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Driving theory test explained

The theory test quizzes you on your knowledge of the highway code, traffic signs, driving skills and safety and your ability to detect hazards on the road.

Last updated: 11/03/2022 | Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

The theory test quizzes you on your knowledge of the highway code, traffic signs, driving skills and safety and your ability to detect hazards on the road. It’s the first hurdle you must overcome on your way to a full UK driving licence. You need to pass both components of the theory test—the multiple-choice questions and the hazard perception test—before you can book your practical driving test and earn your licence.

Once you have your theory test pass certificate in hand, it lasts for two years, during which time you must pass the practical test or you’ll have to sit the theory exam again.

In This Guide:

What is a driving theory test?

The driving theory test was introduced as a pre-requisite for a full UK driving licence in July 1997. It’s set by the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), the body responsible for driver education.

The questions in the test are based on three official DVSA guides: The Official Highway Code, Know Your Traffic Signs and the Official DVSA Guide to Driving.

Do I need to take the driving theory test?

Yes, to obtain a UK driving licence you must pass the theory test. This is the case if you’re trying to obtain a licence for a car, motorcycle, lorry or bus, with individual theory tests for the different licence types.

Passing your theory test isn't enough to get you on the road alone though. You also need to pass your practical driving test before you can go out driving by yourself.

What does the theory test involve?

The theory test for cars and motorcycles consists of two parts: a series of multiple-choice questions and a hazard perception test. Both sections are completed on a computer at an official DVSA Theory Test centre.

Multiple choice section

In the multiple-choice section, you'll be asked questions about what to do in specific driving situations, how to handle accidents on the road, what certain road signs mean, and about driving regulations and laws, including surrounding car insurance and MOT.

For the car and motorcycle theory tests, you’ll receive 50 questions. You must correctly answer at least 43, or 86%. You have a maximum of 57 minutes to answer these questions.

Hazard percetion

In the hazard perception test for cars and motorcycles, you’ll be shown 14 one-minute video clips. The clips feature everyday road scenes, filmed from the perspective of a driver. In each scene, you have to identify at least one and up to two developing hazards. Developing hazards are something that would cause you to take action on the road, such as changing speed or direction. 

These hazards could include cars entering traffic from an adjoining road, a car ahead stopping suddenly, a parked car with an indicator flashing, pedestrians crossing the road, or a cyclist entering the driver’s lane while manoeuvring around a stopped vehicle. You’ll receive up to five points for identifying each hazard, with the most points given the quicker you spot one and click your mouse or touch the screen. You must earn a score of 44 out of 75 to pass this section.

You must pass both parts to pass the theory test.

How much do theory tests cost?

The theory test for cars and motorcycles costs £23. The fee is the same no matter when you take the test.

This is separate from the £62 fee for the practical driving test (or £75 for evenings, weekends and bank holidays).

How do I book my driving theory?

If you’re in England, Scotland or Wales, you can book your theory test through the government’s website. 

To book you must have a provisional driving licence, be 17 years old, and have lived in England, Scotland or Wales for at least 185 days in the last 12 months before the day you take your theory test.

When you book online, you’ll be required to enter your UK driving licence number, email address, and credit or debit card (to pay the £23 fee).

There is a separate service to book your theory test in Northern Ireland.

How to pass the first time

You may think the theory test is intuitive, but in 2018-19 just 47.4% of learner drivers passed the test. This means most learners have to take the test at least twice. 

To get your licence as quickly as possible and to limit your expenses, you’ll want to pass on your first time. Here are our best tips on how to pass your theory test:

  • Study: the best material to study from is the Official DVSA Theory Test handbook. It includes materials on which the test is based, example questions and helpful tips. Your theory test will include a random selection of questions from a bank of 1,000, so you need to have a good grasp of the material. Some driving instructors suggest you spend at least 20 hours revising for the theory test, but this will depend on how quickly you grasp new information.
  • Take mock tests: You’ll find example questions in the theory test handbook. You can find other mock tests for free online and use these to test your knowledge and preparation for the test.
  • Practise for the hazard perception test: You can also find example hazard perception videos online and practise with them too.
  • Use the practice time: When you get to the test centre, you’ll have up to 15 minutes before the test begins to families yourself with the touch screen and layout of the questions. Take this time and if something doesn’t work right, raise it with staff.
  • Flag difficult questions: You have 57 minutes to answer the 50 multiple-choice questions. If one stumps you, you can hit the flag button. This allows you to answer other questions and return to this one later.
  • Use the break: You get a three-minute break between the two sections of the test. Use this to take a deep breath, stand up and stretch and refocus for the hazard perception test.

What happens once I pass?

You receive your results at the testing centre shortly after you’ve finished both sections. If you’ve passed, you’ll receive a letter with your pass certificate number. You’ll need this number when you book your practical test, so keep it safe.

Your theory test certificate is valid for two years. You must pass your practical driving test during this period, or you’ll need to sit the theory test again.

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