What to Expect

The Driving Standards Agency (DSA) practical driving test is designed to test your ability to control the vehicle and to ensure what you have learnt over your lessons has stuck with you. If you pass, you will be allowed to drive on the public highway without your ‘L’ Plates and without supervision. The test takes approximately 40 minutes, and it is taken by a DSA examiner, who will sit in the passenger seat.

Aim to arrive at the test centre early, in order to give your test car a quick check to ensure tyre pressures are correct, and that all lights are in working order. Shortly before your appointment time, go into the test centre and register. You will require your license (both photocard and paper counterpart). The test centre should have a toilet – it is wise to use it, to prevent discomfort later on! You will be asked to sign a declaration on the test report form (DL25), which confirms that your test vehicle is insured and roadworthy.

Normally your instructor will wait at the test centre, though he will travel with you in the back of the car if you wish. Occasionally, an assessor will sit in the back of the car. He (or she) is there to assess the examiner, not you, so do not worry about them.

The Test
You will leave the test centre and walk to your test car. Your examiner will stop you, and ask you to read the registration of a car (not your test car) from an approximate distance of about 20.5 metres. If you wear glasses normally for driving, you should wear them. The registration plate will be of a standard size and font. If you cannot read the plate, the test will terminate (and you will lose your fee).

You will next take part in the ‘Show Me/Tell Me’ section of the test. You will be asked two questions. One question will normally ask you to identify a feature of the engine bay, and explain how to use it (e.g. “Open the bonnet, identify where the brake fluid reservoir is and tell me how you would check that you have a safe level of hydraulic brake fluid.”). Secondly, you will be asked to tell the examiner how you would check a certain part of the car is working (e.g. “Show me how you would check that the direction indicators are working.”). In some cases you will physically have to show how you would check, in others you will only need to explain verbally. A full list of the questions and answers can be downloaded from the DSA’s website, at www.dsa.gov.uk.

If you are not already in the car, you will now get in. The examiner will join you in the passenger seat. He will instruct you to start the car, and the test will commence. Ensure your seatbelt is fastened, before checking your mirrors and getting underway.

During the test, you will follow a set route (which can be viewed on the DSA’s website). Most centres have multiple routes, which can be changed at the examiners discretion, so there is little point in attempting to remember the routes – particularly as each centre has at least 10 routes. The route will test your ability to drive sensibly and efficiently. On the route, you will also be required to perform two manoeuvres from a list of three. You may also be asked to perform an emergency stop. More information on the manoeuvres can be viewed Here (links to local site). The test route will take several types of driving into account – from driving on a dual carriageway, to busy main roads, from de-restricted country lanes to quiet residential streets.

The examiner will give instructions to you in plenty of time, giving you chance to check your mirrors and indicate without being marked down. If you take an incorrect turning – don’t worry. Unless you have gone down a no entry road, you should not be penalised. After all, the test is testing your ability to drive a car, not to follow instructions. Taking a wrong turn safely is better than realising, and taking the correct turn in a dangerous manner which could cost you the test. If at any time you are unsure of what your examiner requires you to do, don’t hesitate to ask. The examiner can appreciate you are likely to be nervous, and will be happy to repeat or clarify any instructions.

If at any point you think you have failed, do not give up – carry on driving as you have been taught, as it may turn out that you haven’t failed. It will also help to identify any errors in the debrief after the exam.

During the test, you will be assessed on the DL25 form. The form has several headings, and spaces for marks and comments, and also records the end result of your exam. The form will be explained in greater detail later.

Once you have finished the test route, you will finish back at the test centre. At this stage, you will park the car, and the examiner will inform you that the test is complete. He or she will then take a moment to count up your mistakes. You are allowed up to 15 minor faults – any more, and you earn an automatic fail. Any ‘serious’ or ‘dangerous’ faults will also result in an automatic fail.

If you pass – congratulations! You will be presented with a pass certificate, which can be sent to the DVLA to upgrade your driving license. The examiner can also update licences issued after March 2004 electronically. If you fail, do not let it get you down. Work out what went wrong, and aim to improve areas which were not satisfactory.