How to recover from a failed driving test

If you’ve recently failed your driving test, we feel your pain.

The thought of taking all those lessons and putting in so much hard work for nothing is pretty depressing, right? But don’t chuck in the towel yet. For starters, realise that you’re not alone - failing a driving test is a very common occurrence. 

In fact, the pass rate in Britain has been hovering around 46% for the past decade. That’s right, around 1.4million people take a test every year and less than half of them pass it. (And remember, we're talking about a general pass rate for drivers across the board. The specific rate for passing a test first time is even lower.)

Therefore, given how often this happens, the important thing is to work out why you failed, how to cope, how you can improve and precisely what you should do next.

You’ve probably got loads of questions and if you’re wondering where to go from here, don't worry - we've got your back. We're gonna put your mind at rest and put you back on course.

We're going to start by running through some of the more common questions that learners ask themselves at this stage and put everything into perspective. 

Then we'll give you an 11-step action plan that's been specifically designed to get you the pass you so desperately want. If you’re still dreaming of freedom, let’s make this happen.

Why did I fail my driving test?

It’s important to think about what your examiner said about your test performance when it finished. Hearing the awful confirmation is upsetting. But whilst you might have zoned out to your examiner's summary, try to recall any feedback. 

You should also have a test report to look at, which will highlight the mistakes you made.

No one drives perfectly and every time you take a test, you’ll be judged on how many faults you make. Examiners divide faults into 2 categories – minor and major faults.

Minor faults are errors that typically aren’t dangerous. Suppose you didn’t check your mirror when moving around a parked car. It's not ideal, but equally, it’s not something that will affect any other road users.

Major faults tend to be mistakes that potentially put you, the public or property in danger.

Let's use the same example. Perhaps you didn’t check a mirror when moving around a parked car, but this time a cyclist was close behind. It's the same error, but now someone's life was put in danger. This time, it's categorised as a major or serious incident.

How many errors can you make during a driving test?

On the driving test, pupils can make 15 minor faults and still pass, so it's not like you have to drive perfectly. Most people will make at least one fault during their test (last year, only 1% of UK learners passed their test with no mistakes). 

However, it’s possible to make less than 15 minors and fail. It just depends on the type of minors being made. 

In other words, are they all related to same sort of thing?

For instance, consider a learner who was repeated making minor errors when it comes to checking mirrors. Even though we're talking about small faults in different scenarios, an examiner might assume a pattern of behaviour is developing and fail the pupil.

Meanwhile, it's a lot simpler at the other end of the spectrum - any major faults would automatically induce a fail. Anything serious and it's game over. Major faults are clearly something to avoid.

What's the most common reason for failing a driving test?

Obviously there are endless reasons why a learner driver might fail their driving test. But whether you want reassurance or things to work on, the common reasons make for interesting reading.

In order, the top 10 reasons for UK learners failing the driving test are:

  1. Observation at junctions (11.9%)
  2. Use of mirrors (8.2%)
  3. Inappropriate speed (5.1%)
  4. Steering control (4.7%)
  5. Reversing around a corner (4.3%)
  6. Incorrect positioning (4.2%)
  7. Moving away safely (4.2%)
  8. Use of signals (4.1%)
  9. Reverse parking (3.7%)
  10. Turn in the road (3.5%)

How long do you have to wait until you can book another test?

Learners have to wait a minimum of 10 days before they can book and retake a driving course. However, some of the larger test centres have long waiting lists and you could be waiting a while.

But maybe that's not a bad thing?

Really, if you're trying to work out when you should book another driving test, you should consider the context of your previous disappointment.

In other words, did you fail just because of nerves? Or was the fail down to technical driving errors? And if so, how many errors are we talking about? The answers to these questions will dictate the amount of extra tuition and practice you'll need in order to improve your chances of passing next time.

What happens if you fail a driving test multiple times?

In short, nothing. If you’ve failed your driving test more than once, don’t fret - there’s no maximum number of tests you can take. Yes it’s frustrating to fail the driving test 3 times, 4 times or more (and your pride might take a hit), but it can easily happen. Again, you're not alone.

In 2017, 15,000 people took their test for the 6th time and their pass rate was a mere 38%. And in 2016, the DVSA announced that England’s worst 20 learner drivers had attempted the practical test more than 700 times between them. 

And this should make you feel better:

The cheapest driving test costs £62, so if they paid that amount each time, that would equate to £43,000 spent solely on tests.

We don’t know whether any there are any world records for having the most failed driving tests, but the UK has its fair share of bad test results. And whilst we can applaud the determination of someone who has taken 100s of tests, at some point, you have to take a step back and examine the method of instruction. 

Perhaps some of these learners would have been better off with a more intensive and focused approach to driving tuition.

Something important to remember

Whether you return to your old instructor or not, it’s important to get back behind the wheel as soon as possible after your failed test. And, just like a kid failing off a bike, you don’t want to overthink things and leave it too long. 

Any extended break from driving can cause anxiety and worry to build up, which won’t help matters. Instead, see your fail for what it is… part of the journey. Right, so let's now show you how to recover and get a pass after failing test.

An 11-step action plan to follow after a failed test

Step 1: Take a well-earned break

There's no harm in forgetting about driving for a bit. Chill out, put things into perspective and realise that in the UK, over 50% of people fail their driving test at any given time. What's happened is quite normal, no matter why you failed.

Step 2: Examine the facts

Don't drive yourself mad thinking about what happened. Memories are imperfect and your mind will play tricks on you. Look at your driving test report and the feedback from your examiner, because awareness of what went wrong is vital.

Step 3: Speak openly with other drivers

Again, loads of people fail driving tests. Many learners fail more than one test. So talk about what happened with friends and family members. Don’t bottle anything up because that will hinder your ability to put this disappointment behind you.

Step 4: Make a technical assessment

Decide the primary reason for failing. Was it nerves or was there one or more technical issues that need working on? Either way, write it down on a piece of paper, pin it up on a wall and be clear on what you need to improve for next time.

Step 5: It's time to get driving again

Once any self-imposed driving break is over, it's important to get back behind the wheel as soon as possible. Ask a friend or family member to hop in a motor with you, even if it's just for a short trip around the block. Don't leave it too long.

Step 6: Evaluate your previous tuition

It's time for honesty. Think about your previous driving lessons in conjunction with the errors that caused the failure. Analyse whether your previous driving instructor is the right person to bring you up to speed or if a fresh approach would be best.

Step 7: Take some strategic action

Either call up your previous driving instructor or pick a new one. You could even decide to pick an intensive driving course that focuses on getting learners who have previously failed a driving test to quickly pass next time around.

Step 8: Book another driving test

If you’re using a driving instructor, work on your skills and then book yourself in for another driving test when you both think you’re ready. If you’re on an intensive, don’t worry – the test will happen at the end of the crash course.

Step 9: Prepare for the next test

Get ready for your next driving test by paying special attention to the areas where you struggled last time. Having a laser-focused approach and strengthening your weaknesses will pay dividends when it comes to the big day.

Step 10: Get your mentality right

Realise that the last time was just a blip - a previous result has no bearing on the next one. Think of the last one as practice and be confident. You were probably ready for your driving test last time, but you're definitely in a much better position now.

Step 11: It's time to grab that pass

Okay, it's showtime again. You have the necessary driving skills to pass and because you've already experienced failure, you're actually in a solid position mentally. The worst has happened before so there's nothing to fear.

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