Theory test

It was much simpler in my day. You sat your driving test, and at the end, while you were still shaky from the emergency stop and the three-point turn, the examiner asked you a few random questions from the Highway Code.

Now there's a separate theory test, which has to be passed before you can take the practical test. It's a whole industry. The test is divided into a multiple choice section, and a hazard perception section. To prepare you need three books as 'source material', and you can buy a DVD with practice hazard perception tests.
And the test itself costs £35. If you want to see how you'd get on with the hazard perception, there's - what else? - a youtube clip.

My favourite multiple choice question from the practice material is the one that asks what you should do if a shepherd asks you to stop for his flock of sheep. Good to know that driving in Scotland still takes account of country life.

The tests are computer-based, and administered at various centres across the country. My daughter sat her test last week, at the bracing hour of 8.30 a.m., and since it was on my way to work I chummed her as far as the test centre. Rather charmingly for such a high tech enterprise, it's located in a cobbled back street that looks as if a horse-drawn cab might appear at any minute. However the 'to let' sign suggests that it won't be there for much longer.

A section of original pavement has survived towards the top of the hill.

Towards the bottom of the hill there's a section of the original central gutter - much cleaner than it would have been a few hundred years ago.

And the test? She passed - so now it's 'just' the practical part to go. You can start to drive at the age of 17 in the UK, with most people learning on manual vehicles since automatics are still the exception here.


  1. Hi linda,
    That was a lovely post, well done to daughter! I agree, what a rigmarole now getting a licence, here in Australia it's age 16 and off they go! Scary. I am in love with the architecture and streets of your city so this post makes me happy! It must be lovely to walk on those cobbles, to look up at spires and peaks and castle outlines, to see hedges that have been there for a long time, to hear the accent that has survived, to see the seasons change....
    Have a good week,

  2. Congratulations on your daughter passing the Theory Test. It's similar here. You have to pass a written test in order to obtain a learners permit. The age to begin driving here is 16 years old. I remember our first exchange student, a girl from Germany, who had the opportunity to learn to drive during her school year in America. She was happy to have the opportunity, as it would save her money when she returned to Germany and obtained her drivers license there at the age of 18.

  3. Hi Linda,
    Your pictures of the original road and central gutter were very interesting to me. I mentioned to my hubby your mention of manual transmissions being standard in the UK and I asked him (with F1 racing on the tele..we cheer for Mclaren) why are auto transmission so common in the US? He quickly replied, 'because American's are lazy'. Ha! Well, it's true, but this Yank is proud her trusty wagon is a manual! Congrats to your kiddo!

  4. Congrats to M.! In Canada you pass a written test, but there is a two-stage practical test. After the theory test, you have to wait a year to do your first practical. That gives you a "New Driver" license which restricts your driving hours and number of passengers, and has much much stiffer penatlies for driving infractions than a regular license. After two more years you can do the second practical test and become fully licensed.

  5. Glad to hear she passed round one!
    Am curious, though were the options re the sheep? I hope no one thought that honking at the sheep was an appropriate response!

    word verfication is 'asses'. yes!

  6. We have both theory and practical exams here in Canada too. I failed both the first time due to nerves, believe it or not, but passed both with above average grades the second time around! I have been driving for 10 years now and have never had an accident!

    We still have just as many manual as automatic cars here in Canada. I prefer automatic as I tried quite hard to learn manual but never got the hang of feeling first gear. I did just fine once I was out of it, but had horror of having to stop at stop signs and stop lights as I almost always got stuck there after, especially when I was alone in the car with no one to coach me!

  7. Congrats to your daughter. I enjoyed seeing the pics of the origianl road and gutter system.

  8. Love those shots of the cobbles and the gutter. I think most cars here in Canada are automatic but I love my standard transmission and I think it is much better in the snow!

  9. Congratulations to your daughter! One of the things that ensures I'll never move back to the U.K. is the complexity of the driving tests - I don't need to go through that. Those are wonderful cobblestone streets, real character there.

  10. Linda, well done to your daughter for passing her test. i found your picture of the gutter interesting. strange to think that they would have thought of that in the old days. seems like a sensible idea though, especially going down hill like that.

  11. I so enjoyed reading this and following you to the "theory test centre". Wonderful photos - I feel like I walked up the street myself.
    Fees & training & testing & fees & more training & testing...congrats to your daughter, another accomplishment. My husband and son both like to drive a manual (even in LA traffic), and I can get by in a pinch.

  12. Linda, how do you manage to make gutters and tests so interesting?! Congratulations to your daughter. And - is the answer, "stop until the sheep have passed"? Or "Engage in friendly conversation about the weather with the shepherd until the sheep have passed"? Or...?

  13. These photos, of the cobble streets and back ways, are a fine look into the past. Most of the cobble streets in the US are long since gone and we have to go to a museum and see a photo to experience this.

    Congrats to your daughter, now the road test. I must admit I failed my first drivers test in 1969. I was terribly nervous and drove with the officer administering the test at about 15 mph. He thought I lacked confidence and failed me. The next time I drove like a bat out of hell and passed with flying colors. Who would've figured!

  14. Wonderful shots from the Scotland.

  15. Congratulations to your daughter for passing the first part of the requirements for a license! It is quite interesting to read about how these passages of life are handled in other places. In my day, we were taught "driver's training" in high school beginning at the age of 15 and one-half; then at 16 we could take the written test and the driving test and get our license. The age requirement is still the same here, 45 years later, and the written and driving tests, but the students are no longer given training as part of their classes in school.

  16. The day I turned 16 I went to the DMV, took the tests and was driving by that afternoon!!! That was a few years ago though...and the process has changed!!! Not as easy anymore, here in California!!!

    Congrats to your daughter!!!

  17. And really interesting for me to hear how the tests are done and at what age in other countries. It's also fun to hear of other test experiences. Driving is actually quite a big deal - I've never quite got over my surprise at passing my test.
    Here there is no 'New Driver' licence as in Canada, tho some people do use green 'P' plates to point out that they are a probationer and please to treat them kindly! If you collect 6 penalty points within 2 years of getting your licence then you lose it and have to sit your test again. And to accompany a learner driver as the sole passenger you must be over 21 and have held a licence for 3 years.

    Ah, the shepherd question. I realise that I was guilty of gender-specific language. Of course there are female shepherds. The options given in the multiple choice answers are:
    * ignore them as they have no authority;
    *stop and switch off your engine;
    *continue on but drive slowly;
    * try and get past quickly.

    Even better are a couple of the options for overtaking a horse and rider:

    * sound your horn as a warning;
    * flash your headlights as a warning.

    Glad the cobbles appealed. There are cobbled streets in all sorts of places all over Edinburgh. We live at the end of a section of old cobbled road - it's a lovely sign that we're nearly home when the car is bumping over the cobbles.

  18. What a charming looking street and hill. Congratulations to your daughter on passing her theory test! Now, it is time to hold on tightly, Mom!


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