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Top tips for passing your practical driving test

Ready to hit the road on your own? Here are some top tips from Motorpoint to make sure you ace your practical driving test

You’ve whizzed through your theory test and no doubt done tons of tricky manoeuvres around your local suburbs. Now you’re ready for your practical driving test – you are, trust yourself! But nerves can get in the way – here’s how to prepare so you can navigate around any potential hazards that might come up.

We know we don’t need to remind you that driving tests are expensive, life-changing and fully booked for ages. Ah. Sorry. Anyway, put all of that to one side and remember that your driving instructor has decided you’re good enough to mix it with every other driver on the road. You’ve already driven a lot of miles without much input from your instructor – if you manage to drive for less than an hour with a stranger next to you, you’ll be qualified to drive anywhere in the country. From Falmouth to Falkirk, the road will be yours. Fast-food drive-thru, here you come.

Driving test advice

Regardless of where you take your test, a few elements will always be the same. You’ll always need to have an eyesight check, for example. The examiner will ask you to read a number plate of a car 20 metres away – read it correctly and that’s a tick straight away. You actually get three goes at this but, if you can’t read all three, you’ll be sent to the opticians. So, if you need glasses or any other sight assistance to drive, make sure you take them to your driving test. It’ll be a very short test if you don’t.

Show me tell me questions

‘Show me, tell me’ questions are always a part of a driving test in the UK. You’ll be asked one of each. Luckily, there are only seven ‘show me’ questions and 14 ‘tell me’ questions, and they’re generally questions about basic features of the car. Make sure your instructor has gone through them with you.

Show me questions (here’s how you know they’re coming: they all start with “when it’s safe to do so”):

  • Can you show me how you wash and clean the rear windscreen?
  • Can you show me how you wash and clean the front windscreen?
  • Can you show me how you’d demist the front windscreen?
  • Can you show me how you’d set the rear demister?
  • Can you show me how you’d switch on your dipped headlights?
  • Can you show me how you’d operate the horn?
  • Can you show me how you’d open and close the side window?

Tell me questions require you to say what you’d need to do to perform an action, rather than actually doing it. Examples include how you’d check the brakes are working, how to check the tyres and how to turn on your fog light. The government website (and YouTube channel) has the answers for all the tell me questions, and your driving lessons should have included guidance on how to use and check the car’s main driving functions.

Reverse bay parking and parallel parking tips for driving test

You won’t be going forwards all the time, no no. At points in your driving test, you’ll be asked to put the car in R for reverse (not R for race) and either parallel park or park in a bay. Alternatively, you might be asked to reverse for two car lengths on the right-hand side of the road. Reversing and parking are essential skills for any driver, so make sure you’re well-practised and confident going backwards. Even if that’s on a driving simulator video game.

Remember, you can reverse at your own pace – after all, the examiner would rather you took it steady than go full beans into a parked car. For any parking manoeuvre, it’s good to have a rough idea of how long the car and the bonnet is, as that’ll help you place the car in relation to a space. Keep checking all three of your mirrors, and remember that you can pull forwards to correct your positioning if you need to.

Parallel parking is a little harder but that doesn’t mean you should avoid it at all costs. If you’re parking between two cars, line up the rear of your car with the rear of the front car. Start reversing slowly and turn the wheel until you’re on a 45-degree angle (half an L shape). Straighten the wheel and reverse into the space until the outer rear wheel is just inside the space. Then, check that your bonnet isn’t going to hit the car in front, and turn the wheel the opposite way to shimmy the front of the car into the space.

Driving ability and independent driving

A large part of your driving test is convincing your examiner that you’re a competent driver. You don’t need to possess Lewis Hamilton’s superhuman speed, but you can’t be a pavement-clipping menace either. The route you’ll take will include a number of different driving scenarios – think traffic lights, zebra crossings, roundabouts and other road furniture. The routes aren’t published by examiners (that’d be too easy) but, if you live close enough to your test centre, your driving instructor will be able to show you the types of roads and junctions you’re likely to come up against.

The examiner might ask you to pull to the side of the road during the test, or perhaps slam their clipboard on the dashboard to get you to do an emergency stop. Other mildly terrifying manoeuvres might include a hill start. Any of these might be used as a measure of how well you drive. If the examiner starts asking you to repeat a manoeuvre, it might mean you’re not doing it quite correctly. Try adjusting your approach slightly if you’re asked to do the same thing over and over.

Your driving test will also include a 20-minute independent driving section. You’ll be asked to follow road signs or a sat nav towards a destination without the examiner telling you where to go. It’ll be off-puttingly quiet inside the car – examiners aren’t big gossipers – but you’ll have to focus on driving. You won’t be failed if you go the wrong way so, if you make a mistake, stay calm, don’t flap and the examiner will help you return to the right route.

Minor faults in a driving test

As we alluded to above, your driving in the test doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect, just as long as it’s good enough. You can rack up 15 ‘minor’ faults and still pass, although three minors for the same thing will result in a fail. Minor faults in a driving test include: 

  • Stalling the car (it’s not an instant fail, even if it feels like the examiner is judging you)
  • Checking mirrors too infrequently (but if your driving is dangerous as a result of not checking your mirrors, you’ll chalk up a major fault and fail)
  • Lightly nudging the kerb (as long as it’s a single time and you acknowledge your error)
    Hesitation or driving too slowly
Smiling learner driver sits with instructor in car. Both are wearing seatbelts

Major and serious faults in a driving test

One dangerous or serious fault will swiftly bring your chances of passing to an end – but your test might not end immediately. You might only find out that you picked up a major fault at the end of the test. Major faults can include mounting the pavement, going the wrong way down a one-way street, poor observation or disobeying traffic lights. Basically, you’ll fail if the examiner thinks you are, or could be, a danger to yourself or society.

Tips to pass your driving test

You want to pass first time, so here are some tips that might help you do just that:

Keep up with regular lessons

Driving lessons are expensive, so make sure you don’t run out of cash a few weeks before your test and undo all your hard work. Aim for at least two hours of practice per week; if you can get more time behind the wheel than that, great. If you’re practising on another car, make sure you’re being accompanied by someone who’s over 21, been driving for three years or more and isn’t intoxicated, and you must have learner insurance in place.

Focus on driving in between lessons

You might be more interested in staring aimlessly out of the car window (or at an iPad). But while you’re learning to drive, start taking in what’s happening on the road. You’ll start to notice traffic light sequences, how certain junctions work, examples of bad driving and what the road signs mean.

Keep the date of your test quiet

If many people know when your test is approaching, you’ll have the weight of the expectation of all those people. Tell everyone you know and you’ll feel a lot more pressure than if you’ve only told the cat.

Get a good night’s sleep

This is easier said than done, we know. But if you can get a good night’s sleep before your test and leave all the stress until that morning, then you’ll be better prepared. Feeling awake and alert should reduce your nerves and improve your driving. There’s also advice that suggests eating a banana before your test, but we’re yet to confirm whether this is simply an old wives’ tale.

Can you use your own car for a driving test?

Yes, you can use your own car as long as it meets certain requirements, although it might be easier to use your instructor’s if that’s an option. The car you use can’t have any warning lights on the dashboard, and must be taxed, insured and road legal. It must be able to hit 62mph and have a speedometer, and it can’t weigh more than 3.5 tonnes. The stipulations also say that your car can’t smell of smoke and can’t be too dirty. Remember your L plates, too. If you’re learning in a convertible, you might not be able to use it for your test – some don’t offer the required level of visibility.