Learning to drive

An overview of the practical test and how it works

With your theory test pass in the bag, you can progress to the final stage in your quest for freedom and independence – your practical driving test. Get through this and you’ve got your full driving licence. As long as you’ve prepared correctly, there’s nothing to be afraid of.

How do I book my practical driving test?

So, you’ve passed your theory test, and the instructor says you are ready for the practical. Congratulations, you’re just one step away from having afull driving licence.

You can book online or over the phone.If you’re doing an upgrade test (for a manual car if you’ve already got a licence to drive an automatic), the booking has to be made by phone, but you won’t need a theory test pass certificate.

Online

Ensure you book through the official website; third-party sites levy a charge and may not offer any real benefit in return.

When you make your booking you’ll need to have to hand:

  • Your UK driving licence number.
  • Your theory test pass certificate number.
  • A credit or debit card to make the payment.

If you’ve lost your theory test certificate, you can get the details online  for free,24/7. You’ll need your name, driving licence number and date of birth.

 

By phone

Take this route and you’ll get a test date/time straight away, along with a booking reference. You’ll need a credit or debit card handy and whoever makes the booking will need to be the card holder. The number you need to call is 0300 200 1122, between 8am and 4pm Monday to Friday. Before making your booking, you’ll need to ensure you’ve got the following info to hand:

  • Your theory test pass certificate number.
  • Your driver number (on your licence).
  • Driving school code number (if known, so your instructor isn’t double-booked).
  • Your preferred date and any dates you can’t do.
  • Details of any disability or special circumstances.

Points to consider:

  • You can find your nearest practical driving test centre here – gov.uk/find-driving-test-centre.
  • A list of current driving test fees are available on the gov.uk website.
  • Waiting times can vary between two or three weeks to as much as three months.
  • To keep waiting times down, tests are sometimes available from 8am, in the evenings (during the summer) and at weekends – but not everywhere. You’ll pay more to take your test at the weekend though.

How long does the practical test take?

The practical driving test lasts around 40 minutes and it shouldn’t contain anything to faze you. You’ll need to take along your theory test pass certificate if you’re not exempt, and don’t forget your photocard licence.

Fail to take these items along and you may be refused the opportunity to take your test – and you’ll lose any money you’ve paid to do so. If you’ve lost your provisional driving licence, you’ll have to apply for a replacement from the DVLA – which may mean rearranging your test.

 

How early should you arrive?

Clutching your various documents, get to the test centre in good time, as if you’re late you’ll lose your slot and you’ll have to apply for another test on another date. To kick things off, your examiner will ask you to sign a declaration that your car is insured, and if you can’t or won’t sign the form, the test will be cancelled.

Can your driving instructor sit in on your practical test?

Yes, they can. You should discuss this with your instructor before you arrive, but most people prefer not to. The examiner will ask if you’d like anybody to accompany you on your test, then you’ll go to your car.

Before getting in, you’ll be asked to read a number plate. You need to be able to read a standard number plate from a distance of 20 metres. You’ll get two chances to read the number plate correctly – fail both times and the examiner will give you a third chance, having measured with an official tape. Fail this third time and your test will be over before you’ve really started. So if you usually wear contacts or glasses when you drive don’t forget them!

What are the ‘show me, tell me’ questions?

Next comes the ‘tell me’ question, when you’ll be asked to explain how you would perform a simple safety-related task, such as checking tyre pressures. The ‘show me’ question will be asked while you are driving. For example, you might have to show how you would turn on the rear demister.

What does the on-road section of the practical test involve?

The examiner will check your car for damage and that your L-plates are displayed correctly, then you’ll go out on your drive.

With the drive out of the way, you’ll return to the test centre where you’ll be told whether or not you’ve passed. You’ll get a certificate either way. Touch wood, the examiner will have good news. In that case you sign your pass certificate, and the examiner will send it to the DVLA. You should receive your full licence within three weeks.

If you fail you’ll be given a form  explaining where you went wrong. You’ll also get a form to apply for another test.

If you didn’t reach the required standard, the examiner will give you an opportunity to hear why. Your instructor can listen in too if you wish– of course they may have been sat in the back of the car anyway.

Hopefully the examiner will give you the thumbs up, but don’t get down if you fail first time. There’s plenty of evidence that people who fail at first go on to be better drivers in the long run. Learn from your mistakes and come back stronger.

Can you take the test in your own car?

If you take the test in your own car it must be specifically insured for you to use for this purpose. It’ll need to display L-plates, have a seatbelt and head restraint for the front passenger plus an interior mirror for the examiner’s use.