Once you have applied for your provisional licence and got it back, you’ll be able to start looking at booking your theory test. The theory test is the first of two tests you’ll need to pass before you can get your full UK pink driving licence.
In this article we’ll run through everything you need to know about the theory test, including exactly how to book and practice for it so you can be 100% confident and ready for the big day.
What is the driving theory test?
The first of two tests you will need to pass before being able to drive on your own in the UK, the theory test is just what it says on the tin. It’s a test of your knowledge of the ‘theory’ side of driving.
This is broken down into the following sections:
- Multiple choice questions (50 questions)
- Hazard perception videos (14 video clips)
Passing the theory test is an essential part of learning to drive, ensuring you have the correct knowledge of how the car and roads work before getting behind the wheel independently.
Because of the variety of questions you’ll be asked during the test, you’ll need to revise before you go. There are a number of ways to do this, and we’ll cover that later on in the article.
The theory test covers everything from basic car maintenance, road signage and stopping distances with everything in between. This ensures you have a capable knowledge of road safety. But before you jump into your theory test, there are some important things you need to know.
When can I take my theory test?
You’ll need a valid UK provisional licence before you can take your theory test. Depending on when you apply for it, you may receive your provisional licence before your 17th birthday. Despite this, you will not be able to take your theory test until you turn 17.
You’ll need to meet the following requirements before you can take the theory test. You’ll need to:
- Be 17 or older
- Have a valid UK provisional licence
- Have lived in the UK for at least 185 days of the last 12 months
Above: You’ll need a valid UK provisional licence before you can take your theory test.
You don’t need to be having driving lessons with an instructor before you can take the theory test, but you may find that the experience on the roads helps with your revision. Conversely, you may find it beneficial to pass the theory test before you start taking driving lessons, as you’ll have a better knowledge of things like road signage before you get out on the road.
It really is up to you whether you want to study for your theory test in conjunction with driving lessons or not. Either way, you will not be able to take your practical test until you have a theory test certificate.
How do I book my theory test?
There are a few ways you can book your theory test, but we always recommend you book your test online if you can.
The theory test costs £23.
In July 2021, the DVSA launched a new theory test booking system, incorporating both their test providers, Reed and Pearson Vue.
The new service is much the same as the old one, but you’ll need to make a note of which company to contact once you’ve booked it, should you have any enquiries in the lead-up to your test.
We always recommend booking any driving tests online, and you can do that by clicking here for the official government website.
You’ll come to a page that looks like this:
Click the green button on this page to proceed to the booking service.
At this stage, you may run into a queue. This shouldn’t take too long to clear, but can depend on the time of day. For example, you may find it busier around lunchtime or on weekends.
The queue will look something like this:
Once you’ve got past that, you’ll be asked what date you’d like to take your theory test. It’s a good idea to give yourself some time to revise for your test, so don’t always just take the earliest test date.
Having said that, you may find that the soonest test date is a month or more away. This can happen at busier test centres and has been an ongoing issue post-COVID.
Once you’ve chosen your preferred date, you’ll get a form to fill in with your details. All of these details need to be filled in correctly or else you won’t be able to access the booking system.
Ensure you’ve declared any middle names that are written on your provisional licence.
From here, you’ll be taken to a calendar view of available dates and times. Choose the best time and date for you and ensure you give yourself plenty of time to get to the test centre.
Most test centres won’t have their own dedicated parking so it’s important to research the local area a little bit first to ensure you’re not going to be late for your test. You should prepare to be in the test centre for at least 90 minutes.
Once you’ve selected your chosen date, you’ll see a secure online payment system that will take the payment of £23. You can pay this by credit or debit card.
An email will then be sent to you with confirmation of your test centre address, the date of your test and a receipt of the payment you just made.
Booking by phone
If you’re having trouble accessing the online booking system there is a telephone service available at 0300 200 1122.
I need to change my booking date/time
You’ll usually need to give at least three working days’ notice to change or cancel your theory test booking for free.
Changing your test date or cancelling within three working days of your test may mean you’ll still be charged for the original test. More information about this should be written on your original booking confirmation email. These rules may be different if you need to self-isolate.
You can use this link to change your theory test date.
I’ve got a reading difficulty, health condition or a disability
When you book your theory test, the system will ask you to declare if you have:
- Difficulty reading
- A disability
- A health condition
You can get extra help in the test if you have difficulty reading. This includes extra time, somebody to read what’s on the screen and record your answers, and somebody to reword the questions for you.
This is especially helpful for people with dyslexia. You may be asked to provide evidence that you have reading difficulties before the test. Information pertaining to this can be viewed on the government website by clicking here.
What resources are there available to practice for my theory test?
There are a few different resources you can use to help you pass your theory test in the UK, depending on how best you learn. Luckily, if you learn best through reading and researching for yourself, there are several books you can revise from. If you learn best from taking practice tests for yourself, there is plenty of software out there to help you through the test.
Books (£2 – £11)
The three books the DVSA recommends when revising for your theory test are:
- The Highway Code
- Know Your Traffic Signs
- Driving – the Essential Skills
That’s because the multiple choice section of the theory test is primarily based on these three books.
Above: The theory test is based on three books
They’re available to purchase in all good book stores or online, and a copy of the Highway Code is freely available online for reference by clicking here. You may also be able to view a copy of these books in your local library.
Pros of revising using books:
✔ Read through the road rules for yourself and do your own research
✔ No set questions, meaning your knowledge will be more well-rounded
Cons of revising using books:
❌ Can’t help with the hazard perception part
❌ Purchasing all the books can become pricey, though online versions may be available
Software (often free as a trial, but can come with a premium price)
There’s loads of software out there on the market, and it doesn’t take much more than a quick Google search to see just how many of these services are on offer.
As an incentive, many driving schools (such as ours) offer their pupils free theory training when you book lessons with them.
If you don’t get free theory training with your driving lessons, there are plenty of websites out there that you can use. The one we use and recommend here at 1st 4 Driving is Theory Test Pro, indeed all our pupils get full, free access to it.
Theory Test Pro, like other theory test revision software, allows pupils to practice both the multiple choice questions and the hazard perception test as much as they like. These systems usually have a massive bank of DVSA-approved questions, although these questions won’t be the exact ones you’ll see in your test, as these don’t get released to the public.
Pros of revising using software:
✔ Practice on the go on the app, or at home on your PC
✔ Questions and hazard perception videos
✔ The test itself will be on a computer, and many of the revision software programmes will imitate the style of the test so it’ll feel familiar
Cons of revising using software:
❌ You won’t get the same extensive knowledge coverage as you will from getting the information first-hand in the recommended books
❌ If you prefer revising from physical books this may not be for you
❌ You’ll need a device and internet access to use it
It’s really up to you how you want to practice for your theory test, but the important thing is to make sure you’re fully prepared before you go.
A good driving school or instructor will offer you support with your theory test if you have any questions, worries, or you’re struggling with a particular topic.
Safe Driving for Life
As well as the third-party software, the DVSA have recently launched their own website to help learners with their theory test.
The Safe Driving for Life website allows you to take a mock test and practice one hazard perception video for free before you have to upgrade to the full version. This is done on a subscription service. At the time of writing, it’ll set you back £15 for 30 days of full access.
Pros of revising using Safe Driving for Life:
✔ Official government source
Cons of revising using software:
❌ Much pricier than other apps on the market
You can read more about Theory Test Pro and how all 1st 4 Driving pupils get full, free access to the system by clicking here.
What will happen on my theory test?
Going for tests and exams is nerve-racking for most people, especially when you’re unsure what to expect from it.
The DVSA have provided a handy explainer video, which you can watch below:
When you get around to booking your theory test, you’ll choose which test centre you want to take it in. You’ll be sent the address of the test centre by email so you can find where you’re going on the day.
On the day of your test, it’s important to be prepared. By now you should have got lots of revision in and you’ll be confident about the multiple choice and hazard perception section.
On the day of your theory test make sure that you bring:
✔ Your provisional licence
Certain items are not allowed in the test room. These include:
❌ Mobile phones
Most test centres will have somewhere for you to store these items while you take the test, such as lockers.
The test itself
Your test will take place in your local theory test centre. This will be different to where you take your practical test, so it’s worth checking online where it’ll be.
On arrival, you will be asked to sign your name on a digital display at reception.
The theory test is taken in the examination room with several computers, allowing multiple people to take the test at the same time. Between each station is a separator, stopping people from being able to cheat and copy others.
Above: a typical theory test centre
Because your theory test will have an allocated time slot, it’s vitally important that you turn up on time. Make sure that you arrive at least 10 minutes early just in case you get have trouble finding the way.
Before your test, you’ll have the option of a 15-minute practice session to get used to the format. This won’t count towards your score and you can skip it if you like.
Part one: Multiple choice questions
In the first part of the test you’ll be asked 50 questions. These will include topics such as:
- Rules of the road
- Safety and your vehicle
- Hazard awareness
- Road and traffic signs
While revision for these questions is vitally important, you may find that some of the answers are deducible given the options and if you’re unsure you can often whittle the answers down to a 50/50 choice.
As you go, you can always click the ‘ Flag for review’ button at the top of the page if you’re particularly unsure of a question. This allows you to go back at the end of the test and have another look at it if you’ve got any time left.
Above: What the theory test system looks like. Some questions may have supporting images to look at
If you have any difficulties while taking the test you can raise your hand and an invigilator will come over to help you. They won’t be able to help you with an answer.
Part two: Hazard perception
At this stage you’ll have the chance to have a 3 minute break. This will give you a chance to look away from the screen or have a drink of water and prepare for the hazard perception clips.
Headphones will be provided with your computer, and you’ll be able to put them on and watch a short video before the test which will explain how the hazard perception section works.
The aim of the game here is to click when you see a developing hazard.
Contrary to what many people think, you shouldn’t click for things like people stood at bus stops. This is because these aren’t hazards. A handy rule to remember is that a hazard is something that will make you stop, swerve – or swear. Basically, something that will make us take action as a driver.
You’ll be scored on where you click along a timescale after the hazard first appears. If you click immediately, you’ll score a 5, moving down to 4, 3, 2 and 1 for later clicks. You’ll score 0 if you click too early or too late.
Our top tip for this section is to click twice in quick succession if you’re certain there’s a hazard. This ensures that if you’ve initially clicked too early, you’ll still gain points on your second click.
It’s important to note that clicking too frequently, clicking in a pattern or clicking for everything will mean you fail the test by default as the system will suspect cheating.
The DVSA have provided the below video to help you:
The best advice we can offer for the hazard perception test is to find a system to practice on and have lots of goes until you feel comfortable. Like the multiple-choice questions, the official clips are not released by the DVSA, but as they update their database regularly the old videos are passed on as practice clips.
What’s the theory test pass mark?
You’ll need to pass both sections to pass the theory test.
- In the multiple choice section, you’ll need to answer at least 43 out of 50 questions correctly
- In the hazard perception, you’ll need to score at least 44 out of 75 points
If you pass one section but not the other, you will fail. Your result sheet will show you the sections you failed on so you can go away and work on those before you retake it.
When will I find out if I’ve passed my theory test?
You’ll find out immediately after your test if you’ve passed or failed.
Once you’ve finished the test, you’ll need to go back to the reception area where you’ll be given a printout of your result. This will have your certificate number on it and will look something like the one below:
Above: Once you’ve taken your theory test you’ll get a bit of paper that looks like this
It’s really important that you keep hold of this piece of paper because it will have your certificate number written on it. You may need this number to book your practical test and you’ll definitely need to take it to the test itself to show your examiner.
Important – this certificate is only valid for two years from the date you passed. You must make sure you’ve passed your practical driving test before those two years are up or else you’ll have to retake the theory test. The government are not making concessions for people whose two years ran out over lockdown.
Other theory test FAQ
Q: Do I need to be having driving lessons before taking the theory test?
A: Nope, you can take your test before you start driving lessons if you wish.
Q: How long does the theory test last?
A: You should prepare to be in the test centre for at least 90 minutes.
Q: How much does it cost to take the theory test?
Q: What happens if I fail the theory test?
A: You can retake the theory test as many times as you like, but you must wait 3 days before your next attempt.
Q: Once I’ve passed, how long do I have to pass my practical test?
A: Two years
Q: Do I need to retake my theory test to upgrade from an automatic to a manual licence?
A: No, you’ll just need to take a practical test in a manual car.
This post is part of a series of tutorial articles:
Dave Foster MA, Dip.DI (or Driving School Dave) is the most qualified driving school owner in the country, after completing his Master’s Degree in Driver Training Education in 2011 at Middlesex University. He also holds a diploma in Driving Instruction and is a Cert Ed. qualified teacher. Dave is the founder and Managing Director of 1st 4 Driving Ltd, and also looks after over 15 driving schools across the country on a consultancy basis.