Taking the Theory Test in Lockdown

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Since its introduction back in 1996, the theory test has been through plenty of changes. This year, meanwhile, saw the coronavirus pandemic bring about some fairly seismic shifts to pretty much all aspects of daily life. So, how much did it affect the theory test?

Fortunately, having taken a theory test both before and after the pandemic, I’m able to shed some light on this with first-hand info. I’ll detail my experience taking the theory test under the current rules, and contrast it with the situation before COVID.

Before I begin, I will clarify that this is my personal experience. Nonetheless, it’s likely that test centres across the country will follow much the same procedure.

Theory tests before and after COVID-19

Universal Square, Manchester
Take one: Universal Square, Manchester, where I took my first theory test. Photo © Gerald England (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Full disclosure: when it comes to the theory test, this wasn’t my first rodeo. In fact, I first took my theory test back in February 2018. Though I passed first time, I had less luck with the practical test. After two failed attempts in May and June 2018, I made the mistake of putting off more driving lessons until it was too late.

February 2020 rolled around and my theory test pass certificate expired. Within a few weeks, of course, the world changed dramatically, with the UK plunged into lockdown—and driving very much off the table.

As someone who’s definitely been bitten by the travel bug, months spent in the confines of my apartment left me wanting to explore. So, when restrictions started to ease, I jumped at the chance to get out and about to the countryside close to my home in Salford.

In the past, I was fairly happy to rely on public transport to get me from A to B. However, with reduced services, extra precautions to take, and the prospect of spending hours in close proximity to countless others, I grew weary of bus and train travel quite quickly.

I decided it was about time to get back on that horse and restart my driving journey. The first step, of course, was to take the theory test—but how would it go?

Theory test during COVID-19: how it worked

Sovereign Point, Salford Quays
Take two: Sovereign Point, Salford Quays. Photo © David Dixon (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Before the test

Before taking the test, there was a potential hurdle: booking it. With the reopening of the practical test booking system devolving into chaos, you may expect there to have been difficulties making an appointment here. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case. Booking a theory test was seamless, with nary a queue in sight.

After a couple of weeks’ wait (and plenty of revision!), test morning rolled around. Licence in hand (well, in pocket) and face mask on, I headed down to the Salford test centre.

The first step was signing in—after waiting in line 2 metres behind another candidate. To sign in, I showed my provisional by putting it up against a perspex screen for the examiner to view. I confirmed my name, address and the type of test I was there to take, and briefly lowered my mask so that the staff member could see my face.

The administrator then handed me a sheet with the rules for the test to read while I waited. She also gave me a locker key (with a wooden spoon attached) to store my belongings, and asked me to show her that my mobile was switched off and that I had nothing in my pockets.

After taking a few minutes to store my items and read through the rules, I was then called over to the front desk again, and this time was asked to pass my licence through a UV light. This was then returned to me, and I sat back down for another short wait.

I was then called over by another staff member seated just outside the exam room, and asked once again to lower my mask to show my face and to confirm my details. I was then directed to a workstation in the examination room itself, and told that the computer should feature my name (which, thankfully, it did).

During the test

Once seated, there were very few differences to note between the pre-COVID theory test and the way the test runs at the moment. The test was much the same as the one I took pre-COVID, with the exception of the CGI hazard perception clips brought in in late 2018. On the physical side of things, there had already been barriers between each desk to prevent any potential cheating, so there was no change here.

There were two minor things to note, however. The first was that, naturally, I had to wear my face mask throughout the test. The second was that, before COVID, there was a specific piece of laminated paper on the desk that candidates would need to put their licence and locker key on. To make cleaning easier, I instead had to put my licence and key on the desk itself.

After the test

Once done, I had to make my way out of the examination room quietly and collect my belongings. Finally, all that was left to do was to walk up to the front desk and put my licence against the perspex. The result had already been printed out automatically once I finished my test.

And how did it go? Well, I’m pleased to say that I passed! Now there’s just the small matter of getting a practical test and ensuring I pass within my two years…

What was different—and what stayed the same?

Pass Plus course student

Many of the key differences between the pre- and post-COVID theory tests are those you’d expect. Many of the chairs in the waiting room, for example, are now blocked off to ensure that candidates keep a one-metre distance from one another. Similarly, the placement of a hand sanitiser station at the front entrance and need to wear a face covering are both standard precautions, and are in place in virtually all indoor spaces to help limit the spread of the virus.

The surprising thing, perhaps, is how similar the test is. The format of the test itself is the same—in fact, planned changes were scrapped as a result of COVID-19. Meanwhile, the process within the test centre is almost identical, save for some small modifications designed to reduce touch points and increase the distance between candidates.

All of this is to say that there’s little reason to panic if you’re due to take the theory test under the current restrictions. So long as you’re confident in your theory test knowledge, the safety measures put in place aren’t especially intrusive, and shouldn’t lead to much of a difference in your test day experience. (If you are worried about whether your knowledge is up to snuff, then don’t worry. Our full guide to some of the top theory test revision resources has you covered!)

By Andy Boardman

Andy has been part of the PassMeFast Blog team from the very beginning. He'll provide you with plenty of useful motoring advice, helping you to get the most out of every trip. When he's not writing here, you're most likely to find Andy on the way to his next destination.


  1. Reply


    Thank you for this blog as I will be nervous enough worrying about the test and would of probably forgot my mask x

    1. Reply

      Andy Boardman

      Hi Tracy,

      Glad to help! Wishing you all the best of luck with your theory test!


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