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15 expert tips on how to pass your driving test first time

According to the DVSA, in some parts of the UK there's a 6-month waiting list for driving tests. The national average waiting time for a driving test is around 15 weeks.

It might be a frustrating wait, but it does at least you plenty of time to prepare. Find out how to pass your driving test first time with our top tips.

Teenager having their driving test

1) Choose the right driving instructor/school

Getting your parents, or even a friend to teach you to drive might be cheap, but it could cost you your relationship. You might find it easier, less stressful and faster with a qualified instructor.

Another plus is that you can learn in their car, which is insured for you to drive and has dual controls. Dual controls can be particularly reassuring when you first get behind the wheel.

It's always a good idea to ask friends and family members for recommendations. Alternatively you can research instructors in your area online and read reviews.

Always check they're registered with the DVSA.

Try to meet them first and get a feel for how you'll get along in the car together. It's important you're relaxed in their company and will be able to get along.

Talk about practicalities too - the instructor might be perfect, but it won't work for you if they aren't available when you need them. Check they can fit you in every week at a time that suits you.

2) Don't rush to get your licence

Don't book your driving test too soon. Becoming a confident - and safe - driver takes time.

Some intensive driving courses might be able to teach you what you need to know to pass the driving test. But they can't give you the experience that takes time to build.

You might learn how to pass your driving test in a week, but will you feel confident enough to drive safely without supervision after such a short period?

According to the DVSA it takes an average of 45 hours lessons plus 22 hours of practice.

Once you've passed your theory test, you have 2 years to take your practical test.

3) Practice outside of lessons

You might not want to totally rely on friends or family to teach you to drive. But do accept any offers from people that are willing to take you out and give you some extra hours behind the wheel.

To supervise your driving they need to be 21 or older and have had a full licence for 3 years.

Whether you're driving your car or theirs, make sure you're insured to drive it.

You can buy learner driver insurance or be added as named driver on somebody else's car. There's even the option of temporary car insurance

Young driver insurance is more expensive than a standard policy but it's important not to skimp on cover. It's illegal to drive without insurance in the UK.

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4) Choose the time and location of your test carefully

If you're eager to pass your practical driving test first time, booking the first available date might not be your best bet.

It makes sense to avoid busy periods at work, such as Christmas if you work in retail. Or winter in general given the days are so short and the weather more likely to make driving conditions difficult.

Think about times and days of the week too. Saturdays are more expensive but the roads tend to be quieter. If you're having a test midweek, avoid school drop off and pick up times and steer clear of both the morning and evening rush hours. Mid morning is often a good bet.

Also, think about where you’d like to take your test. Staying local could be a good idea. Your instructor and, in time you as well, should be familiar with the area.

But, bear in mind that test centre pass rates differ wildly. Take Birmingham, for example. The 2020 pass rate at the Wyndley test centre was nearly 48%, whereas it was just shy of 32% in 8-mile distant South Yardley.

If you live relatively near to a DVSA driving test centre that has a healthier pass rate it might be worth booking there. So long as it's not too far away your instructor should be willing to let you spend some lesson time in that area.

5) Drive the test routes

Instructors normally have a decent idea of the test routes, but they might not spell this out to you, so always inquire. Ask them if you can follow the route so you can learn where the pinch points lie, for example awkward junctions or busy roundabouts.

Also, practice driving to and off from the DVSA driving test centre via different approaches and at different times of day. Hopefully that means there are no nasty surprises on the big day.

6) Refresh on your theory and practice show me, tell me questions

Your driving test should contain with ‘tell me’ and ‘show me’ questions. Both represent your chance to show you know how to carry out safety tasks.

In the case of the ‘tell me’ question, the instructor should ask before you even turn on the ignition. This could be anything from ‘how can you tell your tyres are road legal’ to ‘how would you switch from dipped to main beam, and be sure the correct headlights are on’.

The ‘show me’ question might simply be ‘show me how to open and close the passenger window’ or ‘how do you put the hazard lights on?’.

If you fail to answer correctly one or both of these questions, you get a fault mark. So, revise your theory including road signs, and ensure you know how your car works.

There are several driving theory test apps available to help you revise.

7) Learn to drive in different weather conditions

The UK’s weather is changeable – it could be sunny one moment, a monsoon the next. And drivers need to know how to deal with sudden changes and potentially extreme conditions.

From the time you get your provisional licence to your driving test date try, to get out and about in all kinds of weather. If this isn’t possible with the instructor, do so with a qualified driver who has car insurance that covers you driving.

Driving in heavy rain, thick fog, or icy conditions won't just help you pass your driving test, it also increases your confidence once you start driving unsupervised. 

8) Check you have everything you need for your driving test

The last thing you want is to rock up to the test centre, only to be turned away because you don’t have the necessary documents for your driving test:

  • Your UK provisional driving licence
  • Your theory test pass certificate

You also need a car. This can be your own car or your driving instructor's.

You no longer need to wear a face covering during your driving test.

9) Eat before your test and sleep well the night before

Get an early night before your test. The last thing you need is to be bleary eyed or worse for wear before you get behind the wheel.

You won't want a growling or grumbling stomach either, so have a light meal before the test.

10) Take a driving lesson beforehand

If you've been waiting months for your test, your rate of lessons might have slowed down. To ensure you aren't rusty make sure you book a lesson or 2 in the run up to your test. It's even a good idea to have a lesson directly before your test to warm up.

Use the opportunity to quiz your instructor on anything they think you should focus on.

11) Use the car you learned to drive in

You can choose to take your driving test in your own car (so long as it's roadworthy) or your driving instructor's.

It's important to take your driving test in the car you feel most familiar with and have the most experience in. Your test includes 'show me' questions which could be tricky in a car you're not used to driving.

You can't take the practical driving test in the examiner's car.

12) Consider taking your driving instructor along for reassurance

You can have your driving instructor in the car with you while you take the practical driving test. Whether or not you reckon this is a good idea comes down to personal preference.

Some drivers might not want any more eyes on them than necessary. However, if you find your instructor's presence reassuring and you're feeling anxious it might be a good idea.

They won't be able to talk or communicate with you in any way. Nonetheless, some people claim that their simple presence reminds them of key things they need to remember. If you do end up failing, their feedback and comments could help prepare you for your re-test too.

13) Exaggerate mirror checks

Not checking mirrors is one of the most common reasons learner drivers get fault marks in their test. You might be checking regularly, but you must make sure the instructor knows this, so practice exaggerating mirror checks. Don’t overdo it, just move your head slightly as you move your eyes.

14) Ask the examiner to repeat their instructions

It’s important you don’t misinterpret any instructions if you want to pass your driving test . If you don’t catch what they say, don't worry about asking them to repeat it.

Asking for clarification doesn't mean you've taken your eyes off the road.

15) Don’t assume you’ve failed

Not many people get though their driving test without making any mistakes. Driving tests are conducted in the real world, which is unpredictable. That’s the point of them.

Remember, you’re allowed up to 15 minor mistakes, or faults, and what you think is a fault might differ from the examiner’s view. With this in mind, don’t dwell on errors as this could only lead to driving stress and more mistakes. Just keep concentrating until the test is over.

If you fail your driving test, even if it’s not your first attempt, don’t get upset or switch off. It’s nothing personal, the test is designed to be challenging. Take a deep breath and listen to any advice the examiner has for you.

I’ve passed my test! What do I do now?

The sense of relief and excitement you feel when you pass is tremendous, but keep it in perspective. You might have made mistakes on the test, which your examiner should pass on. Try to listen to them through the fireworks.

You might be allowed to drive on UK roads without a chaperone, but don’t think that makes you Lewis Hamilton. You’re among the least experienced drivers on the roads, and there are plenty of things that could go wrong.

Annex 8 of the Highway Code provides advice for new drivers on what they should and shouldn’t do. Tips include avoiding driving at night and never showing off.

If you want to hone your driving skills, consider taking a Pass Plus course. These take 6 hours and are designed to improve your skills and introduce techniques that help you to drive more safely. They might even help get you a discount on your car insurance. Other advanced driving courses are available too.

Don't forget new driver insurance too, if you have your own car ready and waiting for you to drive. If you're a named driver on someone else's insurance you need to tell that insurance company you've passed your test too.

If you're still comparing quotes or you've just bought your first car and need to drive it home, you can also consider temporary car insurance. With short-term car insurance, you can get cover for as little as 1 hour to 28 days. This is a helpful option should you be borrowing someone else's car or still shopping around after passing your test. 

Insurance for young drivers might be expensive, but you can keep costs down with our tips.

Why people don’t pass their test

Around half of all learner drivers leave the test centre disappointed. In many cases, they’ve made some fairly common, and probably avoidable mistakes.

Here are 10 of the most common reasons why people don’t pass their driving test:

  • Lack of observation – especially at junctions
  • Not using mirrors when changing direction
  • Poor steering control
  • Bad positioning when turning
  • Moving off without making safely checks
  • Traffic light mishaps
  • Poor lane positioning
  • Ignoring road signs
  • Poor control of the car when moving off
  • Losing control of the car when reverse parking