Everything you need to know to pass your driving test

Your driving test will cover a bunch of stuff the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) have identified as the MINIMUM you need to know to get on the road.

Driving isn’t only about these things – there’s a lot more you’ll have to learn by yourself after you pass. This driving syllabus is the place to start making sure you’re prepared.  You need to cover the entire syllabus during your automatic driving lessons.  You will find the information and you progress is all listed in your pupil app.

learner driver
Cockpit Drill

Probably the very first thing your instructor will talk to you about, before you’ve even driven a centimetre.

Your cockpit drill is everything you need to check before you drive – things like making sure your seat position is right and adjusting your mirrors. Basically: is everything cool for you to operate the controls safely and comfortably?


– Doors

– Seat

– Steering

– Seatbelt

– Mirrors

You won’t need to go through the whole cockpit drill in your test if you’ve arrived at the test centre in your driving instructor’s car, because everything will be set up.

If you’re doing your driving test in your own car, make sure you’ve been through the cockpit drill before arriving and you have a spare rearview mirror for the examiner. You won’t fail if you don’t have this but it makes a good impression.

Controls & Instruments

Knowing how to use the buttons and switches in the car is so important for safe driving. You never know when that sudden fog is going to start, or if you’ll need your hazard lights.

Some of these controls will come up in your show me, tell me questions, and it’s not unlikely you’ll need to use them as you’re driving around with your examiner, especially if you wake up to a rainy or foggy day.

At any point in the test, you can ask your examiner if it’s OK for you to pull over to adjust, say, your mirrors. As long as you do it safely, with perfect observation, that’s totally fine.

If you’re doing private practice in your own car, make sure you’re confident with all those controls too.

The basic car controls

      • Foot controls: accelerator, clutch, foot brake
      • Hand controls: handbrake, steering wheel, indicators, gear stick

You need to be able to use any of these controls instinctively, without having to look at them.

From 4 December 2017, the second safety question (‘show me’) will happen while you’re driving – like ‘show me how you’d clean your windscreen’.

If you can’t answer both show me, tell me questions, you’ll get a minor. Not a great start.

As you can revise and practice these pre-test, you’re in complete control here. Acing this first part of your test will make you feel a lot better about the rest of it. It also makes a good first impression if you can deliver the answer to your first question confidently and in your own words – your instructor can help you with that.

Vehicle Safety Checks

Your first vehicle safety check(or ‘tell me’ question) will come up at the very start of your driving test. You’ll be asked to explain something. like when you’d use your fog lights).

From 4 December 2017, the second safety question (‘show me’) will happen while you’re driving – like ‘show me how you’d clean your windscreen’.

If you can’t answer both show me, tell me questions, you’ll get a minor. Not a great start.

As you can revise and practice these pre-test, you’re in complete control here. Acing this first part of your test will make you feel a lot better about the rest of it. It also makes a good first impression if you can deliver the answer to your first question confidently and in your own words – your instructor can help you with that.

Safe Positioning

Generally, you need to be able to keep a safe, this can vary though depending on the width of the road, normally just out of the drains willl do.  When in a lane stay in a central position in your lane, But positioning also means making good decisions to deal with upcoming hazards and showing your intentions.

Being aware of other drivers’ positioning is also really important: it can give you vital clues to what they’re doing and keeps everyone safe.

Moving off & Stopping

In your test, you’ll stop and move off again quite a few times. Each time, you must show the examiner that you’re doing the MSM (PSL) routine.  You will also be using the (POM) routine.


Mirror – Signal – Manoeuvre (Position – Speed – Look)

    • Mirror – use your mirrors to check the position of traffic around and behind you, acting on what you see
    • Signal – show others what you intend to do, in good time
    • Manoeuvre – a change in speed or position
      • (Position – position your car correctly for the move you want to make, reinforcing your intentions
      • Speed – adjust your speed so it’s safe for the manoeuvre
      • Look) – have a final look to check it’s safe before you start to steer

Moving off -Moving away from the kerb

  • (Prepare – depress footbrake and select drive
  • Observe – check the correct mirrors & the blind spot
  • Move) – release the footbrake, position the car correctly and gently gain speed
Use of Mirrors

Your use of your mirrors (and therefore your observation) is one of the biggest things your examiner will be looking out for.

Mastering ‘Mirrors’ also means being aware of the areas your mirrors don’t let you see: your blind spots. Before you’re ready to take your test, you’ll need to be checking your mirrors regularly, checking your blind spots at the right time and acting on what you see.

You should be using your mirrors:

    • Before signalling
    • Before changing direction or speed
    • As part of the Mirror-Signal-Manoeuvre routine

Letting other people know what you’re about to do keeps you and them safe by preventing any confusion. Even if you can’t see anyone who needs your signal, there could be a driver or pedestrian you haven’t seen.

Be careful to only give helpful signals, you must avoid giving any signals that could be misunderstood or cause confusion to other road users.

It’s good practice and it cements the action in your brain for when you’re terrified in your test.

You should be using your mirrors:

    • Before signalling
    • Before changing direction or speed
    • As part of the Mirror-Signal-Manoeuvre routine

There are many different types of junctions to learn.  You must deal with all junctions safely.  Junctions can include turning left and right, emerging left or right at T-Junctions or crossroads.  They can all be very differnet so dealing with each type of junction is imprortant.

Everything revolves around safety: not causing anyone to have to slow down, stop, swerve or swear.

Use of Speed

You can be penalised in your test for going too fast AND too slow. If the speed limit is 50mph but it’s a wet day, maybe 50 isn’t the appropriate speed. If the speed limit’s 30mph but you’re going 20 – could be a problem because you’re holding people up or the examiner thinks you have no idea what the limit is.

Speed is not only dictated by the official speed limit. The clue is in the name: it’s a LIMIT not a target. Use your own judgment of the weather, the traffic and the road to settle on the appropriate speed.

You must always be able to stop in the distance you can see clear ahead of you. On a bendy road or at night, that’s a much shorter distance.

Anticipation & Planning

You have to become a bit of a mind reader to be a good driver, which is something you’ll get better at with time. Making an educated guess about what another vehicle next to you is going to do even though he’s not indicating. Spotting the excited child on their bike and trying to figure out where they are going to go.

Always expect the unexpected. The number of times I’ve rounded a bend to find a tractor the size of a brachiosaurus in the middle of the road…


You’ll need to show:

    • You can spot potential hazards so you’re prepared to deal with them in plenty of time if they affect you
    • You can anticipate what other drivers are potentially going to do and plan your actions around that
    • You are aware of times or places that could cause hazards, like bus stops, schools and flooding areas
    • You are aware and considerate of other road users like cyclists and pedestrians

At a roundabout you usually need to move to the left for exits left and straight ahead, and right for right exits. Getting the right position reinforces the action you’re going to take for other drivers using the roundabout.

You then need to be able to maintain that position all the way around the roundabout as if there were road markings (sometimes there are – helpful!). This is called lane discipline, and veering out of your – often imaginary – lane can be very dangerous.

Your signals on a roundabout are very important – you need to indicate if you’re turning off left or right, and not at all if you’re going straight over. Checking your mirror and then indicating that you’re about to exit is very important too, to let people know you’ll be changing direction and potentially speed.

One of the most important things you’ll have to master to do well in your driving test is planning your move. Early observation will tell you if you need to just slow down or if you need to stop for cars approaching on your right.

It’s very mean but you can quickly rack up minors if you stop at roundabouts when you don’t need to, or even just for ‘undue hestitation’.


Adapting to Road Conditions

You need to be prepared to drive in any weather. This is one reason that getting plenty of private practice is important (where possible), but it’s also a reason to not rush through your driving lessons.

The more you drive on different roads, at different times and in different conditions, the more prepared you are for real-world driving.

Being able to change your driving to what the road conditions demand is one of the most important parts of being a qualified driver. Your examiner will want to see that in your test, and it’s vital for staying safe in all the years after.

Pedestrian Crossings

This is something that’s easy to get wrong during your test because you’re so focused on what YOU’RE doing and what other cars are doing, it’s easy to miss what pedestrians are doing.

You’ll need to know the rules for:

      • Pelican crossings – button for green man, red man
      • Toucan crossings – for bikes and pedestrians
      • Zebra crossings – slow down and be ready to stop when there are people waiting
      • Puffin crossings – can sense when there are people crossing
      • Pegasus crossings – have an extra (higher) button for people on horseback

Number one thing to remember: if it’s a choice between demonstrating a driving skill correctly and keeping a pedestrian safe, the pedestrian wins.

Dual Carriageways

Dual carriageways are the ones where there’s 2 (sometimes 3) lanes of traffic going each way. Important things you need to know about are speed limit and how to join and leave the carriageway.

This is the closest you’ll get to a motorway before you pass your test but as dual carriageways can be top speed (70mph), they can feel quite scary.

Getting to the point where you can get on and off, and judge your speed and overtaking by yourself is very important for being confident post-test.

Don’t forget: having a few post-test lessons to get to grips with motorway driving will help you face that last big fear!


You should learn all of the manoeuvres and be able to carry out each one correctly.

Just dreading the manoeuvre will put you off your stride with the rest of the test, so do yourself a favour and get them ALL perfect before booking your test. It’ll be such a weight off your mind if you feel good about that bit.

      • Driving into a bay and reversing out or reversing in and driving out
      • Parallel park
      • Pulling up on the right-hand side of the road,
      • Reversing for 2 car lengths, then rejoining the road

Take your time – as long as you’re doing all your observation, you can take your time. You’ll be more in control and able to do proper observation if you don’t rush.

You have no idea how often you’ll need to use all these manoeuvres until you’re out on the road.

Emergency Stop

It’s also something that requires you to be at tip-top alertness – and that’s hard when you’re freaking out that you have to do the emergency stop.

Stop dreading it happening and just make sure you’ve practised it enough in lessons that it’ll be OK if it DOES happen.

You will need to show that you:

    • Know how different road and weather conditions can affect the way you stop
    • Can react quickly to the instruction without trying to guess when it’s coming
    • Can use the brake and clutch to bring the car to a controlled stop
    • Can secure the car safely – handbrake, neutral
    • Know how to move away safely from an emergency stop – all round observation as you’ll be int he middle of the road
Using a Satnav

Most modern day drivers use a satnav.  You will need to learn how to follow the instructions given to you by a satnav.  This is part of the independant driving section of the driving test.  You will not be required to set the satnav as your driving test examiner will do this.  They will tell you when this section of the driving test begins and ends.

Learning how to follow a satnav is an important part of your learning.  You should also be aware that at times you may need to make a decision to disregaurd an instruction given by your satnav, for example; if the road layout has changed, speed limiti has changed, some kind of diversion is in place.  Sometimes satnav’s have a repuation for leading a driver into a dead end or somekind of hazard.

Highway Code

Having a sound knowledge of the Highway Code is essential. You should start learning it before you even start your driving lessons.

Think it won’t come up again after your theory test?  It will, every time you have to decide who has the right of way or where you can park. Your driving test examiner is going to expect you to know all the rules and so is that police car behind you.

The Highway Code is updated regularly so keep your knowledge up with the online version and always make sure you’re not revising from an old book.

Check out our favourite theory test apps to keep your Highway Code knowledge fresh

The 5 stages of learning a driving skill:

  1. Skill introduced
  2. Skill carried out with direction
  3. Skill carried out when prompted
  4. Skill rarely needs to be prompted
  5. Skill carried out without any prompting

Once you’re at number 5 consistently in every skill, you’re ready to take your test.

Automatic driving lessons can be taken Monday to Friday from 9am to 4pm in Basingstoke only.  Sorry we do not offer evening or weekend lessons.

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Paul's Automatic Driving School offers automatic driving lessons, tuition and classes in the Basingstoke area.  Paul is a 'Grade A' DVSA instructor with more than 16 years of experience in teaching people to drive safely and pass their driving test.

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