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How to pass your theory test

Learning to drive gives you freedom and independence, but you have to earn it. And before you can become a fully-fledged driver, you need to back up your practical skills with knowledge. This is where the DVLA theory test comes in.

Driving theory test books


What is the driving theory test?

The theory test is the first part of the driving test and you need to pass it before you can book your practical test.

It’s designed to check both your knowledge of the Highway Code as well as your hazard perception skills.

The test comprises 2 parts:

You sit the test on a computer at a designated test centre. The current cost of the theory test is £23.

Note that the driving theory test is set by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), not the DVLA. 


Multiple-choice theory test pass mark

If you’re eager to ditch the L plates, it’s worth knowing the theory test pass mark.

There are a total of 50 questions in the multiple choice section.

To pass this section of the theory test you need a score of 43 out of 50. You have a choice of possible answers for each question. Make sure you read it carefully as some questions may require you to click more than one box.

You have just under an hour - 57 minutes to be exact - to complete this stage of the test. 

The aim of the DVLA theory test is to prove you know the Highway Code and other rules of the road. 

If you’re not sure about any questions, you can flag up those you want to return to, and change your answer.

Just keep an eye on the clock.

You can take a break of up to 3 minutes between the multiple choice and hazard perception parts of the test.


Hazard perception pass mark

The pass mark for the hazard perception part of the test is 44 out of 75.

The test involves watching 14 video clips and the aim is to spot a developing hazard as soon as possible. There are 5 marks up for grabs for each clip - the sooner you spot the hazard, the more you score. One clip features 2 hazards so don’t drop your guard.

Before the hazard perception test starts you’re shown a short video explaining the process, so you know what you’re in for.

The video should help you familiarise yourself with the format before you start and gives examples of the type of hazard you need to find. Here’s one from the GOV.UK website:

A car is parked at the side of the road and isn’t doing anything. It wouldn’t cause you to take action, so it’s not a developing hazard.

When you get closer, the car’s right-hand indicator starts to flash and it starts to move away. You’d need to slow down, so it’s now a developing hazard.


Theory test pass rates

If, having read that example, you reckon the theory test is going to be a breeze, think again. Just 47% passed the theory test in the year to March 2020 - the last ‘normal’ year before the pandemic hit.

Of those who passed, 49% were female, while 45% were male. Incidentally, the pass rate has been going down in recent times. In 2016, 51% of females passed compared with 48% of males.


Top tips on how to pass your theory test

Find out how to pass your theory test first time with our tips:

1. Book a theory test date with enough time to practice

As soon as you start taking driving lessons, you might be keen to get your theory test done and out of the way. However, if you want to pass first time it’s important to allow yourself enough time to prepare. That includes spending a decent amount of time behind the wheel.

Remember you’re expected to get at least 43 questions out of 50 correct. These are plucked from a bank of around 1,000 questions and take time to absorb, so don’t book your theory test too soon.

2. Brush up on the Highway Code

The good news is all the questions are taken from 3 books. You need to be familiar with all of these if you want to pass your test, so crack open your wallet (or visit your local library):

3. Practice the hazard perception test

Just as there are resources to help you with the rules, regs and road signs, you can also get help with the hazard perception test.

A good starting point is the DVSA guide for the hazard perception test. This is a subscription-based online resource comprising 130 road hazard video clips. It costs £10 for 30 days access, £14 for 90 days and £25 for a year.

There’s also a combined DVSA theory test and hazard perception kit for car drivers, which costs £15 for 30 days, £20 for 90 days and £30 for a year. Aside from the 130 video clips of possible hazards, other benefits include nine new multiple-choice clips and the latest revision questions, plus timed mock tests.

There are also a number of driving theory test apps you can download to help you revise.

4. Take a mock theory test

Given the 50-50 chance of passing the theory test it makes sense to have a practice run. Fortunately, the government offers free mock tests for both the multiple-choice and the hazard perception tests.

In the case of the mock multiple-choice test don’t get lulled into thinking these will definitely be the questions used in the real one. Odds are they won’t be. The same applies with mock hazard perception tests - you're unlikely to see the same clips in the real test.

5. Get out on the road

Just because you can’t take the practical test until you have the theory test under your seatbelt, don’t put off gaining driving experience.

Not only should this help build up your confidence, it should also prove invaluable when it comes to taking the hazard perception test.

Also, don’t be a passive passenger. By sitting next to a driver and paying close attention to the road you should learn how to anticipate potential hazards.

Whenever you’re out and about, pay attention to road signs. If you come across any you don’t know, look them up.

6. Treat your theory test like any other exam

If you take your driving test at age 17 or 18 you should be a seasoned pro at sitting exams, and this experience is invaluable.

Much of the advice you’ve been given by teachers applies to the theory test.

Here are some key tips to bear in mind:

  • Revise the most common reasons people fail the night before the test, but don’t cram too late in the evening or you might struggle to sleep

  • Get an early night and don’t sleep in

  • Check you have all the documents required by the examiner

  • Eat a light breakfast or lunch before heading off to the test centre

  • If your test is taking place at an unfamiliar centre, plan your route in advance

  • Give yourself plenty of time to get there and go for a cup of tea or coffee close by

  • Stay calm

7. Take care with the multiple-choice part of the theory test

When you finally sit the multiple-choice test, take a deep breath and compose yourself. You’ve got plenty of time to answer all the questions, so use it. Read each question twice before answering - you’d be surprised how many people misread a question because they rush.

If you’re unsure of an answer, flag it and move on - you can always come back to it later. Finally, if you complete the test with time to spare, go back over the questions and check your answers. You can alter them if you spot a mistake or change your mind.

8. Take a break between the multiple choice and hazard perception test

The 57 minutes you spend on the multiple-choice test invariably fly by, and you might feel a mix of exhaustion and adrenaline. This means you either want to roar ahead with the next test or just get it over with.

That’s fine, but you’re given 3 minutes between the multiple-choice and hazard perception tests for a reason, so use it. Rest your eyes, take a breath and don’t dwell on any questions you were unsure of.

9. Don’t preempt dangers in the hazard perception test

Unlike the multiple-choice questions, you get 1 shot at the hazard perception test, so take extra care. Focus on anything that would cause you to:

  • Change direction 

  • Change speed

  • Brake hard

  • Stop completely

Remember the point of this exercise is to spot potential hazards as they emerge, so don’t try to preempt something that hasn’t happened. If you guess incorrectly – rather than respond to what you see – you might not score any points at all. 


What happens if I fail my theory test?

If you fail your theory test you get a letter at the test centre explaining what parts you didn’t pass on. You need to book another test, which costs the full £23, for at least 3 working days later.

Rebook in the way you did the first time around, although be aware that you might not get the same test centre. Also, be flexible with dates rather than get obsessed with retaking the test as soon as possible. You might need more time to revise.

Hopefully though you’ll pass - in this case you’ll have 2 years to take the practical driving test, or you need to reapply and do the theory test again. Remember to ensure your learner driver insurance is still valid during this time.

Once you’ve passed your theory test you can book your practical driving test. Make sure you’re ready though, and take guidance from your instructor.

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