In my previous entry on obtaining a UK driving license, I reflected on my experiences with the UK Driving Theory Test.  In this third and final entry in the series, I will talk about my recent experiences with the UK Driving Practical Test.

After passing the theory test you’ll be issued a pass certificate.  With this certificate you can proceed to book your practical test online.  You’ll need your certificate number and a credit card to pay the GBP 56.50**.  Fill in the details and you will receive written confirmation of your booking within a few days.  You should take the written confirmation along with your theory test pass certificate and both parts of your driving license with you on the day of your practical test.

You will also be required to take an additional rear view mirror to the test so that the examiner can see traffic behind the vehicle during the test.  These are available at Halford’s for about GBP 5.00.

Before getting in to the car, the examiner will perform a basic eye sight test by asking you to read a car registration plate that is about 20m away. He will then ask you two basic questions related to either vehicle safety or basic vehicle maintenance.  I have read in preparation materials that there are about 13 questions that the examiners select questions from.  My experience indicates that this is not the case.  The questions I received were not in the question pool commonly thought to comprise the entire set.

Usually, one question will be a “tell me” type  question (for example, tell me how you would check that your indicators are working), the other will be a “show me” type question (for example, show me how you would operate the high beam lights).

Only then will the driving part of the test begin.  Without going in to all the ins and outs of the test, suffice it to say that examiners are looking for an overall safe standard of driving.  Be sure to use your mirrors, and practice the MSM and PSL routines when driving.  The test is about executing safe driving in the recognised manner.  I cannot emphasise this aspect enough.  If you hold an American license then you may well have many years of safe driving behind you.  However, this does not mean you will waltz through the test with ease.  You must have a thorough understanding of the recognized aspects of safe driving as taught by British instructors and specialists.

The examiner will usually take you round a selection of roadway where you will encounter many standard obstacles (such as roundabouts, schools, mini-roundabouts, crossings, dual carriageways etc.).  Bear in mind the test must be carried out within the allotted 40-ish minutes.

During this time, the examiner will also ask you to pull over several times, sometimes to check the way you pull away from a stationary position (pay particular attention to your blind spots!) and other times to brief you on an impending manoeuvre.

You will be asked to execute two of the recognized standard manoeuvres.  These are:  left reverse round a corner, turn in the road (sometimes called the three point turn), reverse in to a parking bay and reverse parking (parallel parking).  Optionally, you may be asked to perform an emergency stop. I have heard it said that this is less likely if there is the slightest hint of damp on the road surface, or fog.

I read (and then later confirmed with a qualified driving instructor) that if the examiner wants you to perform a reverse park in to a bay, then it must be performed in the car park of the test center.  If your test center does not have sufficient space for this then you will not be asked to do this manoeuvre.  Likewise, if you are particularly weak on this manoeuvre then you might want to scope our various nearby DSA test centers to see which of them do not have sufficient space for this manoeuvre.

At your earliest opportunity, learn as much as possible about the recognized British way of teaching driving.  Learn and practice religiously the MSM and MSPSL methods.

The DVD I referred to in the previous entry ([ad#co-1]) has a very useful section on the driving practical test. It has video clips showing the correct way to perform all the manoeuvres and scenarios you will be expected to know for the practical test. It also has an entire mock examination filmed. I found this particularly useful.

A week before my test, I booked a two hour slot with a local ADI driving instructor and did a condensed mock driving test.  This was a very useful experience as he was able to identify several areas of weakness that I needed to be aware of if I were to pass (as I did at the first attempt).  Most instructors charge about GBP 20 to 25 per hour.  If you are not going to pay for a course of lessons, then I certainly recommend putting out the GBP 40 or 50 to do as I did.

If you pass, then the instructor will issue you with a certificate at the end of the test and your license should be with you within 3 weeks (about a week in my case).  If you fail, then you can request a full debrief with the examiner in order to ascertain where your major weaknesses lie and you must wait at least 10 days before re-taking the test.

** EDIT: On April 1st 2009, the fee for the practical part of the driving test went up to GBP 62.


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.