New DVSA Data Reveals Rising Pass Rates—But Fewer Tests

If there’s one thing we can’t get enough of here at PassMeFast, it’s stats. That’s why, when the DVSA dropped a new set of figures just last week, we dived straight in. As a driving school, we homed in on the data relating to driving and theory test pass rates—and found some interesting tidbits. We thought we’d share what we’ve gleaned, so you can see what driving tests really look like right now.

① More people are sitting the theory test…

Penzance theory test centre entrance

The first major hurdle on any driver’s journey (aside from getting behind the wheel!) is taking the theory test. And while, with many hours of lessons still to come, it may not feel like a huge deal at the time, it most definitely is. After all, at this point, you’ve passed half of the tests you need to get your licence!

As a result, taking the theory test is a sign that you’re properly committing to learning to drive. That’s why it’s so heartening to see that, in the new data, the number of candidates taking their theory test was at its highest in three years.

tests taken between April and June 2019
12.2% 41,054
more than the same period in 2018

Though it’s early days, these figures suggest that candidates across Great Britain may take as many as 1.95 million theory tests in 2019/20. If that came to pass, that would put this year right up with 2016/17—which currently holds the record. If you’re one of the many still preparing, don’t forget to check out our ultimate theory test revision resources guide!

…but fewer are taking the practical

Airdrie practical test centre entrance

While the number of candidates taking the theory test is approaching record levels, the same can’t be said of the practical. Numbers have gone up and down in recent years, with a post-financial crisis slump followed by a spike in the middle of the decade.

Now, however, it seems that things are on the downswing once more, with last year and the year before both seeing declining test numbers. The latest figures from the DVSA, showing data from April to June 2019, seem to confirm this.

tests taken between April and June 2019
7.7% 32,778
fewer than the same period in 2018

This is the fifth consecutive quarter to see a fall in the number of driving tests taken, and the biggest drop in 18 months. Nonetheless, the sharp rise in theory test numbers gives some hope that, in the months to come, driving test centres could be busier once more.

Little movement in theory test pass rates

When the theory test first came into being, it had a reputation of being considerably easier than the practical. Even today, you’ll find no shortage of people willing to tell you that the theory test is a doddle, and that you can pass with just a bit of common sense. If only they knew.

In reality, despite the myths, the theory test has become much harder over the years, with the introduction of CGI clips for hazard perception and case study-style questions in the multiple choice section. It’s for this reason that theory test pass rates fell below 50% for the first time in 2015/16. They haven’t yet recovered—and, in fact, the trend is down rather than up. Here’s the first snapshot of the 2019/20 pass rates.

Theory test pass rates since 2010, declining from 63.1% to 47.2%

This isn’t to say that you need to fear the theory test—hundreds of thousands of learners do pass every year! It does mean, though, that you won’t be able to rely on a bit of luck. Read our guide on preparing for success in the theory test for some tips to help you beat the odds.

Practical test rates are on the up

driving examiner marking a practical test sheet

While the theory test may be gaining newfound notoriety, learners have long been aware of the practical test’s difficulty. In fact, while many rumours imply that the theory test is easy, practical test myths tend to scare hopeful drivers into thinking it’s impossible to pass.

Of course, as our weekly pass photos go to show, it most certainly is possible to get through the practical unscathed. However, stories of pass rates in recent years have given learners cause for concern, with 2018/19’s figure of just 45.8% representing a sharp drop. So, how are things shaping up for the start of a new year?

Fortunately, we’ve got some great news—pass rates are back on the up. Between April and June, 46.4% of tests resulted in a pass. On the face of it, these numbers may not seem impressive, but they represent the best pass rates in 2 years, hopefully signifying the end of the recent downward trend. More importantly, they also represent over 180,000 new drivers! If you’re amongst the lucky licence holders to have recently ripped up your L plates, be sure to check out our article on what to do after passing your driving test.

The gender gap is still here—in both tests

It might be hard to imagine now, but there was once a time when men made up the vast majority of drivers. Nowadays, their advantage is far more slight—around 53% of UK licence-holders are male today, with 47% female.

Nonetheless, men and women still have different journeys when it comes to driving. We’re leaving aside the debate over which gender is better at driving overall for another day, and focusing just on test results here. For years, women have done better at the theory test, while men have been more likely to succeed at the practical. Did things change in April–June?

Theory test Practical test
Male 45.5% 50.2%
Female 49.1% 43.1%
Difference Women do 3.6% better Men do 7.1% better

Well… not really. In 2018/19, men held a 7.2% lead in practical test pass rates. That’s now shrunk by a tiny 0.1%. Meanwhile, women’s lead in the theory test has expanded by the same margin—from 3.5% to 3.6%.

In recent years, women’s advantage in the theory test has actually eroded. Back in 2012/13, for example, women outperformed men by a much larger 6.1%. There’s been little change in the practical test gap for some time, though, with the difference between male and female pass rates hovering around 7% for at least a decade.

That’s all we have for this roundup—but don’t fret! There’s still plenty more useful data to come in the weeks ahead. Stay tuned to the PassMeFast Blog for regular updates on the world of driving, advice for all motorists, and inspiring pass stories each week.

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.

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