The only thing standing between you and the freedom of the open road is your practical driving test. Once you’ve ticked all the boxes – passed the theory test, got your provisional driving licence, and plenty of driving practice – you’re ready to take your official driving test.

Knowing what to expect helps tame those nerves and prepares you for what’s in store. This article looks at:

What to expect from the practical driving test

Your practical driving test will take roughly an hour. It’s the same for manual and automatic cars and consists of five parts:

  • Checking your eyesight
  • ‘Show me, tell me’ vehicle safety questions
  • Independent driving ability
  • General driving ability
  • Reversing your vehicle

An eyesight check

Checking your eyesight is the first thing that happens. If you fail this check, you fail your practical driving test. So, if you wear contact lenses or glasses, don’t forget them.

As it’s a legal requirement, you’ll be asked to read a number plate. You must read a new-style number plate from 20 metres away and an old-style one from 20.5 metres away. Remember, a new-style number plate starts with two letters followed by two numbers, for example, AB62 ABC.

‘Show me, tell me’ questions

You’ll have to correctly answer two vehicle safety questions for your practical driving test. These questions test your knowledge and skills.

The first is a ‘tell me’ question the examiner will ask before you start driving. Here, you must explain something, such as when you need to put on your warning hazard lights.

While driving, the examiner will ask you a ‘show me’ question. Here, you must demonstrate that you can do something, such as how to use a car horn or signal a turn.

There is a prescribed list containing these questions and it’s a good idea to study them before your driving test. To help you prepare, you can get examples of all the possible ‘show me, tell me’ questions from your driving instructor in advance of your test. You’ll lose marks if you get these questions wrong.

Independent driving

The independent driving segment tests your ability to follow directions – whether via traffic signs or a sat nav. You’ll have to drive for 20 minutes, demonstrating that you can find your way.

You cannot use your own sat nav. The examiner will set up a route for you. Officials mainly use a sat nav for directions when testing your independent driving.

There is however a chance you’ll have to follow traffic signs. If you’re at a place where you cannot see a sign, the examiner will instruct you until the next one comes along. You’ll lose marks for a wrong turn, but the examiner will direct you back to the route.

Remember to stay calm, even if you make a mistake. Prepare by using both a sat nav and traffic signs during your lessons.

General driving ability

To test your general driving ability, you will drive on various roads and in different traffic conditions. You will not drive on motorways.

You’ll be asked to pull over and pull away. Instructions include:

  • Performing a normal stop at the side of the road.
  • Pulling out from behind a stationary or parked vehicle.
  • Performing a hill start without drifting backwards.
  • Executing an emergency stop (sometimes officials don’t ask for this, but be prepared just in case).

Stay calm, listen carefully, and follow the instructions from the examiner. Get as much practice as possible on the known test routes in your area.

Reversing ability

To test your ability to reverse a vehicle, the examiner will ask you to do one of the following:

  • Parallel park at the side of the road.
  • Park in a parking bay. Here, you’ll be asked to either drive and reverse out or reverse in and drive out. Listen carefully to the instructions.
  • Pull over on the right-hand side of the road, reverse for two car lengths (or so), and then join the flow of traffic again.

10 tips to pass your practical driving test

To pass your practical driving test, you must have less than 15 minor errors. You’ll fail if you make a single major or hazardous mistake.

Minor mistakes are things such as incorrect hand position on the steering wheel or hesitating in the middle of an intersection. You’ll get away with once-off mistakes, but if you repeat them you won’t pass your practical driving test.

Major mistakes are those that are potentially or definitely dangerous. These can harm you, the examiner, other people, or property.

The examiner may carry on with your driving test even if you made a major mistake and failed. You’ll only find out the result at the end of your test.

Going for your driving test can play havoc with your nerves. That’s why we compiled these practical driving test tips to arm you with confidence and control.

1. Plan ahead

Planning for your practical driving test is key to success. It helps to devise a schedule where you practice all the necessary skills. You can do this with your driving test instructor.

Remember, passing your driving test is not a rush job. So, don’t just book the first available date. Impatience may lead to failure and then you have to retake the test, which can become a costly exercise.

2. Ensure you are prepared

Preparation paves the road to success. Get in plenty of practice before your practical driving test date. Make sure you:

  • Have driven and are familiar with all the common driving test routes in your area.
  • Practice independent driving using both traffic signs and a sat nav.
  • Practice all the different manoeuvres.
  • Study up on driving theory, the Highway Code, and the list of ‘show-me, tell-me’ questions.

Trust your driving instructor to tell you when you’re ready for the test. Don’t rush it.

During your driving test you will have to carry out an eyesight check, make sure you are prepared for this and you have everything you need.

3. Sit mock tests

Ask your driving instructor to take you through mock tests. Simulate a practical driving test from start to finish, with your instructor highlighting both major and minor driving faults. It’s often helpful to go through as many mock tests as you need until everything goes smoothly, giving you the confidence you can pass your actual test.

4. Be strategic in where and when you sit the test

Choosing the best test centre and pinpointing the optimal time to take your practical driving test are crucial. For example, peak hours in the mornings may limit your driving time and increased traffic can make you more nervous.

Look at availability and practicality when selecting a test centre. Different locations have different pass rates. For instance, data shows it’s relatively easy to get a pass in Peebles, Scotland, but rather difficult in Speke, Liverpool.

5. Sit your test in your instructor’s car

Familiarity with your chosen test vehicle is important. We suggest you use your instructor’s vehicle as:

  • It is (almost) guaranteed to satisfy the requirements of the examiner and the driving test.
  • You’re already familiar with the car, it’s quirks, and the lay out of the major controls that you will need.
  • As your instructor will need to be at the test centre with you beforehand, you can ask them for last minute pieces of advice or guidance.

Using your instructor's car during the test will ensure you are already with familiar with how it drives and its controls.

6. Book a driving lesson immediately before your test

It can be hugely beneficial to book a driving lesson either on the day or the day before your driving test. You can use this lesson to fine-tune those tricky manoeuvres, practice the ‘show me, tell me questions’ and put yourself in the right mindset for the test.

7. Be punctual and have your documents ready

Dashing to get to your practical driving test on time only causes panic. What’s more, if you’re late, your test might be cancelled. So, get to the venue in good time and make sure you have all your documents with you.

The documents on the day of your driving test include:

  • Provisional driving licence.
  • Theory test certificate.
  • Visual aids if needed (glasses or contact lenses).
  • Vehicle insurance papers if you’re using your own car.

8. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification

If you are unclear on something, such as an instruction or a question, ask for clarification. Double-checking that you heard something correctly and that you fully understand what you’re being asked is perfectly fine and will not result in a fault. But taking a risk on what you thought you heard could cost you.

9. Check your mirrors

Make sure to adjust the rearview and side mirrors for optimal visibility when you get into your car. This is not something you can do when you start driving, so do it before you set off.

The driving test examiner will expect you to use your mirrors throughout the test, so make sure you have full visibility of them.

10. Remain calm

Keep your cool. Panic and stress won’t help you one bit. Practice and preparation are the keys to a calm and collected mind going into your test.

Frequently Asked Questions