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How to pass your practical driving test

According to the DVSA, more than half of us fail our driving test on the first go. We've put together a list of top tips to help you pass yours.

Last updated: 17/12/2021 | Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

In 2019-20, the pass rate for the UK’s practical driving test was 45.9%, according to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) that administers it. That means a majority of drivers will fail on their first attempt.

So how do you join the lucky few who only have to sit the test once? You pay attention in your lessons, develop solid driving skills, practice with a licenced family member or friend, and know what to expect going into the test.

In This Guide:

What does the practical driving test involve?

There are five parts to the practical driving test:

  1. Eyesight check: You’ll be required to read a number plate from a distance of 20 metres. If you fail, the test will immediately end.
  2. ‘Tell me, show me’ questions: You’ll be asked two vehicle safety questions. In response to the ‘tell me’ question, you’ll explain how you’d carry out a driving safety task, for instance how you’d check the vehicle’s brakes are working or how you’d check the tread depth and condition of the tyres. While you’re driving, you’ll then be asked to demonstrate—“show me”—a safety task, for instance how to switch on your dipped headlights or demist the windscreen.
  3. General driving ability: The examiner will then assess your general driving ability, giving you directions that will take you through various road and traffic conditions, but not motorways. As part of this, you’ll be asked to pull over at the side of the road then pull away. This may involve pulling out from behind a parked vehicle or a hill start. You may also be asked to carry out an emergency stop at this point.
  4. Reversing your vehicle: You’ll then have to show you can safely handle your vehicle when driving in reverse. The examiner will ask you to either parallel park, park in a parking bay, or pull up on the right-hand side of the road, reverse for two car lengths then re-join traffic.
  5. Independent driving: You’ll then drive for about 20 minutes following either directions from a sat nav or traffic signs, depending on what the examiner tells you.

These parts typically take around 40 minutes to complete.

How to pass the ‘Show Me, Tell Me’ questions

‘Show me, tell me’ questions are designed to test your knowledge of car maintenance and general vehicle safety and for you to demonstrate you know what to do in the event of an emergency. But you don’t have to be a mechanic to nail these questions. Here’s how:

  • Study the questions: A list of all the potential tell me and show me questions an examiner can ask you is published online. There are 14 potential ‘tell me’ questions and seven possible ‘show me’ tasks. You’ll only need to do one of each but you should learn the answers to them all.
  • Familiarise yourself with the car: You’ll likely want to take your driving test in the vehicle you’ve used to practice driving so you know where to find features like the switches for the dipped headlights or rear demister that you may be asked to use.
  • Explain: providing as much detail as you can in response to the questions is better than providing a vague answer. You may want to elaborate by explaining why a certain safety check is important. The examiner may ask you this anyway but it’s good to sound informed.

Missing one or both questions in this part of the test means you receive a driving fault or minor. If you accumulate 15 of these minor faults throughout your test, you’ll fail.

Top driving tips

Good driving practice will both help you pass your practical driving test and stay safe on the road in the future. Solid driving skills can also help you save on your car insurance in the future if you opt for a telematics policy, often the cheapest option for young drivers.

  1. Adjust your driving depending on conditions: It’s obvious that sticking to the speed limit is crucial during your driving test. But know that the speed limit isn’t a target—it’s a maximum. You should slow down during adverse conditions like rain and fog, which can reduce visibility and increase stopping distances.
  2. Maintain distance from the car ahead: Avoid tailgating, or following the vehicle ahead too closely. If they have to stop suddenly, you could rear-end them. Keep at least two seconds of space between you and the traffic ahead. 
  3. Look ahead: But you shouldn’t just focus on the car directly in front of you. Stay aware of all conditions ahead, including road signs, queuing traffic, bends in the road, and sudden obstacles, from breakdowns to crossing wildlife. Being aware of the road conditions before you reach them gives you enough time to react.
  4. Don’t get distracted: Keep your attention on the road, not on your mobile phone, radio, sat-nav or passengers. If you’re tempted by your mobile phone, put it on silent and out of reach in the glovebox.
  5. Use your lights: While most of us will flip on our headlights at night, many forget to use them during dusk or storms or fog that reduce visibility. The Highway Code says you should turn on your headlights when you cannot see for more than 100 metres ahead. You should also use your rear fog lights when visibility is particularly poor.

How to make sure you pass the first time

Remember how in school learning the information was only half the battle and you also had to learn how to take the test? The practical driving test is like that too. Arrive prepared, avoid common pitfalls, stay calm, and you’re set for success.

Here’s how else to give yourself the best chance of passing the first time:

  • Make sure you arrive with everything you need, including your provisional licence and your theory test pass certificate.
  • Use a car you’re familiar with, whether it’s your instructor’s or a vehicle you’ve been practising in at home.
  • Bring someone along. Learners frequently have their instructor in the car during the test for reassurance. If you do fail, they can also help you identify your mistakes. But you can bring anyone over 16 with you.
  • Ask the examiner to repeat: Miss a question or instruction? Don’t be afraid of asking the examiner to clarify.
  • Get to know the area around the test centre: You won’t know in advance the route you’ll be given on the day or the traffic conditions you’ll encounter. But you can drive around the area with your instructor or licenced chaperone to familiarise yourself with potential routes, including your traffic signs and speed limits.
  • Exaggerate mirror checks: Examiners look for proper use of your vehicle’s rear-view mirrors. Check your mirrors regularly, for example when pulling away, when changing road position, when shifting gears. And make sure the instructor sees you doing this, even if you have to ham it up.
  • Don’t assume you’ve failed: If you make a minor mistake, don’t give up or linger on it. You can earn up to 15 minors during your test before you fail. Just take a deep breath and focus on the road.

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