Driving test tips to make your big day a total breeze

Got a driving test coming up?

Then don't panic. This is your lucky day. If you'd like a few pointers to transform your chances of getting that all important pass, we've totally got your back. Here's all the crucial advice you must heed.

1. Be prepared

Many learners are able to drive adequately but are thrown by some sort of curveball. Usually it’s some sort of question or request that they weren’t expecting.

Ultimately, preparation breeds confidence, so let’s run through what happens on test day. In a driving test, you’ll be judged across 5 different areas: 

  • Your eyesight 
  • Your vehicle safety knowledge (known as Show me, Tell me questions)
  • Your general driving ability
  • Your ability to reverse a vehicle
  • Your ability to drive independently

And here’s how everything will play out:

Before you turn on the engine, there’s a simple eyesight test, where you’ll be asked to read a number plate from around 20 metres. Fail this and the test ends immediately. Assuming you pass, you’ll then be asked a ‘tell me’ question before the driving section begins.

In total, you’ll be driving for around 40 minutes around a specific route. The route will contain a variety of roads and hazards, but it won’t include any motorways.

For 20 minutes, the examiner will give you directions to follow. At some stage you’ll be asked a ‘show me’ question and you’ll also have to pull over a few times to show that you can:

  • Pull out from behind a parked vehicle
  • Perform a hill start
  • Parallel park at the side of a road
  • Park in a parking bay     

The remaining 20 minutes is the independent driving part, where you’ll also have to show that you can either follow directions from a sat nav or from traffic signs (the examiner will decide which).

If you’re asked to use a sat nav, they will programme in the route for you.

Please note

If you take a wrong turning, the examiner will not give you a fault. They’ll help you get back on route.

Eventually, you’ll end up back at the start, where the examiner will then tell you whether you’ve passed or not. If you’ve failed, he or she will also explain where you went wrong.

2. Swot up on potential routes

The DVSA stopped publishing the driving test routes in 2010, so it’s impossible to know the exact route you’ll be asked to take. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get a pretty good idea.

When you’ve chosen your test centre, have some driving lessons locally so that you can get a feel for the area. Practice on a variety of major and minor roads, country lanes and dual carriageways.

3. Conquer the mind games

Since you’ve probably got the driving thing locked down, your attitude before and during the test will play a huge part in whether you pass or not. Try to keep calm and remember that your examiner isn’t there to try and catch you out. He or she is merely assessing your ability.

Also, no one will do everything perfectly, so don’t dwell on any mistakes you make. Whilst a major fault means an instant fail, you’re allowed 15 minor faults… which is quite a lot.

Don’t worry if your examiner seems to be writing something down – they can make all sorts of notes and won't necessarily be recording any faults. And crucially, never assume you’ve failed. If you clip a curb, stall the car or suchlike, the best thing you can do is to put the error straight out of your mind and move on.

4. Have a lesson before your test

This is a great hack. Most learners turn up to tests cold. They might have combed over The Highway Code over breakfast, but that’s about it. And this is poor preparation. It’s like climbing out of bed and rocking up to the London Marathon without so much as a stretch.

If your last lesson was a few days ago, it’s going to be hard to pick up rhythm and momentum. By contrast, wouldn’t it be better to have a lesson and transition straight into your test?

5. Avoid common pitfalls

Check out the top 10 reasons people fail their driving test.

Statistics and data are great, because if you’re like most people, you can learn from their mistakes. And this is especially relevant if the majority of learners are failing their tests.

A heightened sense of awareness might just save the day.

6. Rest the night before

To pass your test, you need a sharp, focused mind. That means don’t indulge in a Netflix marathon the night before. Likewise, avoid alcohol and stodgy foods that will deaden your reflexes.

Instead, do something relaxing, head to bed early and get some sleep.

7. Eat before your test

Although you might feel nervous on the morning of your driving test, try not to head out on an empty stomach. Your brain needs something to feed on.

Okay, so a full English might not be the best idea, but eat a healthy meal that will stand you in good stead (such as porridge, toast or fruit).

8. Take your test in a car you know

Taking a driving test in an unfamiliar car is a really bad idea. From the vehicle safety questions through to basic manoeuvres, it will make everything so much harder.

It’s important to take your test in a car that you know well and feel comfortable driving in, so stick to your instructor’s vehicle. It’s one less thing on your mind.

9. Expect the unexpected

Now, even if you’ve taken loads of lessons, learned The Highway Code off by heart and feel 100% ready for your test, we must not forget that we do not control the universe.

You’ll be driving down real roads with real road users, real pedestrians and real hazards. There is no telling what might happen, so be on guard. Don’t be blinded by the basics to the extent that you’re shocked and panicky if a police car whizzes by or if a dog runs into the road. The reality is, stuff happens. And it can happen on test day.

10. Exaggerate mirror checks

Of all the things that matter to an examiner, observation is arguably the key thing. And this is understandable, since your level of awareness will keep you and other road users safe.

With this in mind, be sure to really exaggerate your head movements every time you check your mirrors (when you’re pulling out, approaching hazards, changing lanes and changing gears). 

This might feel odd, but not checking your mirrors is a minor fault and we can’t risk any misinterpretation on the part of the examiner.

11. Be prepared for the show me, tell me questions

You may have heard of show me, tell me questions. 

During your driving test, your examiner will ask you 2 questions about basic car maintenance and fundamental safety manoeuvres. Show me questions require you to demonstrate your knowledge whilst you’re driving and tell me questions  just require a verbal explanation. 

Incorrect answers get marked down as a minor fault, so you won’t fail your test if you get anything wrong. But regardless, there should be no surprises. Examiners aren’t trying to catch you out.

Show me, tell me questions are an easy win in a driving test and since you’ve only got 15 minor faults to play with before failing a test, it makes sense to get these 2 questions right.

Both questions used to be asked at the start of a driving test. But in December 2017, that changed. Now the tell me question is asked at the beginning, but the show me question is asked whilst you’re driving.

Show me questions

There are currently 12 show me questions that you could be asked. This question is posed whilst you’re driving to test your ability to stay focused as much as your driving knowledge.

For instance, during your test, an examiner could ask you to show them how to switch on your vehicle’s rear fog lights. You’d be expected to assess when it’s safe to show your examiner and then correctly demonstrate.

Tell me questions

There are 7 possible tell me questions that you could be asked. These questions are asked before you’ve begun driving and, as the name suggests, they’ll require some sort of explanation. 

For example, an examiner might ask you to tell them how you would test the air pressure of your tyres at the start of a journey.

The answer would involve first looking in the car manufacturer’s guide to find out what the correct air pressure is, then using a reliable pressure gauge to check the tyres’ current pressure (and obviously also a pump too, if the tyres needed more air). 

In total, there are 19 show me, tell me questions. However, every examiner is restricted to a choice of 12 that they can pick from during your driving test.  You can see all the possible questions that you could be asked on the Government website here.

The trick to answering show me, tell me questions is not to panic. Allow yourself some thinking time.

And again, try to take your driving test in a car that you're familiar with. For instance, you might not know where the lever to release the bonnet is if you're driving a car for the first time.

12. Ask questions if you need to

Don’t be afraid to ask your examiner to repeat or explain anything that you don’t hear or understand. A driving test isn’t supposed to be intimidating.

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