Secrets of the driving theory test

Chaotic collection of traffic signs from the United Kingdom

Candidates who failed their driving theory test have lifted the lid on what went wrong and what they wish they had done differently.

The candid research, revealed by the AA Driving School, shows a third of adults who failed their theory test (33%) found mastering hazard perception to be the most daunting aspect of their preparation. The AA Driving School has specific advice for this aspect of the theory test here:

Overall, those who have failed, cited the top five challenges of theory test preparation as:

  1. Preparing for hazard perception (33%)
  2. Finding time to revise (30%)
  3. Terminology within the questions (28%)
  4. Knowing what to study (28%)
  5. Understanding road signs (27%)

Other tricky areas included knowing when they were ready to sit the test (15%) and accessing mock tests (15%).

Regional results: Candidates in Northern Ireland were the most likely to cite hazard perception prep as their downfall (54%) with those in the North East the least likely (19%). Finding the time to revise was hardest for those in the North East (40%) and easiest for those in Scotland (25%).

Nerves and regret: Besides issues with preparation, the psychological pressure of the test environment contributed to candidates’ anxiety levels, with nearly three in five adults who have failed their test (59%) reporting nervousness during the test.

Additionally, a staggering two-thirds (67%) of those surveyed expressed regret over not adequately preparing for their theory tests.

A lack of familiarity with the test format and expectations also exacerbates the challenge, with just under half of candidates (47%) confessing to entering their theory tests with little to no idea of what to expect.

Many candidates also confessed to keeping their theory test failure to themselves with two-fifths (41%) keeping it a secret from some people and one in twenty (5%) keeping it a secret from everyone.

The driving theory test: Introduced nearly three decades ago in 1996, the theory test is made up of two parts. The first is 57 minutes to answer 50 multiple choice questions based on the Highway Code and the second is the Hazard Perception test, during which candidates are asked to spot hazards in videos.

Candidates must pass both the multiple choice (43 out of 50) and hazard perception test (44 out of 75) before they can book their practical driving test.

The pass rate for the theory test has declined in recent years, plummeting from 65.4% in 2007/08 to 45% in 2023/24.

The AA Driving School, which has launched a theory test revision app, commissioned the research to help educate candidates about how to successfully prepare for their theory test.

Camilla Benitz, Managing Director of the AA Driving School, said: “Passing your theory test is a real milestone towards getting your full driving licence. These insights from learners who struggled to pass really highlight the importance of preparing for your theory test.

“Failing your theory test shouldn’t be a guilty secret that you keep from your friends and family – the theory test is tough – but revising, taking mock tests and practising the hazard perception in advance will help you fly through.

“Our theory test app was launched with exactly these issues in mind and is a one-stop shop for learners who want to tackle the theory test with confidence.”

Case study: I failed my theory test. This is what I wish I’d known…

Whilst trying to learn to drive between 2019 and 2022 Millie Gaston failed her theory test. She failed on the multiple choice to which she felt she got unlucky with the questions and hadn’t prepared herself well enough for the format of the test.

She said: “I wasn’t expecting to find it so hard. I didn’t tell anyone I was taking it the first time and in a way that made it harder because I didn’t talk to anyone about it. With the hazard perception, I got too click happy.

“All my friends were passing their driving test so there was a lot of chat about it, I think that added to the pressure.”

She was put off rescheduling her theory test as she was desperate not to fail again.

She added: “With Covid, the longer I left it, the more nervous I got but there was nothing I could do at that point.

“I was so relieved when I finally did pass and could get on with booking my practical test. If anyone is struggling to pass, I’d just advise them to revise and practice taking mock tests so they know what to expect in the room. The atmosphere is quite intense so the more prepared you can be the better.”


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