Passing the Theory Test is really tricky.
In fact, only 47% of learners pass it, so the reality is that most people fail this thing.
And worst still, the test is compulsory - you're not even allowed to book a practical driving test until it's sorted.
But don't worry, our comprehensive guide is here to help you pass your Theory Test like a boss.
From the little-known secrets to the best learning resources and apps, we've covered every angle to save you serious amounts of time , money and hassle.
Chapter 1: An introduction to the Theory Test
What is the Theory Test?
The Theory Test is a compulsory digital test that all UK learner drivers must take and pass before they can even book a practical test.
It was first introduced in 1996 by the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), the government body responsible for driving education. The DVSA is not to be confused with the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), which is the organisation that issues provisional and full driving licences.
Originally a written exam, the Theory Test was computerised in 2000.
There have been several iterations to the test over the years. At the moment, there are 2 parts to the Theory Test and you’ll sit both of them on the same day.
Learners must first answer a series of multiple-choice questions. After that, there’s the Hazard Perception Test (which was added in 2002). This involves watching short clips and spotting dangerous situations.
Learners need to pass both parts at the required level in order to pass the test as a whole and statistics suggest that most people find it pretty difficult.
In 2018/19, the overall pass rate for the Theory Test fell to 47.4% and that was the lowest level in a decade. The key takeaway here? More learners will fail their theory than pass it.
But try not to worry too much. Although the test has been made harder in recent years, there are no trick questions. The key to passing is hard work and preparation, but you’re in the right place.
Chapter 2: Crucial info you've simply gotta know
Does everyone need to take a Theory Test?
All learner drivers in the UK must take a Theory Test and pass it before they can book a practical exam.
The only exception would be if you’re learning to drive a manual car having already passed both a Theory Test and an automatic practical test. If that’s the case and you're only upgrading your driving licence, then you don’t need to retake your Theory Test.
When can I book a Theory Test?
You can take a Theory Test so long as you’re 17 and have a provisional driving licence. Not got a provisional yet? You can apply for one here.
Where do I take a Theory Test?
When you need to take your theory, you’ll have to book yourself in to take the test on a specific day at a dedicated test centre.
There are currently 160 of these centres across the UK and you can find your nearest one by entering your postcode here. Inside each test centre will a number of different booths, each with a computer:
How much does a Theory Test cost?
Car and motorcycle Theory Tests cost £23.
However, if you’ve previously taken the Safe Road User Award you can take a shorter 35-question test, costing £18. The Safe Road User Award costs £35 to join and is an 80-hour Level 1 QCF qualification.
How do I book a Theory Test?
The easiest way to book a Theory Test is by doing it online here.
You will need an email address to use this method. If you haven't got one, call the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) on 0300 200 1122 to arrange everything.
Whether you book your test online or over the phone, make sure you have your provisional licence with you as you’ll need your licence number. If you're doing it online, this is the initial screen you'll see on the government's website:
The highlighted box is where you need to enter your driving licence number. You can find this by section 5 of your driving licence. With the example licence below, you would enter MORGA753116SM9IJ:
Can I do my Theory Test before taking driving lessons?
Yes, you can. So long as you’re 17 and have a provisional licence, you can take the Theory Test whenever you want. Whether this is the right thing to do is another matter.
Everyone’s different. Some people prefer to get it over and done with as soon as possible. Others find the Theory Test easier once they’ve started lessons because everything you’re learning makes more sense when you’re applying it in a real car.
How long does the Theory Test last?
There are 2 parts to the Theory Test: the multiple-choice questions and the Hazard Perception Test. The section with the questions lasts 57 minutes and the Hazard Perception Test goes on for about 15 minutes.
There’s a 3-minute break between the 2 sections so, in total, you’re looking at around 1 hour 15 minutes to take care of the whole thing.
When will I find out if I've passed my Theory Test?
You’ll find out immediately if you’ve passed. If you’ve failed the test, you’ll also be sent a letter through the post outlining what you got wrong and the areas where you need to improve.
How do I pass the Theory Test?
There are no shortcuts or ways of cheating the system and passing will be a case of studying the right resources and practising with dummy tests. The key lies in good preparation, both in terms of familiarity with the format and technology of the test as well as having knowledge.
What happens if I fail my Theory Test?
You’ve got to wait at least 72 hours before retaking the test, but most test centres are really busy so you’ll probably have to wait a while before a free spot comes up anyway.
What happens if I pass my Theory Test?
Should you pass your Theory Test, you’ve then got 2 years to pass your practical test. If you don’t do it within that time frame, the pass expires and you’ll have to take another one.
Can I cancel or reschedule a Theory Test after it's been booked?
So long as you give 3 working days’ notice, you can reschedule or cancel a Theory Test appointment either online here or by calling the DVA on 0345 600 6700.
It's also important to realise that the Government can cancel your Theory Test at any point.
It doesn't happen often, but it's worth bearing in mind (particularly if you've booked time off work or you're in the middle of an intensive driving course).
Chapter 3: What's changed with the Theory Test?
UK roads are some of the safest in the world
That's great, but that doesn’t mean we’re perfect.
There’s plenty that can be done to improve driving standards, which is why the theory test has been continually iterated since its inception in 1996.
It started off as a written test containing a load of questions and all you needed was a pen. Then it was computerised in 2000 and since then, learners use a mouse to click and submit their answers.
That's still true today, but in 2002, the hazard perception test was introduced. Since then, although there haven’t been any massive overhauls, there have been plenty of significant tweaks.
We’re going to cover the 3 of the main ones, but remember that the test isn’t designed to trick or deceive learners.
Any changes are always intended to make the test more effective at producing safe drivers.
Change 1: 2012
In 2012, the government stopped using questions from learning materials in official tests.
The reason being, learners were effectively memorising answers. This might seem cool, but the long-term safety implications are huge. If wannabe drivers aren’t properly learning things that will keep them and other road users safe, this is a disaster for everyone.
Nowadays, you won’t find genuine questions anywhere. To pass your theory test, your only option is to prepare thoroughly.
Change 2: 2018
In 2018, the government looked closely at how their questions were phrased and realised that the theory test could be written in simpler terms.
As a result, they rephrased everything. Which is good, because the clearer the question, the easier it is to answer (if you’ve revised).
Want an example of a question that has been altered for the better? Here’s the original question:
If you use a hands-free phone while you’re driving, it’s likely that it will:
- Increase your safety
- Increase your concentration
- Increase your awareness
- Decrease your concentration
As you can see, the phrasing is clunky. A question like this would now be presented in more everyday language like this:
If you use a hands-free phone while you’re driving, what’s likely to happen?
- It will make you safer
- It will be easier for you to concentrate
- It will make you more aware
- It will be harder for you to concentrate
The change might not seem particularly huge but it’s easier to read and you have to think less. Trust us, with only 57 minutes to answer 50 questions, that will make a difference.
Change 3: 2019
The final, most recent change was to the Hazard Perception Test. New CGI clips were added to help reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured in road accidents from adverse weather conditions.
In 2017 there were 16,406 road accidents in the UK that occurred in rain, sleet, snow or fog. Of those incidents, 205 were fatal.
Here's the breakdown...
• 15,042 accidents were in rainy conditions (179 fatal).
• 740 accidents were in snow (9 fatal).
• 624 accidents were in fog (17 fatal).
Chapter 4: How to storm the multiple choice questions
What can I expect from the multiple-choice questions?
When you take your theory test, your first job is to answer 50 multiple choice questions.
Now, the first thing to realise is that this part of the test will begin with an introduction and some dummy questions, so there’s no need to panic. You’ll have 57 minutes to answer them.
What's the pass rate?
You’ll need to answer 43 correctly to pass - that’s a pass-rate of 80%.
What sort of questions will I get asked?
You’ll be asked stuff on the 14 different categories set by the DVSA. They are:
- Hazard Awareness
- Motorway Rules
- Other Types of Vehicle
- Road and Traffic Signs
- Rules of the Road
- Safety and Your Vehicle
- Safety Margins
- Vehicle Handling and Vulnerable Road Users
There are 773 questions that could be asked in any of these areas, which is why you need to put the hard yards in when it comes to revision.
Be aware that you won’t just face standalone questions. Some questions are presented as a case study, with 5 things to answer on a solitary real-life situation.
How do I pass this part of the Theory Test?
Obviously you need to study around the different topics; revision is essential.
But in terms of tactics, just think about the maths. With 50 questions in 57 minutes, that gives you approximately 1 minute per question with a little bit of time left over.
In the multiple-choice section, you’re able to go back and edit your answers at any stage so we’d recommend allocating 60 seconds for each question and use the leftover time to check over your choices.
Now, as a general approach, that’s a pretty solid plan. However, in reality, there will be some questions that you’ll know in a flash and a few that will require more concentration.
But here's a good tip: it’s possible to flag certain questions and quickly come back to them later.
It's best to rattle through the easy stuff and, when you come to something you don’t know, you can simply flag it up, move on and return to it at the end.
Just stick to the plan and don't panic, because the alternative is that you spend ages on a particular topic, miss out on other questions you do know and sabotage the rest of the test.
Okay, so once this section of the test is done you get the option of a 3-minute break before the Hazard Perception Test. We recommend you take it to refresh your eyes and brain.
Chapter 5: Smashing the Hazard Perception Test
What is the Hazard Perception Test?
The Hazard Perception Test to requires you to watch 14 video clips (each shown from the driver’s perspective).
Many people consider the Hazard Perception Test to be the hardest part of the Theory Test, since it’s much more difficult to prepare for a video clip than a series of questions.
Here's how it works:
There’s a 10-second countdown before each one, then every clip will contain various hazards and you’ll get points for spotting them. There are 3 kinds of hazards: potential, developing and actual.
A potential hazard is something dangerous that might occur as you’re heading down a road. For example, suppose you’re driving along and you see a child on the pavement carrying a ball.
That’s a potential hazard. Nothing has happened yet, but if they were to drop their ball and it were to roll into the road, they could run after it and you might have to take action.
It’s vital that drivers notice potential hazards to prevent accidents.
A developing hazard might be a car parking up.
The initial issue is that you’re going to have to steer round it, but the hazard is developing, since the driver or any passengers will be getting out of their vehicle at any moment.
Now you potentially have people to be wary of as well.
By contrast, an actual hazard is a problem that’s already happened and which you must negotiate. Maybe a road has been flooded, roadworks are causing issues or traffic lights have failed.
What's the pass rate for the Hazard Perception Test?
There are 75 points available and you’ll need 44 to pass this part of the test.
How do I pass the Hazard Perception Test?
Assuming that you’re studied hard, the first thing to do is relax.
As with the multiple-choice questions, before you start, you’ll be shown a brief video about how the Hazard Perception Test works and have a couple of dummy questions.
The hazard perception test is simple and intuitive, but nevertheless, it’s still nice to know that you don’t just get dropped into the deep end.
It’s crucial that you understand how points are scored. Each clip has a number of potential hazards and one developing hazard.
The developing hazards often hold the key to passing this part of the test, because the quicker you spot them, the more points you get. There are a maximum of 5 points per hazard up for grabs.
To get 5 points, you must click on the developing hazard as soon as it starts to materialise.
All pretty straightforward, right?
But here’s the thing:
There are 15 scorable hazards to spot, which means one video clip is unique in that it has 2 developing hazards. That might not seem like a big deal, however you won’t know when that clip is coming.
It could be the first thing you watch, the last or any of the clips in between. That means you have to concentrate and pay close attention throughout the duration of the test.
Be warned: you can't game the system
Let’s get one thing straight. Don’t just click the screen randomly, hoping to mark up anything that might be deemed as a hazard.
Do this and you won’t score any points. The software can recognise random or over-zealous clicking and will penalise you if you’re trying to pass by haphazardly clicking the mouse.
Also, the Hazard Perception Test carries an important difference. Unlike the multiple-choice questions, clicks can’t be reviewed or edited later on, so take care.
This section of the test can seem a bit tricky, because not everything that looks like a hazard will necessarily develop into one. For example, suppose you’re watching a clip where someone is driving along and there’s a car on the left indicating that they want to pull out.
Technically, you could call this a potential hazard because if it didn’t notice you and pulled out in front of your car, you’d have to swerve around it or brake hard to avoid crashing.
But although the Hazard Perception Test might be a bit difficult, it's not unfair.
If you were to click on something like this, you wouldn’t earn any points, but you wouldn’t be penalised either. Again, to repeat, the only time you’d have a problem is if you were clicking all over the screen.
Here’s the official DVSA guide to the Hazard Perception Test:
Chapter 6: What are the hardest questions in the test?
Ready for the tough stuff?
We’re often asked what are the hardest questions in the Theory Test. When it comes to incorrect answers, people usually struggle in 3 key areas. The first of which is traffic signs.
There are a lot of signs to learn, so it’s completely understandable. For example, do you know what this sign means?
It signals the end of a restricted parking area. Learning signs is a big task and will form the basis of your revision. This isn't the sort of thing you want to be trying to remember the night before.
People also get really stumped by questions about thinking distance, breaking distance and stopping distance.
Thinking distance is the distance a car travels before the driver realises that they need to apply their brakes.
Breaking distance is the distance a car travels until it stops after the driver has applied the brakes.
Stopping distance is the crucial one, because that’s the total distance a car travels from when the driver has realised the need to brake until the vehicle stops. Basically, it's thinking distance + breaking distance.
It’s crucial that drivers understand the metrics because it's essential for road safety. After all, the faster you’re travelling, the more time you’ll need to stop.
Need a simple way of working out approximate overall stopping distances?
Well, if you were travelling at 20mph, the stopping distance is 20 x 2, which is 40 feet (or 3 car lengths). And soo long as you can remember that one piece of data, you’re totally sorted.
For every 10mph you add on, you multiply the speed by an extra 0.5 to give you the required stopping distance in feet.
Check it out
20mph x 2 = 40 feet (12 metres or 3 car lengths)
30mph x 2.5 = 75 feet (23 metres or 6 car lengths)
40mph x 3 = 120 feet (36 metres or 9 car lengths)
50mph x 3.5 = 175 feet (53 metres or 13 car lengths)
60mph x 4 = 240 feet (73 metres or 18 car lengths)
70mph x 4.5 = 315 feet (96 metres or 24 car lengths)
You're just multiplying the speed by 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5 and so on. If a question on stopping distances arises, just start at 20mph and work upwards.
The other area which causes issues concerns odd rules and regulations, the non-typical things that you don’t hear about or see everyday. For example, vehicles driven by bomb disposal experts have a flashing light (just like other emergency vehicles).
Do you know what colour it is?
It might seem like an absurd thing to ask because you’re unlikely to see such a vehicle, but it's precisely this sort of question that can crop up during a test.
Ultimately, you need those points and, unfortunately, there’s no cheatsheet for this kind of thing. You’ve just got to learn the material.
Chapter 7: The best learning resources and apps
Don't fall for the trap
The DVSA recommend that learners put in at least 20 hours of revision, but what do you need to study?
A quick Google search for Theory Test resources and apps will return an overwhelming array of options. And because of the pressure, it's easy to feel like you need to get everything, but doing this would be a mistake.
Not every learning resource or app will help you. The trick is to use your judgement and be selective. And that's why we're here... to separate the wheat from the chaff.
The Highway Code
We might as well start with the essentials. There's no argument here - all learners must study The Highway Code, since it contains all the rules and regulations that you'll be tested on.
In terms of learning resources, it's a must. Really, the main question is what format to use. There are a couple of options. You can read it online for free:
But since there's so much information to consume, reading an online document isn't that easy or user-friendly.
We'd definitely recommend buying a hard copy that you can thumb through whenever you get a spare moment. It's available to purchase here and you'll also find it in most bookshops.
Are there any other resources to get? The Official DVSA Guide To Driving is worth a look. It's a great book, but there's only one section on the Theory Test and at £14.99 it's not essential.
Know Your Traffic Signs is also pretty good. Everything in it is covered in The Highway Code, but if you're struggling to remember signs in particular, it's a handy little reference to flick through on a whim.
It costs £4.99, so again, it's more of a nice-to-have rather than a vital resource to own.
Okay, what about the best Theory Test apps?
Taking practice tests will really help. If they're good tests, doing this will:
- Improve familiarity with how the multiple-choice question section and the Hazard Perception Test work
- Increase your confidence and ability to answer a wide range of questions under pressure
- Prepare you for the real thing, so that nothing is a surprise on test-day
Although the Theory Test has become harder in recent years, technology has advanced and there are now loads of apps with sample questions and dummy quizzes that you can take to accelerate your learning.
The trouble is, there are so many apps to choose from that learners often find themselves unsure what to get and that's dangerous, since not all the apps on the market are helpful.
In fact, most Theory Test apps have one fatal flaw:
They only ask you a limited number of questions.
You see, there's an official bank of about 700+ questions that you could be asked in your Theory Test and a lot of apps (especially the free ones) only draw on around 100.
In a nutshell, they're simply not thorough enough to prepare learners adequately.
With some research, you'll also discover different pros and cons with certain apps.
For instance, some offer great support for one element of the test, but not both. As an example, the Theory Test Genius UK app is brilliant for the multiple-choice questions, but there's no hazard perception practice with it.
Given that there are more comprehensive apps out there, what's the point in buying it?
Other apps are have got both elements covered, but the user experience is poor (maybe there are loads of ads).
With all this to consider, you're probably wondering which Theory Test apps are best?
Well, don't worry. We've done the hard work, short-listed some of the better apps and reviewed them for you. Everything below is available on both iOS and Android.
The best Theory Test apps
Theory Test Pro
This is our top recommendation. It has all the questions and clips you need, plus valuable tips and explanations to help develop your learning quickly. It costs £4.99 but it's worth every penny.
Official DVSA Theory Test Kit
This is the only official app with questions set by the DVSA - the people who write the actual tests. The layout isn't quite as polished or stylish as the Theory Test Pro, otherwise this would be top of the pile. The price is £4.99.
The Driving Theory Test 4-in-1
This award-winning app claims that 9 out of 10 learners that use this pass. It has everything you need and it's easy to use. Only a few negative reviews about technical glitches stop it from topping our list. It costs £4.99.
Chapter 8: Your fool-proof plan for test day
An action plan to rely on
It’s important to feel fresh when you take your exam, so your plan for test day begins the night before. Eat a healthy meal and get a good night’s sleep.
You’ve probably crammed for exams before and it’s not a good idea. Retaining information comes from weeks of revision, not a late-night session with Red Bull and coffee.
When the day arrives, leave plenty of time to get to your test centre. The last thing you want to do is worry about traffic jams, late trains and the like.
With you’re allocated time, you’ve got a 15-minute window to arrive at the test centre and get settled. So long as you arrive during this period, you’ll be allowed to take the test.
If you’re too late, you won’t be allowed into the exam room out of courtesy for the other candidates who are taking their test.
Missing out means also that you won’t get a refund and that you’ll need to arrange another test.
Remember to bring your provisional driving licence. If you forget it, you won’t be able to take your test. Once again, you’ll lose your fee and have to rearrange.
Other than that, the test is done on a computer screen so there’s nothing else to worry about. However, there are some things that you can’t take into the test room.
To combat the threat of cheating, no one is able to take personal belongings without exception. In particular, that means no mobile phones, earphones, watches or bags.
Bonus chapter: The secrets to passing first time
Maximise your chances of passing the Theory Test
Okay, there are a few tricks and hacks that most learners don't realise.
Here are 5 tips that will greatly increase your chances of success.
Tip 1: Think about how you'd prefer to study
We all absorb and learn information differently, so there’s no point just reaching for the best book, taking a dummy test or downloading app because whatever you choose might not be the optimal idea for you.
There are 3 different methods and the key to success could lie in understanding yourself. Typically, people are either visual, kinaesthetic or auditory learners.
Visual learners will prefer reading stuff. If that sounds like you, then study a hard copy of The Highway Code, highlight all the tricky stuff and use plenty of post-it notes around your home.
Creative and artistic, you’ll probably find organising topics by different colours therapeutic and helpful.
Kinesthetic learners are much more hands-on. These guys are pretty outgoing and fun. They’re well suited to all the apps and online practise tests.
They also tend to study best after they’ve expended their energy, so maybe do your studying after playing sport or going for a run.
Auditory learners retain information best when they’ve heard it again and again. Luckily, The Highway Code is available on audiobook and you can listen to it whenever you like.
If this is you then try explaining anything tricky to friends and family.
Tip 2: Manage your time effectively
It’s important to be conscious of time, both when you’re studying and during the exam.
Be strict with yourself and plan how long it will realistically take you to read the Highway Code, study everything and take multiple dummy tests.
On test day, in the multiple choice section, remember that you’ve got about 1 minute per question. If you can’t work out the answer, don’t stress out. Simply flag it up and move on.
That way, you’ll have some time left at the end to go over what you’ve put.
When you use this approach, you’ll find that you’ll fly through the easy questions which will give you confidence, build up momentum and create spare time.
Tip 3: Consider theory during your lessons
Try not to think of the Theory Test and your practical driving lessons as two separate things. Really, they’re designed to compliment each other.
If you’re taking the theory test whilst having driving lessons, this can really help develop your understanding of key concepts. Study the materials and think about them whilst you're behind the wheel.
Tip 4: Make sure you're ready to pass
This might seem obvious, but lots of learners see the Theory Test as a mere inconvenience that they can just overcome with a little effort.
First of all, it’s important. And secondly, it’s challenging. Whichever way you look at it, this isn’t some sort of insignificant hassle that you can race through.
There’s no rush, so don’t take the test until you’re able to pass it. Failing your test will just delay everything, since you’ll probably have to join a waiting list again.
How do you know you’re ready? It’s not rocket science. Use practice questions and make sure you can pass 5 mock tests in a row with 5 minutes to spare at the end.
Tip 5: Read every question out loud first
Can you read this?
Your brain is incredibly powerful and just as it can make sense of jumbled up words, it can also interpret things incorrectly (particularly if you’re under stress and trying to read something quickly).
To avoid this happening, read every multiple-choice question out loud to yourself before you answer it. Verbalising it jolts the brain out of autopilot.
At the end of the day, if you’ve got a confusing question featuring different vehicles turning left and right, this could be crucial.
Now it's over to you
Hopefully this guide will help you get that all-important pass.
We've covered all the important stuff. You know when you should take the Theory Test, how to book it and whether you can cancel it. We've shown you how to cope with the multiple-choice questions and the Hazard Perception Test.
We've also give you some intel on the difficult things that throw most learner drivers. You know all about the best learning tools on the market and you've got the lowdown on what to do on test-day.
Plus, you've all the insider tips that most people don't know.