The Driving Test

For most people the driving test is a fairly unique experience. One of the things that makes it unique is being examined and marked as you actually do the test. If you remember when you were doing your exams at school, when the teacher looked over your shoulder you went tense.

This is a natural reaction to being marked as you perform. This pressure can lead to a loss of performance leaving both parties disappointed and frustrated. One knowing that they can do better and the other believing that it did not live up to what was promised. Just ask my wife.

So how can you make sure  that their first time is a really great experience and one they want to tell everyone about. As they are demonstrating a physical skill it is often a case of in “nervous vertis” or in nerves the truth. 

Now there are other exams that are marked by an examiner as you perform. Music, medical and martial art grading are some that come to mind. So unless your pupil is a musical martial artist who is medically trained they are going to be up against it. So the real question is how do you know you are ready to take your Driving Test.

The advice from The DVSA is that they must be driving consistently well, with confidence and without assistance. So what does this mean.

The DVSA says they have to be a ‘level 5’. This means you drive without prompting or assistance.

So what are the levels.

  1. Introduced
  2. Done under instruction
  3. Done when prompted
  4. Seldom prompted
  5. No prompting at all

Besides driving without prompting, is there another way of viewing it? If they are level 5 and ready for their test. It means they have reached something called unconscious competence. This means you do not think about how to do something, you just do it. I think a good way of viewing if someone is driving with unconscious competence is how they deal with the mistakes. Both their own mistakes and those of other peoples. If they deal with it safely and get on to the next thing safely they are doing okay.

Writing can be a good example of unconscious competence. You do not think about how to write, but rather what you are writing about. The parallel with driving is you do not think about how to control the car but where you want to go with the car. What your driving plan is.

So are there other levels of competence. And if so, what are these other levels and what do they mean.

Unconscious Incompetence:

They do not even know what it is let alone how to do it. They have no idea what driving is. Babies, primitive tribesmen who have never seen civilisation and my 2 pm on Saturdays student.

Conscious Incompetence:

They know what it is but certainty can not do it. This is the pupil who has never driven before and you are taking them to a car park or a nursery route to get them started safely.

Conscious Competence:

They are thinking about doing it properly now. Hopefully they are not only listening to your words of wisdom. But they are taking notice and putting them into practice. These are the ones you want for a standards check.

Unconscious Competence:

They do not think about it anymore they just do it. They are not thinking about how to drive but rather where they  are going to drive. What all this is saying is that if they have internalised the practice of safe driving they are ready for your test.

What does driving with confidence mean in practice. Your bible: Driving The Essential Skills says this is showing skill, judgement and experience. 

I can say I write at level 5 or with unconscious competence. Apart from some spelling in my case. The aim should be to go to the driving test where you are unlucky to fail rather than lucky to pass.

Aside from the actual passing of The Driving Test, what other ways can we look at it.

From Society’s point of view. 

Passing your driving test is a right of passage from which you receive your freedom. In this case that of the open road. Even The Queen has learnt to drive and has a Driving Licence. The fact is she doesn’t need to drive. The fact she has 8 chauffeurs from the Royal Household to call on is neither here nor there. She has still learnt and learning to drive is one of the things that binds us together as a people. It is a common experience that is shared by us all. From the highest in the land to the lowest.

From the Government’s point of view: 

The DVSA wants your pupils to be consistently safe with a bit of confidence in their driving. This is safe for everyone. As we are all equal in the eyes of the law, all driving tests are as far as possible are similar. Obviously we can’t all do the same test route with the same examiner but all tests will be to the same standard over similar routes. The DVSA puts a lot of effort into making all this as far as possible consistent. So it’s back to that common experience shared by all. You and The Queen.

The houses of Parliament

The Examiners point of view: 

What might they be thinking. Their job is to see that your pupils are consistently safe with a bit of confidence in their driving. They can only mark what they can see at that time and place. We all know the frustration of that. Questions I think an examiner might ask themselves of a pupil are. Would I want them driving my car or would I want them driving near my car. If the answer is no it’s unlikely that they will be. But above all else is the pupil safe.

Caught by surprise

From The Pupils point of view: 

The Driving Test is easy if they have been well prepared. It is the examiner that makes it difficult. It is a pressure test and the presence of an examiner is the pressure. The way to cope with the pressure is by them being consistently safe with a bit of confidence in their driving. From a certain point of view I always think it is how well the examiner fails them. Driving home with a pupil who is raging over perceived injustice is not nice.  

Young man reversing

From The Instructors point of view: 

The bitter sweet moment when your pupil passes. You have grown to know and love them then they leave you! The knot in your instructor’s stomach becomes a feeling of joy when they pass. The longer the test has gone on, the more nervous they are in case they cock it up at the last moment. But so long as they drive consistently safely with a bit of confidence in their driving they should pass.

So where does all this leave us? 

You will have noticed I keep saying driving safely with a bit of confidence. Let’s look at the safe bit first. 

The safety aspect moves out in circles:

The first circle is the pupil:

Fit and well to drive, willing and able to learn.

The second circle is the pupil, the car and passengers:

Taking responsibility for what they do. Being aware of what they are doing.

The third circle is the pupil, the car, the passengers and how they react with other road users:

Knowing there is no right of way. Understanding they only have a priority and must give way to avoid an accident

I’m sure there are many different ways of looking at safety. But at the end of the day my biggest nightmare is one of my pupils having a really serious accident because I didn’t prepare them well enough.

Now what about the confidence bit. We saw earlier that this was skill, judgement and experience. 


At a very basic level are they smooth with the controls. Can they use all of them. In some ways this goes to the first circle of safety.


Are they aware of what’s happening around them. Do they deal with it in a safe way. Relate this to the second and third circles. 


How do you teach experience. And of course you can’t. But what you can do is get your pupil to think about what they have been doing. Encourage your pupils to question themselves. Have answers for when they question you. Have an atmosphere where there are no stupid questions only stupid answers. 


Your pupil when passed will have a licence that will allow them to drive a vehicle of up to 3.5 tonne on any public road in the country. Make sure they are ready to pass.