What happens in a driving test?

Last updated: Wednesday, 3rd July 2024

Are you about to take your practical driving test and want to know what to expect?

Taking your driving test can be nerve-wracking, but knowing what happens in a driving test can help you feel more prepared and less anxious on test day.

This all-in-one guide takes you through every step of the driving test, so you can walk into your test with confidence and pass with flying colours!

Preparing for the practical driving test

Making sure you're fully prepared for your driving test gives you the best chance of passing your test.

What age can you take your driving test in the UK?

To be eligible for a driving test in the UK, you must be at least 17 years old and you need a valid provisional licence.

You must have also passed the driving theory test.

Practice and driving lessons

Regular practice is essential. Take lessons with a qualified driving instructor who can provide guidance and address areas needing improvement.

Practise all manoeuvres, including parallel parking, reversing, and emergency stops.

Consider scheduling a lesson on the day of your test for a final review. Make sure you are comfortable driving in different traffic conditions.

These driving test tips can help you feel more confident and relaxed on the day and help you pass your driving test.

Taking the driving test in your own car

If you're using your own car to take your driving test, you must ensure your car is roadworthy.

It must be insured, taxed, and have an MOT if needed. Certain vehicles like convertibles or panel vans are not permitted. Familiarise yourself with the rules on using your own car for driving tests.

Understanding the driving test pass mark

There are three types of driving fault - minor fault, serious fault and dangerous fault.

To pass your practical test, you must make no more than 15 minor driving faults and no major or dangerous faults.

You'll receive a fail if you get any serious or dangerous faults or exceed 15 minor driving faults.

Here's everything you need to know about driving faults

What happens on the day of your practical driving test?

On the day of your driving test, there are a few important steps you'll need to complete.

What to bring to the driving test

On the day of your driving test, you must bring specific documents. These include your provisional driving licence and your theory test pass certificate if you have one.

If you are using your own car, bring proof of insurance and MOT certificate. Keeping all documents organised will help reduce any last-minute stress.

Make sure your vehicle displays L plates and has a speedometer that measures speeds in mph.

Arrival at the test centre

We recommend arriving early at the driving test centre. This extra time helps you remain calm and collected.

Upon arrival, you will need to provide your provisional driving licence.

Make sure your provisional licence matches the details used when booking your driving test.

Vehicle requirements

Your vehicle must meet specific criteria on the test day. It should be in roadworthy condition, which includes functional lights, brakes, and tyres.

An MOT certificate is necessary if your car is older than three years. Inside the car, you need to ensure the mirrors and seats are adjusted to your comfort.

Additionally, there must be a second rear-view mirror for the examiner. This mirror can be either permanent or temporary.

Failure to meet these requirements could result in your test being cancelled.

It's time to take the practical driving test! We'll now break down exactly what to expect on your driving test.

What to expect on your driving test

Your practical driving test consists of five key parts:

  • Eyesight check

  • 'Show me' and 'tell me' vehicle safety questions

  • General driving ability

  • Reversing your vehicle

  • Independent driving

During the test, you'll be asked questions that test your knowledge of vehicle safety, followed by a practical driving session.

The examiner will assess your ability to handle various driving tasks, including reversing and independent driving, where you follow traffic signs to a specified destination.

It's important to stay calm and focused throughout, as this will help you show off your driving skills.

Understanding the structure of the test can significantly boost your confidence. By familiarising yourself with the five parts of the driving test, you'll be better prepared to succeed on the day.

Let's look at each part of the practical driving test in more detail.

How long is a driving test?

The driving test takes about 40 minutes to complete.

The independent driving section of the test lasts around 20 minutes.

Taking an extended driving test? This test will last longer than a normal driving test and you'll drive for about 70 minutes.

Eyesight check

The eyesight check is the first step of your practical driving test, where you have to read a number plate.

You'll need to read a number plate from 20 metres away for vehicles with a new-style number plate and from 20.5 metres away for vehicles with an old-style number plate.

If you normally wear glasses or contact lenses when driving, make sure you wear them during the test to ensure you pass this part.

If you fail this check, your test will end there, and you won't be allowed to continue.

Show me, tell me vehicle safety questions

After the eyesight test, you'll be asked two vehicle safety questions known as 'show me, tell me'.

These questions assess your knowledge of basic car maintenance and safety.

For the 'tell me' part, you will explain how to conduct a specific safety task. The 'show me' question will require you to demonstrate a safety action while driving, like using the windscreen wipers.

'Tell me' questions you could get asked

  1. How do you check that the brakes are working before starting a journey?

  2. Where do you find the information for the recommended tyre pressures and how should tyre pressures be checked?

  3. How do you make sure your head restraint is correctly adjusted to provide the best protection in the event of an accident?

  4. How do you check the tyres to ensure they have sufficient tread depth and that their general condition is safe for use on the road?

  5. How do you check that the headlights and tail lights are working?

  6. How do you know if there is a problem with your anti-lock braking system?

  7. How do you check the direction indicators are working?

  8. How do you check the brake lights are working on this car?

  9. How do you check that the power-assisted steering is working before starting a journey?

  10. How do you switch on the rear fog light(s) and when would you use them?

  11. How do you switch your headlights from dipped to main beam and how do you know the main beam is on?

  12. How do you check that the engine has sufficient oil when the bonnet is open?

  13. How do you check that the engine has sufficient engine coolant when the bonnet is open?

  14. How do you check that you have a safe level of hydraulic brake fluid when the bonnet is open?

'Show me' questions you could get asked while driving

  1. When it's safe to do so, can you show me how you wash and clean the rear windscreen?

  2. When it's safe to do so, can you show me how you wash and clean the front windscreen?

  3. When it's safe to do so, can you show me how you'd switch on your dipped headlights?

  4. When it's safe to do so, can you show me how you'd set the rear demister?

  5. When it's safe to do so, can you show me how you'd operate the horn?

  6. When it's safe to do so, can you show me how you'd demist the front windscreen?

  7. When it's safe to do so, can you show me how you'd open and close the side window?

General driving ability

Next is the general driving ability part of the test. This section of the test lasts approximately 20 minutes, where the examiner will assess your overall driving skills.

The driving examiner will direct you along a test route that includes different road types and traffic conditions.

However, learner drivers won't be taken on motorways during their practical driving test.

During this part of the test, your examiner will be assessing your ability to control the car, use road signs and markings correctly, and follow traffic signals.

They will also observe how you manage junctions, roundabouts, pedestrian crossings, and other similar situations.

Maintaining the correct road position is essential. You need to keep a safe distance from the vehicles around you and ensure that you stay within your lane. Make sure to position your vehicle correctly during parking and when joining other traffic.

The examiner will ask you to pull over at the side of the road and then pull away during the general driving ability part of the test. You may need to perform a hill start as well as pull out behind a parked vehicle.

You might also be asked to carry out an emergency stop, so be prepared to respond swiftly and safely if instructed to do so.

Reversing your vehicle

The examiner will ask you to do one of the following three reversing manoeuvres during the test:

  • Parallel park at the side of the road

  • Park in a parking bay

  • Pull over on the right-hand side of the road, reverse for about two car lengths, then merge back into the traffic

Independent driving

The last part of the test is the independent driving section, which lasts about 20 minutes.

During this part, you'll be asked to you'll be asked to drive independently and follow directions from a sat nav or traffic signs.

You may also be asked to follow traffic signs towards a specific location without spoken instructions.

This section aims to assess your ability to drive safely and independently while following directions and making decisions on your own.

It also tests your observation skills as you navigate through unfamiliar routes.

Following directions

If you're asked to follow directions from a sat nav, the examiner will set the sat nav route. You do not need to bring your own sat nav - you'll use the sat nav provided by the examiner.

It is crucial to listen carefully and understand the instructions. Don't worry if you miss a direction; the examiner won't penalise you for taking a wrong turn as long as you drive safely.

Remember to stay calm and focused during this part of the test, and don't be afraid to ask for clarification if needed.

What happens at the end of your driving test?

Once you're back at the test centre, the examiner will tell you whether you've passed or failed your driving test.

You'll get a driving test report that includes your driving test faults. The examiner will also give you feedback on your performance and might explain any specific mistakes you made during the test.

This is a good opportunity to understand what areas you need to work on whether you passed or failed.

What happens if I pass the driving test?

If you pass, the examiner will give you a pass certificate and take your provisional driving licence if you want your full licence to be sent automatically.

You can start driving as soon as you've passed your driving test.

What happens after you pass your driving test?

What happens if I fail the driving test?

If you fail the test, you'll need to wait at least 10 working days before you can take another driving test.

This waiting period gives you time to practice and improve your skills before attempting the test again.

Use the feedback from your examiner to focus on areas that need improvement and keep practising until you feel confident enough to retake the test.

Tips to help you pass your driving test

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Frequently asked questions about what to expect on a driving test

Yes, someone like your driving instructor or a family member can sit in the back of the car during your driving test.

You need to bring your provisional driving licence, a car that meets the legal requirements, and your theory test pass certificate if you have one.

If you wear glasses or contact lenses, ensure you bring those as well.

The first part of the driving test is an eyesight check where you'll read a number plate from either 20 metres or 20.5 metres depending on the style of the plate.

If you fail the eyesight check, your test will end there.

The DVSA driving test generally lasts about 40 minutes.

No, you won't instantly fail your driving test if you get the 'show me, tell me' questions wrong, but it would count as a minor driving fault.

Many people fail due to nerves and lack of preparation. Common reasons include not making proper observations at junctions, failing to check mirrors, and incorrect positioning on the road.

Practice thoroughly and remain calm to avoid these mistakes.

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