Before you sit your practical driving test, you must first pass a theory test. This looks at both your general knowledge about driving, cars and road signs, and your skills of hazard perception. The theory test was launched in July 1997 and you are unable to book a slot for your practical test without having first passed the theory test.
There are two separate parts to the theory test. First, you will be asked 50 multiple choice questions on all aspects of driving and cars. This could include questions about car batteries, or what you should do if you break down. Then, there is a hazard perception section involving watching short videos from a driver’s perspective and clicking when you spot a hazard. In order to pass, you need 43 out of 50 on the multiple choice section, and 44 out of 75 on the hazard perception. You will be told whether you have passed or failed immediately after the end of the test.
The theory test is designed to be a thorough test of your driving skills and as such, any driver will need to put a bit of time and effort into revising and brushing up on their knowledge in order to secure a pass. Each theory test costs £23 and in popular areas slots go quickly, so it makes a lot of sense to do the revision to give yourself the best chance of passing first time.
You can book a theory test as soon as you are legally entitled to drive – on your 17th birthday should you wish to do so. You must have your provisional driving licence to reserve your slot, and you can do this before you turn 17. There are separate theory tests for cars, motorbikes and people wanting to drive a commercial vehicle like a bus or lorry. Tests can only be taken in English, Welsh, or using British sign language. If you need extra support such as having questions read to you, or need extra time, then contact the Driver and Vehicle Services Agency (DVSA) for advice.
Log into the government website and enter your details when prompted. You will need the number from your provisional driving licence, and a debit or credit card for payment. You will also be asked to enter your postcode, so the website can direct you to centres close to your home. Appointments are available throughout the day from 8am, and often on a Saturday too. You can choose to sit your theory test wherever you like, there is no requirement to sit at the centre closest to your home address. Many learners choose to sit their test at a term-time university address, or at a location convenient for work.
On the day of the test, make plans to arrive in plenty of time. This is especially the case if the test is somewhere you haven’t been before. You will be asked to put your personal belongings in a locker while you take the test, along with your phone or watch. You will be taken to the room where you will sit and take your test, and will be given the chance to read over the rules about how the test works, and take a few practice questions to make sure the computer is working and you are comfortable with what you are expected to do.
You have 57 minutes to go through the 50 multiple choice questions, so take your time and read carefully. If you’re not sure about one question, you can skip it, move to the rest of the test, and come back to it at the end. After finishing the multiple choice section, you can take a short break before continuing with the hazard perception. You will see 14 video clips with 15 hazards in total, and click when you spot a hazard developing.
After the test is over, you can collect your things from the locker and the administrator will tell you whether you have passed or failed. The number on your theory pass certificate is needed to book a practical driving test. You must pass your practical within two years of passing the theory, or the theory certificate expires and you’ll have to do it again. You must reach the required standard in both sections of the test. It is possible to score 100% on the multiple choice, 43 out of the required 44 in the hazard perception and still fail as the scores are not averaged across both.
The old saying is that failing to plan is planning to fail, and that’s certainly the case with your theory test. As with any test, you need to put in a bit or practice beforehand to maximise your chances. You have a few options for doing this, and there’s nothing wrong with going old-school and reading the Highway Code in paper format. But most learners use an app on their phones or tablets to help.
There are a range of apps on the market, some free and some which cost around £5 to download. It’s worth looking through the reviews and choosing one of the paid-for apps as these will have more content than the free to use options. All will allow you to test yourself with multiple choice questions and practice your hazard perception with a range of videos. The best thing about these apps is that rather than just giving you a straight pass/fail answer, they will identify any particular areas you are struggling with, allowing you to concentrate your revision.
It’s always wise to have some sort of plan about how you are going to go about revising for your test, as the risk is that you leave things to the last minute and end up cramming desperately the night before in a panic. The way you revise best will be up to you. Some people like doing 15 minutes every morning and evening, others like doing a full hour every other day. It’s really what works for you, so find a routine and try to stick to it. Most of the apps will let you concentrate your study on specific aspects of the test, and review parts of the test where you have performed poorly. Once you have completed some practice questions, you can check the answers, see where you’ve gone wrong.
Doing practice hazard perception questions is fairly familiar to anyone who remembers revising for exams at school, but hazard perception requires a different set of skills. The hazard perception test is about looking for developing hazards and clicking at the right point on the video. Click too soon, or just click randomly, and you’ll score very low. You can score a maximum of 5 points on each of the hazards. Even if you miss the 5 point score on a hazard, clicking shortly after, when it’s still classed as developing might still score 4 or 3 points, giving you enough points to secure a pass.
When practicing for the test, try not to overload yourself by doing too much testing all at once. Start off by practicing 5 or 6 clips to see how you do, and then look at your marks and feedback to help you identify what you should concentrate on. Once you’re consistently performing well on a few tests, look for a mock test where you can sit and do the full 15 videos and see what your final score is. The aim is to build up gradually over time, until you reach a stage where you are consistently performing at the level needed to pass the theory test.
When you finish your theory test, you will be given your results straight away. If you’ve performed well enough on both the multiple choice and the hazard perception, then the administrator will give you a pass certificate and you can immediately log in to book your practical test. Congratulations! Keep hold of the pass certificate though, as you will need your test pass number to secure your slot for a practical test.
However, statistics show that the theory test has about a 50% pass rate, which means that half the people who take a theory test in any year will fail. So if you are among this 50%, it may be comforting to realise that you’re not alone. The administrator will give your marks in each section, which may allow you to identify whether it’s the multiple choice or hazard perception sections which are causing you problems, and help you target your revision more closely for the next time you sit your test. You are free to book another theory test as soon as you wish after failing the first time round. It can be tempting to book another one within just a couple od days but it’s usually better to leave at least a couple of weeks to give yourself a chance to revise and maximise your chances of passing second time round. Book another slot for a month or six weeks’ time, then spend the time looking at the practice apps and keeping your skill level high. It might be worth looking at a range of different websites and apps rather than simply relying on the same appt which you used first time round. There is no requirement to return to the same centre where you sat the first test; it is up to you to choose the centre, date and time which works best for your other commitments.
A particular issue during the Covid-19 pandemic was people who had passed their theory test in 2019, but were unable to secure a practical slot because of lockdowns and backlogs. At the time, the government offered extensions to validity of the theory pass certificate but this period has now passed. You have two years from the date of passing your theory test to book and pass a practical driving test. If two years pass and you have still not managed to pass your practical driving test, the theory test certificate expires, and you’ll have to do it again. Fees are not waived for customers whose tests have expired, and you will have to pay the £23 to rearrange to sit the test again.
Most people will easily manage to sit and pass a practical test within two years of their theory. However, if you know that it’s particularly difficult to secure a test slot in your area, or a shortage of driving instructors, then there is no point in booking a theory test very early and then potentially running out of time for a practical test. Once you start learning to drive, take advice from your driving instructor about the timing of booking a theory test slot and your subsequent practical.
If you have already passed a practical driving test in an automatic car and want to upgrade to a manual licence, then you don’t have to do another theory test. You also don’t need to do another theory test if you are taking a new test to drive a tractor or a taxi. If you have any questions about your theory test, then your driving instructor will be able to help in the first instance. They are definitely the best person to give advice on when you might be ready to pass a theory, and put in for your practical test. If you have lost your theory pass certificate, then you can contact the DVSA who will send out a piece of paper with the number on it which you can then use to book your practical test. There is also helpline which can provide practical advice on all aspects of theory and practical driving tests. Call 0300 200 1122 between 8am and 4pm to speak to an expert from the DVSA, or drop them an email.