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Practical driving test tips

You've spent countless hours behind the wheel, mastered all the necessary manoeuvres and passed your theory test. Now there's just one thing standing in the way of you and the open road: your practical driving test.

The practical driving test is your chance to demonstrate how safe and confident you are on the road and prove to a certified examiner you're aware of – and abide by – the Highway Code.

What happens on the day?

When you arrive at the test centre, you'll be asked to show your theory test pass certificate as well as your driving licence. As from June 2015 you no longer need bring the paper counterpart with you. If you forget the certificate or your licence, the test will be cancelled and you'll lose your money.

Once the relevant documents have been checked by an examiner, the test will go a little something like this:

  • Eyesight check – Before you get moving, your examiner will check your eyesight. To do this, they'll ask you to read a number plate from either 20 or 20.5 metres away, depending on whether the car has a new or old-style plate. If you're unable to read the number plate you'll fail your test immediately.
  • Show me, tell me – Next, you'll be asked a set of safety questions, commonly referred to as the 'show me, tell me' part of the test. The examiner will first ask you to demonstrate how to carry out a certain safety check on the car, and then they'll ask you to explain how to carry out one.
  • Driving – general ability – Now it's time for you get out on the road so your examiner can assess your driving ability. This part of the test lasts around 40 minutes unless you have a driving disqualification, in which case it'll last 70 minutes.
    Whilst driving, the examiner will give you directions, which will cover types of roads and traffic conditions. You'll be required to perform basic manoeuvres such as pulling over at the side of the road, normal stops and hill starts. Your examiner may also ask you to perform an emergency stop.
    At some point during your general driving ability test, you'll need to demonstrate how competent you are at reversing your car. You'll either be asked to reverse around a corner, carry out a turn in the road, or reverse park.
    This part of the test will also involve you driving independently for around 10 minutes so the examiner can assess how capable you are at driving without guidance.
  • Back at the test centre – Once you've driven back to the test centre, you'll find out almost immediately whether or not you've passed. You'll pass if you make no serious or dangerous faults (called 'majors') and receive no more than 15 faults (called 'minors'). You'll be given a certificate as proof and provided you're insured as a fully qualified driver, you can hit the road straight away.
    If you fail, don't be disheartened. The test has provided you with an opportunity to address areas for improvement to help you become a better driver. The latest data from the Department for Transport (DfT) shows the national pass rate between January and March 2017 was 44% for women and 51% for men; so if you don't pass this time, you're definitely not alone.
    You'll be able to book another test after 10 working days.

Practical test tips

Sitting a driving test is a scary experience, but it's important not to let your nerves get the better of you. If your instructor has told you that you're ready to take the test, they're obviously confident in your driving ability, so you should be too!

To give you the best chance of passing, we've put together some tips to help to improve your skills, boost your confidence and prepare for the big day:

  • You know what they say; practice makes perfect. The more hours you spend behind the wheel, the better driver you'll become, so in the run up to your test make sure you're out on the road as much as possible. Practise all that you've learned with your instructor with a friend or family member and ask them for feedback so you can address weaknesses and improve.
  • You need to be equally as good at carrying out all driving manoeuvres, because there's no way of telling which ones you'll be asked to perform during your test. With this in mind, you should focus on improving your weakest manoeuvres by performing them at least once every time you're on the road.
  • Don't book your driving test around other stressful times, such as during exams, as you'll put yourself under unnecessary pressure. Similarly, to keep the pressure off, keep the test date to yourself and close family and don't tell your friends.

On the day:

  • If possible, use the car you've been learning to drive in for your test as you're more likely to feel confident driving a car you're familiar with.
  • If you think it'll help, you can ask your driving instructor to sit in the car with you during the test, though they aren't allowed to speak to you or offer advice when you're driving.
  • Even if your stomach's in knots on test day, it's important to eat breakfast. Avoid downing too many cups of coffee as caffeine can boost anxiety levels.
  • Instead of sitting there twiddling your thumbs in the test centre, occupy your mind by reading a book or listening to music as this will help to calm your nerves.
  • In the car, stay calm, drive safely, and make decisions without too much deliberation. If you're continually hesitant this shows you lack confidence, which could result in you failing the test.
  • Don't be afraid to ask the examiner to repeat themselves if you didn't hear a certain instruction. It's much better to ask them to repeat themselves than to make an error because you misheard what they said.
  • If you think you've slipped-up, stay calm and keep going, because it might not mean you've failed. The examiner has the right to stop the test if they think your driving is posing a danger to other road users.

Now you know what to expect in the practical test, read our top tips for the theory test, too.

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