So you’ve taken a good amount of lessons, had a lot of independent practice inbetween, and aced your theory. Naturally the next step is to look towards the dreaded practical test! But how do you know you’re ready? I mean like really ready: as in there’s a great chance you’ll pass first time – AND feel like a confident driver when you’re finally behind the wheel on your own for the first time.
First of all, the important thing to realise is that every learner is different – and their journey towards successfully obtaining their driving licence will be unique to them. Even just considering the students of one driving instructor, with a similar amount of lessons and practice time, people will be at different levels of preparedness – and will have a different chance of success were they to book a test according to the same timescale.
One thing all those learners will have in common though is that, for each, learning to drive happens both gradually and in a non-linear way. Some days you will just feel like you’re making no progress or just not ‘getting’ something, even when it seems like it should be so basic based on what the instructor is saying to you. These sticking points may be different to the ones experienced by your friends or your instructor’s other pupils. On other days you might suddenly experience a ‘Eureka!’ moment where a certain manoeuvre or concept seems to click, seemingly out of nowhere.
Overall the process, and your progress, will likely be patchy. Thus leading to uncertainty around that big question: when will I be ready to take my driving test?
There are hundreds of possible answers, so obviously it is almost impossible to give one definitive, universally applicable response to this question!
That said, there are a few key signposts that you are on the right path (the path towards likely success, and confidence in your abilities to both pass the test and be a ‘proper’ driver). Equally, there are certainly telltale signs that you still need more practice!
In this brief guide, we’ll provide an overview of the most significant ways you can tell that you’re probably ready for your practical test (well, as ready as you’ll ever be!).
1. The number of lessons you’ve had
The DVSA, which regulates driving tuition and tests in Great Britain, doesn’t actually recommend a specific number or total hours of lessons you should complete before taking your test. This make it difficult to accurately say, with confidence, ‘how long’ it will take you to learn to drive.
However, research carried out by the Department for Transport shows that those drivers who passed their practical test completed an average of 47 hours of lessons with an instructor beforehand. For most learners this can therefore be used as a good benchmark to look towards.
2. Do you have the relevant skills? And at the necessary level?
-Driving is a complex activity, requiring you to draw on a range of skills, often simultaneously. Even just mastering the coordination required to simply operate the basic controls of a car can be challenging for some learners (especially those with conditions such as dyspraxia), and present them with a daunting learning curve.
Accumulating the degree of muscle memory that allows you to perform such actions instinctively does take time – the amount of which will naturally vary from person to person.
Even after you’ve mastered the basics, however, there’s still plenty more to learn and a lot of scope for your skillset to be expanded. Firstly, there are the set of ‘manoeuvres’ you are required to master (or at least be able to reliably and confidently complete with a high level of competence). For example, by the time your practical test comes round you will need to be able to parallel park, or pull up on the right, reverse and rejoin the traffic. If you’re currently unable to complete all of these manoeuvres confidently without the aid of your instructor, you definitely need more practice before you’re test-ready.
Other abilities you will likely be asked to demonstrate during your test include safely pulling over and moving off again (which may include a hill start) – and again you’ll need to be sure of your ability to exhibit these competently.
For the ‘independent driving’ part of the test you’ll also need to prove your ability to follow directions, either from road signs or a sat nav system.
In addition to all of this meanwhile, there are the ‘show me, tell me’ questions that you’ll need to be able to answer correctly.
As you can see, there’s a lot to learn – and to practice – in order to build up your competencies to the required level in advance of booking a test!
3. Your confidence level
While it’s useful to have a broad idea of the number of hours of lessons learning to drive usually takes, and to know in advance what range/level of skills you’ll need to have to pass your test, the previous two points don’t take into consideration the most important factor: yourself, as an individual. In terms of both actual readiness to successfully sit a test – and to know that you’re ready (and likely to pass) – one of the most important signposts is your confidence level when behind the wheel.
It’s not the case that you need to feel completely calm on the inside during your practical test: nerves on the day are completely normal and understandable (and remember, the examiner won’t fail you just for making a few minor faults). However, if the thought of even getting behind the wheel and being in control of a vehicle still regularly fills you with dread or makes you a nervous wreck, it’s fair to say you’re not obviously not yet ready to take the practical test. Conversely, if the idea of getting behind the wheel and driving independently instead fills you with excitement then it’s likely you are ready to book that test – even if confidence alone is no guarantee first time!
Don’t just rely on the above when deciding when to actually book your test for though: there’s someone else whose opinion you should certainly take into consideration…
4. What does your instructor recommend?
Any instructor will have spent more time observing you driving than anyone else has. In addition to observing many other people across all stages of their journey as a learner. They have watched your development closely, as you progress from hesitantly lifting your foot off the clutch at the start of your first lesson to driving around with ease in all types of environment, no matter whether town centre, suburbs or countryside. Having also seen which students pass in the past, and which ones fail, they will have a good feel for whether your current level of driving (and confidence) is where it needs to be yet. So their vote of confidence in you is a good barometer.
You can already get a good idea of your instructor’s view of your current ability level by what they choose to focus one during your lessons and how much they push you. If the content of your lessons still includes a significant amount of time spent on mastering competencies such as clutch control and shifting through the gears, you will still be some distance from being ready to take your test. However, if your instructor is increasingly focusing on your potential test routes, and asking you to drive around some of the most difficult parts of likely routes (a tricky roundabout or busy junction for example) then that is a good sign: they have confidence in your ability!
Obviously the quickest and most certain way to be sure of your instructor’s impression of your ability level and readiness is just to ask them directly! They’ll tell you whether they think you meet the necessary standards and will share any helpful feedback with you. They will also likely be glad that you’re being proactive and keen to progress, but also that you’re clearly conscientious and conscious of the need to meet the required standards.
Once you get to this stage you could also enquire about them performing a mock test, covering all the things that may happen in your actual practical test. in a realistic ‘test conditions’ scenario. If you’re succesfull in ‘passing’ this mock test then you’re likely to be ready for the real thing – and in a good position to pass!