How to Pass your Practical Driving Test

Lots of excellent actionable tips to help you get you through a nervous time

You’ve booked your driving test and quite frankly, you’re terrified.

Don’t worry, it’s normal to feel like that. Passing your driving test is like entering into a brave new world of independence. Of course, you want to get it right. You want to pass first time.

Here at Steering Clear, in this blog we’ve drawn together the top ideas and tips from our driving instructor team. These are folks with hundreds of hours’ experience; when it comes to passing your practical driving test, there’s almost nothing they’ve not seen. They know their stuff.

And yes, they were apprehensive on the day of their tests, too. Unless you are made of concrete, the driving test is hard because nerves can block the ability to concentrate. Those important in-depth decision-making parts of our brains get a bit knocked out of kilter.

So, don’t worry. We all feel the same. Our tips are things you can work on now, and on the day itself.

Be reassured

First of all, if it makes things any easier, passing your driving test today is much harder than it used to be, even dare we say it, than your driving instructor’s own first test (we have to take further tests to qualify to teach driving).

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Sleep Well, Eat Well

Make sure that you get enough sleep the night before your practical test. Good rest is essential, not least for your ability to have a razor-sharp focus on what you’re doing. Eat properly on the morning of the test – no surviving on black coffee, please – and ensure that you are properly hydrated.

Like a car, your body needs good fuel to perform at its best.

Calm Your Nerves

We’ve already mentioned that being too nervous may affect your performance. So, here’s what we’d recommend:

Practice deep breathing. We start to relax on the out-breath, so breathe in slowly and breathe out slightly more slowly. Hone this skill before the day of your test if you can. As you sit waiting to be called, if you repeat this breathing exercise 20 times, we guarantee you’ll be feeling a bit more zen.

Visualise how you will drive on the day

Very powerful, this one.

Life skills, like driving, take some time to acquire and the journey towards your goal may seem daunting.

Imagine watching yourself on TV, greeting the examiner confidently, being totally in control of what you’re doing, being alert, responsive and having the power to anticipate what’s going to happen.

Focusing your brain on the process of driving with assurance and expertise will boost your confidence no end.

You’ve got this.

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1. Know the area

As you know, the DVSA doesn’t publish driving test routes. Worry not. Your driving instructor will know where the test centre is and through experience will have a good idea of what the various test routes are.

Your driving instructor will also be aware of the more challenging sections of test route including difficult and complicated roundabouts and junctions, country roads with blind corners, one way systems and unusual road features such as road tunnels with height and width restrictions.

If you are not preparing with a driving instructor then you will need the assistance of a relative or family friend with at least three years of qualified driving experience to help you explore the area around your local test centre.

2. Carry out a mock test.

In the weeks leading up to your test your driving instructor should carry out at least one mock test. The mock test should be as close as possible to the format of the actual driving test. It should include:

  • 20 minutes of driving using GPS programmed by your instructor
  • One manoeuvre and in addition a controlled emergency stop
  • Two “show me tell me” questions
  • A mixture of town and country road driving
  • Ten minutes or more of dual carriageway driving if your location allows it
  • A total test time of 40 minutes
  • Performance marked according to the DL25C test form criteria
  • Debrief at the end of the test.

The mock test will help to remove some of those fears and pressures of sitting a test and prepare you mentally for the challenges ahead. More importantly it will help you and your instructor to correct any faults and improve driving technique before the practical test.

3. Your eyesight check. Make sure you can see properly

Not as daft as it sounds, this one.

The examiner will do an eyesight check.

You will be required to read a number plate from about 20 metres. Beware. If you fail this test, you fail everything. So definitely check that your eyesight is OK. If not, get your eyes tested tout suite.

4. The “show me, tell me” questions – do your research

There’s lots of advice about this via Google, so do your research. You will be asked two questions. The “show” question will be asked at the test centre before you move off and will cover such areas as knowing how to check the engine oil level or knowing if your foot brake is faulty. The “tell” one while you’re driving and will relate to normal driving activity such as opening and closing your window, turning on your headlights or turning on the demister for the rear window.

The objective here is for you to prove your knowledge of the workings of your vehicle. Don’t worry – you won’t be changing the oil or replacing break lights, but you will need to demonstrate that you know if the latter are working (or not), for example.

5. Practice the manoeuvres

It’s not as hard as it sounds once you’ve got the knack. Make 100% sure that you listen carefully to your instructor during your driving lessons and that you practice as much as you can.
There are four types of potential test manoeuvre:

  • Parallel reverse parking
  • Reverse and forward bay parking
  • Pulling up on the right and reversing two car lengths
  • Controlled emergency stop.

You could get a fault mark if you need to re-position the car to correct either loss of control or a lack of accuracy. You will also incur a fault if you do not carry out proper observations at critical points in the manoeuvre.

6. Understand the general driving section

The examiner will give you directions around a set route to show him or her your driving skills in a variety of different road and traffic conditions.

This is where your zen-like focus and your deep breathing comes in.

For 40 minutes, you will need to prove to the examiner that whilst you may not be a perfect driver now, you have mostly mastered the art of driving and are more than capable of earning your license. Mostly mastered? Yes, because you are allowed to make a maximum of 15 minor mistakes.

If you do make a mistake, concentrate on your breathing and focus on what lies
ahead rather than what has happened.

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And failure? How do people fail?

People fail their driving tests immediately if they demonstrate a fault that puts them, the examiner, other people or property in danger, or if there’s a driving fault they keep making.

Pay particular attention to…

  • Your use of mirrors. Use them, and demonstrate that you’re doing so.
  • Your response to traffic lights. . Don’t wait too long when the light is green; make sure you stay behind an advanced stop line; and, do actually stop at a red light!
  • Steering. Maintaining a steady course whilst in traffic will get you a big “tick”.
  • Positioning. Keep your vehicle in the middle of your driving lane. Don’t veer over to the sides.
  • Turning right at junctions. . Don’t cut corners and watch out for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Forward planning. Look well into the middle and far distance to prepare you and your vehicle for any hazards or changes in the road.

And our final tip?

Get everything in perspective

It’s your driving test. Whilst we’re totally focused on your success, it’s really not the end of the world if you don’t pass this time around. You’re nervous because you really, really want to pass and we understand that.

Although it seems like the most important thing in your life at the moment, in reality your driving test only plays a small part in the overall scheme of things. Besides, you can always take the test again. Here at Steering Clear, we’ll help you every step of the way, with repeat lessons focusing on “next times”.
You’ll get there.

We’re sure of it.