Learning to drive

How the practical driving test works

The 3-part practical driving test exists to make sure you can drive safely on various road types and follow the Highway Code.

It's scary, sure. But your test is also about you being confident that you're a good driver. Would you really want to pass your test knowing you're not ready?

If you don't pass, you just weren't quite ready. Simple as that.

Don't forget to take your theory test pass certificate and photocard driving licence to your test.
  1. Part 1: Eyesight check

    Your examiner will ask you to read number plates from:

    1. 20 metres for vehicles with new number plates (2 letters followed by 2 numbers)
    2. 20.5 metres for vehicles with old number plates
    So if you wear glasses, make sure you double check you have them with you for your driving test!

    Unfortunately, if you fail this part of your test, that's it. The rest of the exam won't go ahead and you'll need to book a new one. And an eye test.

  2. Part 2: Vehicle safety test

    Your examiner will ask you 2 questions about the safety of the car:

    1. The 'show me' question where you need to demonstrate the answer, for example:

      "Show me how you would switch your headlights from dipped to main beam and explain how you would know the main beam is on."
    2. The 'tell me' question where you can just say the answer, for example:

      "Tell me where you would find the information for the recommended tyre pressures for this car and how tyre pressures should be checked."
    Check out how to answer the show me, tell me questions so that you can make sure you're completely ready to pass this section.
  3. Part 3: Driving ability test

    Then comes the 40 minute driving test, split into three chunks: general ability, reversing and independent driving. The most important aspect of this test is safety.

    My driving instructor told me recently about a student who sat in a traffic jam for half an hour of her test - and passed with flying colours. The point was that she didn't take any risks and stayed calm, which is what the examiner needs to see.

    If you're at a junction and you're doing your 'Can I go, can I go, can I go, can I go?' back and forth for 10 minutes, SO BE IT. Your examiner wants you to be making good decisions based on your assessment of the risks, so if it's actually not safe for you to go then it doesn't matter how long you sit there.

1. General driving ability

Your examiner will give you directions to follow for various types of road and traffic conditions. Just drive the way your instructor taught you (their voice will be ringing in your head!) and you'll be fine.

You'll be tested on:

  • Normal stops
  • An angle start (pulling out from behind a parked vehicle)
  • A hill start

You might also be asked to carry out an emergency stop, so be prepared for that too.

2. Reversing the car safely

Your examiner will ask you to demonstrate how well you can reverse.

This will be one of the following:

  • Reversing around a corner
  • Turning in the road
  • Reverse parking into a bay or parallel reverse parking in the road
The manouevres in the driving test will be changing from December 2017. Check out the news.

3. Independent driving

This part of the test will be about 10 minutes of driving around to see how well you make safe decisions on your own according to the conditions you encounter.

If the examiner feels that your driving is actually dangerous to other people on the road, guess what? They'll stop the test and you'll automatically fail.

Keep calm and carry on

If you make a mistake, just carry on. It might not have been a biggie and if you dither it will just cut into the time you have left to make a good impression.

You'll be great.



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 .