From getting a provisional license to the practical driving test

This section tells you everything you need to know from getting a provisional license to passing your driving test, including the theory test and choosing an instructor.

The Provisional License

Assuming you are at least seventeen years old and have met the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) eyesight requirements you can apply for your provisional licence which you will need to start to learn to drive. You can apply online; you will need to register for a Government Gateway ID if you don’t already have one.

You can also apply by post by completing a D1 application form, which you can get from the DVLA form ordering service or a Post Office. Postal applications take up to three weeks. You’ll need to include identity documents, a photo and the fee (£43.00 at the time of writing). Once received, you can now start your learning to drive journey.

Automatic vs Manual?

Before you choose who will teach you to drive a car you will need to consider whether to learn to drive a manual or an automatic car. The main differences are the clutch (which automatic cars don’t have) and the gearbox (a manual car has five or six gears).

Most people prefer a manual car to learn to drive on because then you have the choice of both when you come to purchase your first car. Some say driving a manual car gives you greater control of the vehicle. For others, they prefer the ease of an automatic. The decision is yours; however, you will still need to pass the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency’s (DVSA) high standards on both the theory and practical driving tests.

The Driving Theory Test

You can book the driving theory test online by providing your provisional license number, email address and a credit/debit card to pay the fee. (£23.00 at the time of writing). You can then state if you will need any assistance the day with language, disability etc. The test is in English/Welsh or British Sign Language.

You can rearrange the date of your theory test if you need to or if you have to cancel for any reason you would need to give at least three clear working days’ notice to get a full refund.

On the day of the test, you will need to bring your photo provisional license. You won’t be permitted to take anything with you into the test (lockers are available).

The theory test itself consists of two parts (for which you have a total of up to 57 minutes):

1 Multiple – choice questions
You will have 50 multiple-choice questions which are based on three books – ‘The Highway Code’, ‘Know your traffic signs’ and ‘Driving – the essential skills’. You can find practice questions online to test your knowledge (none of these actual questions will appear in the test).

The multiple-choice questions will be on real life driving situations you may face; they will test your knowledge and understanding of the rules of the road. Three of the multiple-choice questions will be about a video clip which you will need to watch carefully. You will need to answer a total of 43 questions correctly to pass.

2 Hazard perception
This is a video test designed to rate your observation skills. You’ll be shown 14 one-minute video clips which are of everyday road scenes and at least one developing hazard (one clip includes two developing hazards). A developing hazard is a driving situation that would cause you to make a change – in speed or direction for example.

As well as the Learner Driving Guide, to revise you can use the Official Guide to Hazard Perception available to use on your phone/tablet as an app, or PC/Mac computer and it’s also available as an interactive DVD. You can find a mock test online.

As you watch the clips you will need to click the mouse as soon as you see a hazard developing. You can’t cheat the system by clicking non-stop or in a pattern. Unlike the multiple-choice questions you will not be able to review/change your answers. You will need to get 44 points out of 75 to pass.

There is a three-minute break in between the tests and you will have a short time to practice the system and read instructions before you start.

You will need to be successful in theory and hazard perception to pass the full test. You will get the result of your theory test at the reception before you leave the theory test centre building. When you pass, you’ll be given a pass certificate and a number which you will need to keep for when you book your practical driving test – you will have up to two years to pass your practical driving test or you’ll need to retake the theory test. If you need to try again, you’ll need to wait at least three days – check your results breakdown which will show you the areas you need to study more.

It is important to make sure all your study materials are both up to date and DVSA approved. All the materials mentioned in this article are available from the DVSA via its Safe Driving for Life website or most good book shops/online retailers. The Learner Driving Guide will be invaluable in deepening your driving knowledge and skill.

How do I choose a Driving Instructor?

The Learner Driving Guide will support you throughout your learning to drive journey. You may wish to get practical driving experience with a friend or family member but there is no substitute for a professional instructor. If you learn to drive or practice with a non-professional please do bear in mind the DVSA guidelines, make sure ‘L’ plates are displayed and of course confirm the relevant insurance on the car you want to practice in.

Here are some of the questions you should ask before you decide on who will teach you to drive.

– Are they qualified?

The DVSA awards an A Grade to instructors who have shown a ‘high overall standard of instruction’ (a score between 43 and 51). Instructors are assessed on lesson planning; risk management and teaching/learning strategies. If the instructor scores between 31 and 42, their standard of instruction is deemed ‘satisfactory’ (they have demonstrated ‘sufficient competence’) and below this score their performance is deemed ‘unsatisfactory’. Of the 35,732 instructors tested by the DVSA (in December 2018), 11,184 achieved a Grade A – just over 31%. 23,218 achieved a Grade B – nearly 65%.

Essentially this means that when you ask an instructor about their credentials, they should be able to provide their form from the DVSA senior examiner to prove the grade they have been awarded. On the form, it is worth looking at the ‘notes of improvement’ (in the lower panel) and the grade itself which is shown in the top right corner.

– Are they recommended?

While its vital to know that your driving instructors’ credentials are sound, there is nothing like word of mouth. Check online reviews, on Google and Yell for example. Also, reviews on social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, can be useful to see testimonials from previous clients.

– Do they have experience?

It’s important that the instructor you choose isn’t just qualified but that they are experienced as well, ask how long they have been teaching. Good instructors should have considerable experience, passion and a positive attitude to teaching – they should want you to pass first time.

– Will the lessons fit in with my life?

When choosing a driving instructor, you need someone that will fit into your life and be convenient in terms of location and timings. You will learn (and take your test) in and around your local area but it’s also helpful to gain driving experience in new or different road/traffic scenarios.

– Will we work well together?

Of course, it’s important that you get on with your instructor as you’ll be working 1 to 1, but remember they are there to teach you a life skill, not to socialise. It’s good to ‘gel’ with your driving instructor so you can be confident and relaxed when you’re learning to drive.

– Do they offer value?

Price is another important factor in choosing a driving instructor but don’t just jump at the cheapest – its best to need fewer hours with an experienced instructor than many lessons with the wrong instructor. Your instructor should only book you in for your driving test when you are ready. Using the Learner Driving Guide alongside your driving lessons will accelerate your learning, helping you save both time and money on more driving lessons.

How long does it take to learn to drive?

How many driving lessons you will need will depend on a number of factors:

– Your age – according to statistics, the younger you are the quicker you will develop those essential driving skills.

– Your focus during lessons – make sure you get a good night’s sleep before any driving lesson and wear sensible footwear.

– Your existing knowledge of The Highway Code – get a head start by studying in advance; essential if you are working on your theory test alongside your practical lessons.

– Using The Learner Driving Guide – using the guide alongside your lessons will help you progress through your learning to drive journey much quicker, saving you both time and money on more driving lessons.

What kind of driving experience is best?

The more often you can have lessons the better, it’s the continuity that’s so important. Ideally lessons should be two hours long. Intensive courses can be useful.

You will start learning to drive on quiet local roads. As time goes on and your confidence grows, a good instructor will give you varied driving experience on the roads near you; a great instructor will take you to several different locations, driving at different speeds, in different weathers. The more varied the experience, the better – driving when it’s getting dark, in the rain.

The Driving Practical Test

You will need to book your test in advance but you should only attempt to take your test when you are truly ready. The practical test can be booked online for a cost of £62.00 (at the time of writing).

On the day of the test, it’s a good idea to have a driving lesson/practice before, to get you in the zone and reassure you that you are ready and confident to succeed.

Don’t forget to bring your provisional license and your theory test certificate with you. You can take the test on your own car (as long as it meets the DVSA regulations but most likely it will be your driving instructors’ vehicle – it’s good to take the test on the car you’ve been learning in.

The test will last about 40 minutes, it’s the same for both manual and automatic cars. It will consist of five parts:

The eyesight check – you’ll need to read a number plate aloud, from 20 metres away. If you fail this, the test will automatically be over.

‘Show me, tell me’ – two vehicle safety questions; the ‘tell me’ question before you start driving and the ‘show me’ question while you’re driving.

General driving ability – you’ll need to follow the examiners’ directions through various road and traffic situations. You’ll be asked to pull over and pull away, including pulling out from behind a parked vehicle and a hill start and perhaps an emergency stop.

Reversing your vehicle – you will be asked to either parallel park, park in a bay or pull up on the right and reverse for two car lengths before joining the traffic.

Independent driving – you’ll need to drive for 20 minutes following traffic signs or a sat nav (which they will set up).

A mistake is not a serious fault so don’t panic if you accidentally take a wrong turn or stall your engine – it’s how you show the examiner you can safely correct the mistake that is important.

Occasionally, you may have two examiners go out on test with you, again don’t panic; the examiners’ supervisor may join you and will sit in the back very quietly. He or she is only there to watch your examiners’ performance, not yours! If you do have an extra person in the car, it will be heaver so apply a little extra acceleration when needed.

After the test, you will make your way back to the Test Centre where the examiner will tell you there and then if you have passed and what faults you made, if any. The examiner will give a certificate if you pass and ask if you want your full license sent directly to you (you’ll need to hand over your provisional license).

Rolling Monthly Subscription


The rolling monthly subscription is ideal for manual and automatic learners of all abilities. Use The Learner Driving Guide for as long as you need to. No long tie-ins; no cancellation charges. Just full access to all our 42 lessons, for as long as you need.