the next test.