Why Is My Driving Test So Hard?
The Great British Driving Test
As a driving instructor, I know the UK driving test can be hard to pass. Here we have the 16th hardest driving test in the world, and I’ll be sharing with you some helpful tips to make your driving test easier to pass. I’ll go through some things that candidates find difficult, situations and scenarios that could present a problem, and how to prepare yourself for the test.
There are 5 parts to the UK practical driving test –
- Eyesight Check
- ‘Show Me, Tell Me’ questions on vehicle safety
- General driving ability
- Reversing your vehicle
- Independent driving
I’ll now go through each of the 5 parts one by one for you.
The Eyesight Check
A candidate should be able to read a number plate, with glasses or contact lenses if needed, at a distance of 20m if there are newer type plates (two letters followed by two numbers, then three letters) and 20.5m if they are the older number plates, with three numbers together.
Bear in mind that if the number plate cannot be read, then the test will end – make sure your eyesight is up to standard. Most instructors will conduct an eyesight test before lessons start – I always do – but it’s important to have eyes tested regularly. Many people have had eyesight problems during the 2020 and 2021 lockdowns. It’s always good to check with an optician.
If you need glasses or contact lenses to read the number plates, these must be worn at all times when driving.
‘Show Me, Tell Me’ questions on vehicle safety
The ‘Show Me, Tell Me’ questions are from a standard question bank, which is available online. The questions are subject to change – know your questions from the gov.uk website. The ‘Tell Me’ question will be asked before you start to drive. Familiarise yourself with the car you’ll be taking on the test – get to know it. You could be asked to open the bonnet and point things out to answer the ‘Tell me’ question, so practice opening and closing the bonnet safely. But you will just be pointing things out – you will not be asked to touch a hot engine.
The ‘Show Me’ question will be asked during driving. There are seven ‘Show Me’ questions. To prevent distractions on the test, listen for the starter phrase, ‘When it’s safe to do so…’ which is what the examiner will say at the start of the question. Drive with your instructor, and practice hearing and responding to them during driving. Know the answers to the questions well in advance, and practice the answers with your instructor and with family and friends too. Know the controls of the car you will be using, because sometimes what you are expected to show will mean you need different controls which vary from car to car.
The questions for the ‘Show Me, Tell Me’ test element is online, and there are also videos on YouTube which are useful.
General Driving Ability
The driving test can be as much a test of nerves as a test of skill, and I’ll go through a few points to anticipate happening during the test to help ease the stress of going through test.
The first thing is to make sure you are fully prepared – know everything that’s expected of you and your driving ability. Many tests aren’t passed because candidates aren’t ready. Be fully prepared for the test – know what’s expected of you and the standard required. If the standard of your driving exceeds the standard required, then if you get nervous you’ll have the skill and confidence to keep going.
The test situation itself is one of the most stressful things a person can be put in, and a few nerves are good because it prevents over-confidence and keeps you alert. The problems arise when the nerves take hold – and if a person is fully prepared for test, there’s less likelihood of this happening.
Second, be aware that you will be asked to stop a few times during the test. Don’t be upset if the examiner asks you to stop! You could be accustomed to being stopped in your lessons if there’s been a fault or your instructor has to explain something. You may associate being asked to stop with there being something wrong with your driving, but rest assured it’s not the case. Stopping the car isn’t the same as stopping a test – your examiner will want you to stop safely, and then pull away when ready.
Stops can be made before manoeuvres, before carrying out the emergency stop exercise and also stopping behind a vehicle. In this case, then your examiner will simply tell you to drive on again when ready, to see your skill when pulling away from behind a parked vehicle.
Get used to ‘examiner language’ – an instructor could say, ‘move off when safe to do so,’ but an examiner is more likely to say, ‘move away when you’re ready.’ Examiners expect you to know and carry out safety checks automatically without the need to be prompted.
Thirdly, one of the hardest things to do on a test is to keep going after you know there’s a mistake you’ve made. You could be consciously aware that there’s been a missed mirror check or a late signal, and that could throw you completely off your driving if nerves set in, which means that one fault could lead quickly to another.
Think of other road users and the mistakes they make. During theory test training, many questions teach drivers how to react to road users who make mistakes. We are taught to stay calm, ignore the error, and this is how we should be reacting to ourselves too on a test. The test situation is stressful and makes mistakes more likely to happen.
Don’t be upset if you take a wrong turn and leave the route – the examiners will not fault you for a wrong turn, and they will help you to get back onto the route again.
Reversing your Vehicle
There are many different reversing manoeuvres. I teach all kinds, all of which are very useful in different road situations. But there are some set manoeuvres the examiner will choose from on the test. These are the manoeuvres you could be asked to do –
- Parallel Park
- Driving into a bay and reversing out
- Reversing into a bay and driving out
- Pulling up on the right side of the road, reversing 2 car lengths and then rejoining the traffic
There are three points the examiners are looking for during a reversing manoeuvre.
Sometimes an examiner will ask a candidate to perform both of the bay reversing manoeuvres. If you cannot successfully perform the bay park, it doesn’t necessarily mean you haven’t passed the test – the examiner is looking for your control of the vehicle, awareness of what’s going on around you, and reaction to any hazards you see.
The most dangerous of the manoeuvres are ‘pulling up on the right’ – it’s dangerous because you are pulling up on the right-hand side of the road, and full observations need to be done before reversing, during the reverse, and again before moving out into traffic. If observations are not carried out effectively, it will result in an unsuccessful test.
The Independent Drive
The ‘independent drive’ part of the test involves the candidate following directions for about 20 minutes. This is done either through satellite navigation or by following road signs.
If road signs are being followed, the examiner will direct you verbally if one of the signs is obscured or hidden. For example, if you are approaching a junction and one of the signs is obscured by being hidden behind a tree, the examiner will direct you in good time.
If following satellite navigation, the examiner will set up the sat nav system for you. It does not matter what make or model the sat nav is that you practise with – the examiner will supply one.
You can still ask the way if you are not sure – it will not matter if you head in the wrong direction unless a fault occurs when doing it.
The examiner is looking for –
- Your ability to find the junctions, and the time your approach to them independently
- Being able to see hazards in good time and act on what you see
- Take into account weather and traffic conditions when driving
- Your ability to demonstrate safe, calm driving whilst driving unaided
It can take a bit of practice to learn the independent drive – practice as often as you can.
Tips for the Practical Driving Test
Every learner driver wants to know what they can do to help to make their driving test successful.
The big golden rule is to make sure you are ready for your test before applying, especially if you’re lucky enough to get a cancellation.
Mock tests are an excellent way to train for tests. When starting out on mock tests, some pupils find it easier to concentrate on one part of the test at a time, for example, the independent drive or the reversing.
When it’s booked, mock testing to replicate a full test is great – ask your instructor to run a mock test, making it as authentic as possible. Examiners use more formal language than instructors do. They often wear high-viz jackets and carry clipboards, so ask your instructor to do the same.
The more accurate the mock test is, the fewer nerves you will get on the real one. Maybe you can get the opportunity to do a mock test with other instructors – ask your instructor if they know another instructor willing to do a mock test for you. This will get you used to having another person in the passenger seat.
There is a great driving test nerves course you can take that will help you pass your test:
Make sure you know where the centre is well before the day and when the test will be.
If you’re on medication for hay fever or allergies, time your medication so you’re halfway between doses at the time of your test, so you will be at your best.
A supervising examiner could accompany you at the back of the car – these people are watching the examiner, not you, so carry on as if they weren’t there.
Remember to bring your provisional driving licence and the theory test pass document to the test centre on the day.
If you are unsure about any instruction given by the examiner, ask for clarification, don’t be afraid to ask.
Help to Prepare for your Test
My online video course, ‘Driving With a Difference,’ is designed to help learners prepare for their tests and beyond. There are 85 individual video clips designed to take the learner through their first lessons to the test.
With tips to practice, it takes learners right from their first time in the car to beyond test standards. Junctions, including roundabouts, are explained in detail.
This course is designed for all learner drivers, from clutch control problems to road signs, from speed limits to motorways.