The Beginner’s Guide to the Practical Driving Test

by Adam Phillips - 6 Min Read

You’ve done all your lessons and passed the theory test; all that stands between you and the open road now is the practical driving test.

It’s what all your lessons and hard work have been building to – finally getting your hands on that licence – but the practical driving test can appear daunting even if you’ve had a mock test with your instructor. Banish any lingering worries by using our guide to learn about exactly how the driving test works from before you work into the test centre to the moment the examiner turns to you and gives you your test result:

What To Expect Before Your Practical Driving Test

Taking the test itself is actually only half of the story:

• Have a final lesson with your instructor before the test itself to get yourself in the right frame of mind and to help stamp out nerves

• Decide which car you want to use for the test; it can be your instructor’s or your own. If the latter, make sure it is driving test-compliant; for instance, a Toyota iQ or a Ford KA convertible are not permitted.

• Arrive in plenty of time before your test; examiners have busy schedules so if you’re late, you might have to rebook your test

• Present your theory test pass certificate to the examiner when your name is called out along with your provisional licence photocard; you will then be asked to sign an Insurance declaration that states you are insured to drive the car being used for the test.

• Decide if you want someone to accompany you and the examiner on the test; typically this can be your instructor or it can be a friend or family member

• Follow the examiner out into the carpark and point out the car you will be taking the test in.

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If using your own car, make sure it’s roadworthy or else the examiner won’t proceed with the test

What to Expect During the Practical Driving Test

This is it! The test can now begin and is split into two sections:

Before the Driving Test

Eyesight Test
Your examiner will ask you to read a number plate from 20 metres. If you are unable to, they will select another plate. If you still can’t read it, the examiner will physically measure out the distance to the number plate, giving you one final opportunity. If you are still unable to read it, you’ll be failed and your provisional licence revoked – so do remember to take your glasses or wear contacts if you need them.

‘Show Me, Tell Me’
Your examiner will now ask you two vehicle safety questions – these are known as ‘show me, tell me’ and can focus on either the outside or inside of the car. If you answer incorrectly, you will receive a minor fault (see below). Examples include:

“Show me how you would check that the direction indicators are working”

“Tell me how you would check that the engine has sufficient oil.”

Practical Test
Once the examiner has carried out a safety check of your car to ensure it’s fit for the road, the driving part of the practical test will begin and takes around 40 minutes:

General Driving
The Reason: To ensure you have an excellent knowledge and understanding of driving.

The Process: The test will use a selection of local roads – some you may well be familiar with if your test centre is located near where you have been learning – but will not feature any motorway driving. During this part of the test, the examiner will give you directions for a route that will often include:

Roundabouts
Crossroads
Junctions
Dual carriageways (if available).

During this part of the test, you will be asked to perform one of the following four manoeuvres:

Reverse parallel parking
Reversing round a corner
Reversing into a bay
Turning in the road.

There is also a one-in-three chance that you will be asked to perform an emergency stop.

Independent Driving
The Reason: To ensure you are able to follow road signs/markings while demonstrating you can drive safely.

The Process: Towards the end of the test, you will be asked to pull over and told the independent driving segment is about to begin. The examiner will give you directions in map form (and/or verbally) before you head off. If you forget the route, don’t worry – you can always ask for a reminder.

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No matter what the conditions are during your test, remember your hard work and training and you’ll be fine

How the Practical Driving Test is Judged by Your Examiner

While you’re busy driving, the examiner will be making marks on their assessment form, noting where you make faults. You are allowed to make 15 minor faults – any more and you will be failed.

There are two types of fault:

Minor Fault
A fault based on a lack of observation, awareness, signalling or control; think hesitating at a junction or failing to check mirrors when moving off.

Major Fault
A major fault has two definitions:

1. A serious fault is when you do something potentially dangerous; think not checking properly at a roundabout.

2. A dangerous fault is one that represents an actual danger to you, your examiner, the pubic or property; think running a red light or speeding.

The main thing to remember? Major faults mean a fail, no matter how well you have driven through out the whole test.

A Practical Driving Test Pass or Fail & What They Mean

At the end of the test, the examiner will count up the faults and say:

“I’m pleased to tell you that you have passed your driving test”
They will go through any faults you may have made before giving you your pass certificate. You can give them your provisional licence at this stage and you will be sent your full licence automatically.

And yes, you can get driving straight away – be safe out there; most accidents happen during the first year of driving.

“I’m sorry to tell you but you haven’t passed your driving test”
The examiner will go through the faults for you to discuss with your instructor and you will need to book a new test.

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If you pass, it’s time to celebrate – remember to nominate a designated driver!

5 Top Tips for Passing the Practical Driving Test

1. Do use your mirrors often; the examiner wants to know that you are not operating in your own world but are aware of the conditions round you at all times – it’s the cornerstone of being a safe driver

2. Don’t go into the test simply focusing on passing the test; the examiner wants to know that you are a safe driver first and foremost and keeping that in mind can actually help you drive well, taking the focus off the thought that “I am doing my driving test!!!”.

3. Do deal with any nerves you may have; they can be a real hinderance to test success for those who let them get in the way. Check out our guide to dealing with driving test nerves for some useful tips.

4. Do expect to make mistakes; after all, examiners are expecting you to! So if you should happen to clip a kerb when reversing or take longer than you intended to parallel park, don’t get flustered. Instead, stay focused so you’re ready for the next task.

5. Don’t take rush to take your test; your instructor will tell you when you are test-ready so don’t be tempted to ‘blag’ your way through one; the test is designed to spot inexperienced, unsafe drivers – and fail them.

P.S. One More Thing
The driving test is set to change this year – find out what to expect here.

– If you’re just starting out, check out our beginner’s guide to learning to drive here and how to pass the theory test here.

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