Learning to drive

How I failed my driving test

This post is about the old driving test. If you're taking your test after 4 December 2017, you can find out more here.


I'd been totally prepared for failing my driving practical test (it's just a practice, think how much calmer you'll be next time, blah blah blah).

But there was an unexpected and rather painful twist that made failing feel so much worse. I'll get to that.

For now, let's d(r)ive into how the practical test works on the day.

Honor takes her driving test

Before the test

I was nervous but fairly resigned. I knew that at this stage there was no point obsessing over it - if I was ready, I'd pass. I had some avocado on toast and read the show me, tell me questions again.

My driving instructor picked me up 2 hours before the test so we had time to get into town and have a drive around. I drove there, did a few of the routes and then we parked up to practise the show me, tell me questions.

Then we drove to the test centre and I did a freakin' PERFECT bay park (typical) and we went into the centre to wait. I'll admit that I was vibrating with fear at this point, trying to control my breathing.

The examiner called my name, I signed the insurance disclaimer and we went outside to do my eyesight check, which was fine. He asked me to get in the car while he filled in the car's details, then he got in and explained that we would be doing the show me, tell me questions.

The 2 show me, tell me questions

The first question was "Can you show me how you would check the power steering was working before setting off?" I told him without switching on the engine, so he asked me to show him (come on brain, what are you doing?) and I did. Fine.

The next question was "Can you tell me how you would know there was a problem with your Anti-lock Braking System?" Easy as pie - a little ABS lights up on the dashboard.

Need to swot up on the show me, tell me questions?
You're in luck, I just wrote them all out!

The test

  1. General driving ability

    The first part of the practical test is driving under instruction: turn left here, take the third exit and so on. It went pretty well and I calmed down a lot.

    I had to stop and then move off again 4 times which seemed really silly but made me feel like each time I had a chance to do it better.

  2. Manoeuvre

    The PARALLEL PARK for the love of all that is beautiful in the world. Ugh.

    I had actually done this manoeuvre half an hour before and it went the best it ever had. But of course, that's not how it happened in my test. I made the worst attempt probably anyone in history ever had. I even mounted the pavement. In the end the poor guy just said "OK, let's move on" and I just about died.

    But I kept it together. At this point I thought I'd failed for sure so I continued on fairly calmly - although it did occur to me to ask if we should just quit this charade and go home.

  3. Independent driving

    This is the bit where the examiner tells you to follow signs for this place or that. It went well, which surprised me as I'm fairly lame at finding where I'm supposed to be going. And in a flash, we were headed back to the test centre.

    I was all floppy with meh because I knew I'd failed on that farce of a manoeuvre. But ~ plot twist alert ~ that's not when I failed! Oh no. I failed 30 seconds before the end of my test, literally at the turning back to the test centre. I stopped at a GREEN light you see, which is kind of the very base level of road safety: green means go.

    Right before my test, I'd been talking to my instructor about the dodgy green arrows at that crossroads, so I had it in my head that I needed a green arrow and waited. But it never came. The examiner actually had to turn to me and say "That's a green light."

  4. The debrief

    With the car radiating the heat of my shame, we got back to the test centre and he did his working out on the sheet while I sat there all pathetic. Then he said "I'm sorry to tell you this Honor but you haven't passed your driving test" and I'm like "Don't worry, I know that."

    Then he told me and my instructor that he had been prepared to overlook the ludicrous parallel park because I'd driven so well for the rest of the test - but then I'd STOPPED AT A GREEN LIGHT. Obviously, this is dangerous as someone cruising along behind just sees the green and expects you to be moving.

    I ended up with 6 minors and that serious fault. You can get up to 15 and still pass so I'm clearly ready - I just need to go back over all the routes so I don't get confused again. If I'd only gone that way before the test, I would not have had that brain outage.

    What I learned

    1. If I can get only a minor for the embarrassment of a manoeuvre I displayed, the advice that you shouldn't give up no matter what happens is 100% legit. You just don't know.
    2. It goes really quick and you stop feeling nervous. I started off just following orders in silence and then my head cleared enough to realise that was a bit rude, so I'd obviously calmed down.
    3. If you feel like you are screwing up, remember that THE MOST IMPORTANT THING is safety. If you're still doing all your observation, you stand a good chance of just getting a minor.
    4. I could have passed. I have put in enough work now to pass the test. I just have to avoid amateur hour mistakes like STOPPING AT A GREEN LIGHT.
    5. Book your next test immediately. Like, the minute you get out of the test centre. My next test is in 6 weeks, which makes me want to throw things. Just remember it has to be at least 2 weeks after your last test.
    6. If you feel like you're ready to try again sooner than the slot you get, keep checking for cancellations online. You do this by going to the GOV.UK changing the time of your test wizard and checking available dates. You can just exit if there isn't a suitable time and it won't affect your booking.

    So, it's back on the driving lesson merry-go-round for me. Although I'm ready and it would save me some money to just take a lesson the week before my next driving test, I'm trying to get hold of a cancellation test slot so I want to be ready to go just in case.

    P.S. If I sound gloomy it's because I am. But this will be over for all of us very soon and we will only care about the pass, not the past. #philosophy


    Dealing with a driving test fail yourself?
    Get some advice on how to move on and pass your test next time.


Honor joined ingenie in 2014 and is in charge of words on the Young Driver's Guide and blog. Her first car is a Peugeot 206 cabriolet, which is a very sensible choice for the British climate. Follow her on .