Passing the UK DSA Driving Test For Americans II: Driving Theory Test


In the first entry in this series of three on obtaining a UK driving license, I reflected on the process of obtaining a UK provisional driving license. Here, I will outline my experience with the second stage of the process, the driving theory test.

Once your provisional driving license arrives (usually two to three weeks after sending in the application form) you can book your test online via the DSA test booking site.  In order to do this, you’ll need your license number and a credit card to pay the fee (at the time of writing this is GBP 30 for the theory test**).

The process is a straightforward 5 or 6 step web form.  Then, within a few days you’ll receive confirmation via mail, re-iterating the date, time and location of your test.  It is important that you keep this written confirmation from the DSA as you will be required to produce it before sitting the test.   If you cannot produce it you will not be permitted to sit the test and forfeit your booking fee.

There is a veritable ocean of material (books, DVDs, online, computer programs etc.) available to prepare you for the driving theory test and they cover the entire spectrum of expense and convenience.  If, like me, you are on a tight budget, then use public libraries to obtain written material, or look to eBay or Amazon for secondhand copies (just ensure you are using a recent copy as there are occasional changes to the material).

I used the AA Driving Theory Test book from a local library.  It includes 1200+ practice questions and took me about two evenings to work through the entire  book.  In addition to this book, I picked up a copy of the DSA Official Highway Code book for reference purposes as the AA book only gives questions and answers with little or no explanation (at the time, Sussex Stationers, a high street bookstore, had this on special offer for GBP 2.99.)

A week before my driving theory test, Woolworths went out of business and I bought the third and final piece of preparation material for the tests at a knock-down price.  It was the [ad#co-1] for the PC and was well worth the money.  It retails for GBP 9.99, but some retailers sell it for a little less and cheaper secondhand copies are available via eBay and Amazon.  Again, be sure to buy the most recent release.  The DVD contains a wealth of material including practice theory tests, the Highway Code book and, more importantly, practice Hazard Perception Tests.

The Hazard Perception Test is the second part of the driving theory test and follows immediately after the 50 question multi-choice theory test.  In it, you will be shown a series of videos and you will use the mouse to identify when certain situations on the screen could develop to become a hazard to you as driver and other road users (for example, a cyclist moving out ahead of you to pass a parked vehicle.)  I strongly recommend working through the entire selection of 30 or 40 clips given on the Driving Test Success DVD.

For experienced American drivers, the multi-choice part of the test will be similar to the written test used in some states, although a little longer.  Just be aware of the differences (roundabouts instead of four-way stops, speed limit differences etc.) and the fact that the underlying principles of both theory and practice test are put in place to encourage safe driving (sometimes to an excessive degree.)

You get your test results immediately and must pass both parts of the test before proceeding to book the driving practical test. If you do not reach the passmark for one section of the test, then you must resit both sections again (paying the full entrance fee again).

Here are some additional tips and recommendations based on my first hand experience:

  • make sure you know the location of, and transit time to, the test center; if possible drive/travel to the test center timing your journey, also scope out parking in the area as many test centers do not provide parking for candidates;
  • on the day try to arrive 10 minutes early; if there is availability, the test administrators might allow you to sit the test early. I was 45 minutes early and as a result finished my test before my scheduled start time;
  • if you are not going to the test center alone then find out whether the test center allows non-candidates to enter their offices; the test center I used offered no waiting area for non-candidates;
  • read the above-mentioned AA book from cover to cover as it contains questions very similar to the multi-choice section of the test; I’d be willing to wager 95% of my actual test questions were similar to questions in the book.

Once you pass the driving theory exam you will be given a pass certificate. With this certificate, you will be able to book the driving practical test online.

** EDIT: On April 1st 2009, the fee for the theory test went up to GBP 31.

** EDIT [2010-04]: From October 2009, a further element (the “case study“) was added to the theory test. It involves a scenario or short story delivered and answered as part of the multiple-choice part of the test; candidates are asked 5 questions about each scenario. Much additional informative comment – including information about the case study questions – can be found on the DSA’s youtube channel.

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