Why Do Learner Drivers Need To Take Their Theory Test Before Their Practical Test?

hand holding pen at desk

Once you've got your provisional licence, your journey towards becoming a fully qualified driver will begin. You'll have an assortment of decisions to make: choosing your instructor, picking a transmission and deciding how intensively you'd like to learn. One of the first things you need to do, however, is take the theory test. This particular test plays a vital role in ensuring you're safe enough to drive on the roads in the UK. It's so important, in fact, that until you've passed it, you're not allowed to book your driving test.

We're going to look at why the theory test is so important, what it entails and why learner drivers really need to take their theory test before the practical test.

The theory test: what it is and why it's so important

Whilst the driving test was first introduced all the way back in 1934, the theory test didn't become part of the process of learning to drive until 1996. Originally a written exam, the theory test was updated to a computerised format in 2000. Further changes were made subsequently, such as the inclusion of the hazard perception section in 2002 and CGI clips in 2015. You can read more about this in our guide to the history of the theory test.

Most of the theory test is devised from the Highway Code. This book contains all of the rules and information that learners need to know in order to keep themselves and other road users safe—from road signs to legal requirements to general road safety. As you can imagine, this makes the theory test pretty important.

Many of the rules in the Code are legal requirements, so it's vital that you know them. Additionally, it's important that learners understand the fundamentals of driving. Newly qualified drivers are at the highest risk of being involved in an accident on the road, due to lack of experience and, in some cases, the difficulty of adjusting to driving unsupervised. Whilst the DVSA can't ensure new drivers are on equal footing with other drivers in terms of experience, it can at least make sure their theoretical knowledge is up to scratch.

How it's structured

The theory test is comprised of two sections: multiple-choice and hazard perception. You need to pass both sections in order to pass the overall test. If you don't pass, you won't get your theory test pass certificate and you won't be able to book your practical test.

Multiple-choice

There are 50 questions to answer in this section and you've got 57 minutes. In order to pass this section, you need to score 43. You'll have a few practice questions to start, just to help you get to grips with things. You can also flag questions as you go along and return them to the end. This section will include case studies and a variety of topics ranging from alertness to documents to hazard awareness.

With just under 1,000 questions available in the DVSA's question bank, it's safe to say that you'll need a solid grip of things before you go in for your test.

Hazard perception

During this section, you'll have to watch 14 clips that will contain developing hazards. Each time you see a developing hazard, you'll need to click your mouse. Each hazard is worth 5 points, and you'll need to score 44 out of 75 to pass.

If you've heard from a reliable source that all you need to do is click frequently, you should give this method a rethink. Clicking in a consistent pattern or just continuously will cause the software to think you're cheating and give you zero marks.

Why do I need to pass the theory test before my practical test?

theory test certificate

No matter how hard you try, you cannot physically book a practical test until you've passed your theory test. When you pass, you're given a pass certificate which contains your theory test pass number—information that is needed when booking a driving test. Wondering why the DVSA has gone to such lengths?

It's simple, really. As we've already discussed, the theory test is essentially the foundation of your driving knowledge. Practical knowledge and experience is good, yes, but you need to be sure you've got the rules and laws sorted out too. Imagine what our roads would look like if drivers weren't familiar with certain road signs, or didn't know what to do on approach to a junction—it would be utter chaos!

Can't I just take it on the same day as my practical?

Unfortunately, this is just one of the many theory test myths that circulates around the learner driver community. In order to book your practical test, you need a theory test pass number. You can't get this number until you pass your theory test. Meanwhile, DVSA waiting times for the practical test are months long, in some cases, so there's no possible way you could do both on the same day. Besides which, we're not really sure why anyone would want to—one test at a time is stressful enough!

Should I pass my theory test before I start my driving lessons?

learner driver getting certificate

There are no strict rules in place to determine whether learners should or shouldn't  pass the theory test before they start driving lessons. It's all down to personal preference. Some instructors will recommend you have a few driving lessons before you go in for your theory test so that you can get some real-life experience of the roads under your belt. Aspects like spotting hazards, getting used to road signs and calculating stopping distances can be easier to understand if you've already had some practical knowledge. 

Whilst some people find real-life experience handy in bolstering their knowledge before taking the theory test, it's certainly not compulsory. If you've done your revision properly, you should be more than prepared regardless. PassMeFast usually advises learners try and get their theory test out of the way early on. Otherwise, you run the risk of finishing your driving lessons, feeling prepared for your practical, only to have to wait until you've passed your theory.

How do I book my theory test?

In order you book your theory test, you need to be over the age of 17—unless you qualify for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), in which case you can take it from your 16th birthday. You'll also need a provisional licence to book it, which will cost you £34 if you apply online. You'll need to provide:

  • An identity document, unless you have a UK biometric passport
  • Your address history for the last 3 years
  • Your National Insurance number

Your provisional should arrive within one week. Once you've got that, you can book your theory test for a fee of £23. Unlike the practical test, there's no additional fee for a weekend test. You'll get a confirmation email or letter once you've booked your test. It's important that you double check that you've got the right date, time and theory test centre. We've lost count of how many learners have gotten things mixed up on the day of their test, so don't chance it!

Don't fancy dealing with long waiting times? Add a theory test onto a PassMeFast course and we'll find you a test according to your availability and chosen test centre.

How do I increase my chances of passing the theory test?

two stacks of books floating in clouds

It's pretty simple really. You should only go in for your theory test once you've revised thoroughly. Despite what you might have been told, the theory test is not just common sense—you will need to spend time revising. PassMeFast has plenty of advice and tips to offer learner drivers. Here's what we have for those planning on taking the theory test:

What do I do once I've passed my theory test?

woman driving through city

Congratulations! Now you've passed, you'll finally be able to use your theory test pass certificate number to book your driving test. If you've not sorted out your lessons yet, we'd recommend you get it sorted out pronto. That's because your theory test certificate expires after two years. If you don't pass your test within this timeframe, you'll have to retake your theory test. Whilst this can be annoying for some learners, it makes a lot of sense—the DVSA needs to be sure that your knowledge of the roads is up-to-date.

If you want to avoid having to take your theory test again, book an intensive or semi-intensive course with PassMeFast and we'll have you on the road well before your two years are up. Our courses are designed to suit learners with any level of experience. To see what's on offer, check out our course prices page or driving courses rundown. If you've already had some driving lessons, and you're not sure how many more you'll need, our course recommender will tell you your ideal PassMeFast course in just a few simple questions.

To start your journey with PassMeFast today, simply give us a ring on 0333 123 4949 or book a course online today.

FAQs

1. Do I need a provisional licence before booking my theory test?

Yep. In order to book your theory test, you'll be asked to provide your provisional licence number. There's no way of getting around this, so you should apply for it as soon as possible if you're looking to take your theory test. You can apply for your provisional licence here.

2. What happens if I lose my provisional licence?

It's really not the end of the world if you've lost your provisional licence. It's as simple as applying for a new one. You can find out all about this in our handy guide to what to do when you've lost your provisional licence.

3. What happens if I pass one section but not the other?

Unfortunately, if you pass the multiple choice section but not the hazard perception, you won't pass—and vice versa. It wouldn't even matter if you scored full marks in one section. As such, you should make sure you're prepared for both sections—you can't rely on your strength with one section to pull you through.

4. Can I resit my theory test?

Yep—but you've got to wait at least 3 working days before you can retake it. You can retake the theory test as many times as you need until you pass. If you do fail, however, we'd recommend you give yourself at least another couple of weeks to go over your revision again. There's no point in paying £23 for another theory test if you're not ready—blind luck will not get you through.

5. How long is my theory test certificate valid for?

Your theory test certificate will last you two years. This gives you two years to complete your driving lessons with a professional instructor and pass your driving test. If you don't pass your test during this time, then you'll have to take the theory test again. It's for this reason that you should keep an eye on your certificate's expiration date.

6. What do I do if I lose my theory test certificate?

If you've lost your theory test pass certificate and need the number to book your driving test or change your appointment time, you can apply for a replacement letter to take to your practical test. In order to apply for this, you'll need your provisional licence number.

7. Can I book my practical without my theory test certificate?

In order to book your practical test, you need your theory test certificate number. As long as you have the number, however, you don't actually need the physical certificate. If you can't find your number, see question 6 to find out how you can get a replacement.

8. What happens if I'm late to my theory test?

If you arrive for your theory test 15 minutes or more after your test was due to start, you won't be able to sit the test. This is to ensure that you don't disturb other candidates who have already started their test. Be aware that if you're late or you miss your theory test, you won't get a refund. It's for this reason that we advise learners to not only get to the test centre 10 minutes early, but also to double check that they've got the right date, time and test centre.

9. Do I get my test results on the same day?

Yep. Unlike most of the tests you'll take in life, you get your results straight away with your theory test. As soon as you've finished your test, you'll be directed towards the reception area—or somewhere similar—where you'll be given an envelope containing your results.

10. What do I need to bring on the day of my test?

The only thing you need to bring to your theory test is your provisional licence. If you don't bring it, you won't be able to sit your theory test—so make sure you remember it on  the day! If you bring personal items with you, you'll have to leave them in a locker area. You might find it useful to bring a bottle of water with you—it's important to stay hydrated after all!

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