The two main components of the driving test are the theory and practical. They require different skills and most drivers usually show more ability in one than the other. It is virtually impossible to pass without practising, but how much should you practise?
There are many different ways to get good at something and some ways will work better than others for you. You may have heard of the theory that 10000 hours of practise are required before you achieve mastery in something. This is not true, and very fortunate in the case of driving because a) 10000 hours is like working a full time job for 5 years and, b) you don’t need to achieve mastery when driving, just competency.
The effectiveness of your practising will be influenced by a number of factors:
- Have you chosen a good approved driving instructor?
- Is your practise structured, building on your existing skills and achieving a broad range of experience
- How committed and focused are you when practising (e.g. practising while daydreaming won’t be as effective as practising while concentrating)
- Your age – younger brains generally have better neural plasticity, i.e. they learn things and create new neural networks more quickly
- Your personality – a stubborn personality that is unwilling to take advice and apply it will make it more difficult to learn good habits
- Your previous experience – if you have been driving tractors on the farm since you were 10 then you may very well have better spatial awareness of other vehicles and manoeuvring a vehicle than someone that’s never sat behind the steering wheel before; just be careful you aren’t too cocky as driving on the road is quite different to driving in a field.
There are two parts to the theory test – multiple choice and hazard perception – and you must take them on the same day. In the multiple choice test you will be asked 50 questions – you can practise the questions on this website by choosing one of the menu options at the top of the page. The theory test is a mix of memory and understanding. If you believe you have a poor memory there’s good news: anyone can improve their memory with some very simple exercises and techniques, and it doesn’t take much effort. You will be able to take advantage of your long-term and short-term memory when taking the test by starting to learn the theory early, applying consistent regular study times, and then cramming right before the test using this website on your mobile phone.
There are also other techniques that make it easier such as helping others learn what you are learning (e.g. if you are learning with a group of friends), using flash cards, replicating the environment of the test, and exercising before you study. Read more about memorising the Highway Code here.
For the hazard perception test your driving instructor should be able to help you learn about developing hazards by teaching you commentary drive techniques.
However, to really have the best chance of passing, it’s best to spend a few pounds buying mock hazard perception tests from this company.
Once you are comfortable that you have learned as much as you can, start thinking about the test itself:
What time is it going to be? A mid-afternoon test will mean you’ll be naturally slightly more sleepy, but it will give you more time to cram knowledge into your short-term memory.
Do you tend to get nervous? If so, this article can help you.
The practical side of driving is a little harder to quantify. There’s no minimum number of lessons required or hours you have to drive. Some countries do have a minimum amount of time, e.g. in Australia you must complete a minimum of 120 hours of practise including 20 hours at night. With the theory test, there’s a limited number of variables: you’ll take a computer test from a limited bank of questions, and if you’ve practised on the mock hazard perception tests you’ll know what to expect. For the practical test, you can learn the ‘show me, tell me’ questions fairly easily, however, for the driving portion there are an enormous number of variables like the weather, traffic volumes, the test route, phasing of traffic lights, the number of pedestrians, etc, and they require not just mental power but physical reactions.
To be able to cope with all myriad of situations thrown at you in your test the only way is to practise enough so that you have experienced them. As you spend more time driving you will develop automatic reflexes to danger and you will have to think about the actual operation of a car less and less. The amount of practise that you need to do before you are a competent driver is enough so that you don’t have to think about how the car operates (changing gears, indicating, steering), you can recognise dangers as they unfurl ahead of you, and you can competently perform the manoeuvres required such as the three-point turn. For some people this might be 120 hours and for others it might be 10000 – every person will be different. A driving instructor will help you recognise when you are at that point.
Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.