As night follows day, the release of any new data from the DVSA precipitates a flood of local news articles. “This is the easiest place to pass in Essex!”, “Find out which test centre has the worst pass rates in Scotland!” …and so on. The point is that while it’s easy to tell where candidates are most likely to pass, none of these articles dig into why that’s the case.
Enter PassMeFast. As usual, we’re here to dig into the stats and provide the information you’re looking for. So, if you want to find out why pass rates vary by test centre, read on for our 5 top reasons.
① Urban vs rural
If you’ve kept an eye on pass rate statistics over the years, you’ll have noticed certain trends jumping out. However, if, somehow, you don’t find the prospect of dredging through years of Excel sheets riveting (or even checking out our county pass rates map), don’t worry: we’ve done it for you.
The first rule of driving test pass rates is (in general), the countryside always trumps the city. As evidence, here are the top and bottom 10 test centres in 2018/19.
|HIGHEST AUTOMATIC PASS RATES
||LOWEST AUTOMATIC PASS RATES
It doesn’t take a degree in geography to work out what’s going on here. Very rural areas (mostly in the Scottish Highlands and Islands) make up the entirety of the top ten. Meanwhile, the bottom ten test centres are all urban, in the London, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham areas.
As we covered in our comparison of city and country driving, it’s easy to see why pass rates differ so dramatically. This isn’t to say that rural areas can’t pose any difficulties, of course. Those who venture out into the countryside often slip up on single-track roads and winding, narrow lanes. The difference is that, if you’re practising in an area like this, you’ll soon become familiar with these features, meaning they’ll cause you less of a headache on the test.
The same buildup of driving knowledge and muscle memory happens among city folk, too, of course. The difference here, though, is that much higher levels of traffic add unpredictability into your drive. Imagine how much easier it would be to tackle a major roundabout, for example, if you were the only one on it!
② Road features
The urban/rural divide goes some way to explaining why pass rates vary by test centre. However, it can’t explain everything. Why, for example, do pass rates in different parts of London differ by up to 18%? And why do some rural test centres, such as Bodmin in Cornwall, have pass rates well below average?
The first possible reason for this is quite easy to guess: different road conditions. You see, while the DVSA tries to ensure that the driving test is equal across all test centres, it’s nigh on impossible to keep things exactly the same. In certain areas, finding dual carriageways, bustling urban streets and different types of roundabouts to test learners with is a cinch. Elsewhere, examiners may not have these road features at hand.
This doesn’t mean that learners are necessarily at a disadvantage just due to road features. Take Swindon, for example. Despite being home to one of the UK’s most feared junctions, the ‘Magic Roundabout’ (which can feature on tests!), pass rates here are 5% above the national average.
③ Driving culture
We’ve already touched on some of the differences between learning to drive in the city and the country. What we haven’t yet mentioned, however, is that the divide between these areas is about more than roads. It’s also about a difference in driving culture between urban and rural areas.
To be clear, we’re not talking about places with a particular passion for F1. (The closest test centre to Silverstone, Northampton, had a pretty average pass rate of 48.7%!) What we are referring to is that in certain locations, driving is a necessity—and not being able to do so can seriously impede your ability to get on with daily life.
Think of it this way: in a major city such as London or Manchester, public transport is plentiful. Plus, in the unlikely scenario that you find yourself in a real bind in these cities, services such as Uber can step in to fill the gap. Out in the countryside, meanwhile, you’re on your own.
Fortunately, most people living in rural areas will have grown up with families who can all drive. This means you’ve got someone there to pass on driving knowledge, as well as to practise with outside lessons. Even before you can start driving, you’ll likely have gained some knowledge of the local roads simply by taking regular journeys.
Those living in cities, meanwhile, are unlikely to need to travel by car anywhere near as often. As a result, they’ll have much less ingrained familiarity with the roads where they live.
④ Test centre availability
We’ve spoken a bit about the people taking driving tests, and the test routes they drive along. What we haven’t discussed yet, though, is the test centres themselves.
While you might assume that test centres across the country have the same opening hours (more or less), the truth is more complex. Though most do indeed operate from around 8am to 4pm, there are important differences. Some close earlier; some offer evening sessions; some are occasionally open on weekends; others still may only open for a day or two each week.
You might not expect this to make much of a difference, but it can. Data reveals that late evening pass rates are significantly higher than the national average. This means that anyone managing to get a test at one of the few centres offering this could be at a real advantage. Meanwhile, with figures showing that Friday can be the most dangerous day of the week to drive, a test centre that only opens on this day would put learners in jeopardy.
⑤ A bit of luck!
Here’s a puzzle for you. Mallaig, another small, coastal village in the Scottish Highlands, had a pass rate of 52% back in 2011/12. This year, its pass rate was far higher, at 86%. What explains the dramatic rise?
Stumped? Don’t worry. In this case, there’s no concrete answer. The reality is that, in this location, very few tests are taken. In fact, there were only 22 driving tests here for the entirety of 2018/19! This meant that each individual test had a huge impact on the overall stats. As it happened, 19 of those 22 passed—but if a few of those tests hadn’t gone to plan, the pass rate would have plunged.
This may not seem immediately relevant, but there’s a lesson to take away from this. At the end of the day, pass rates reflect how people who’ve already taken their test have done. What they can’t do is predict how people will do in the future. This isn’t to say there’s no value in them at all, but you shouldn’t take them as a guide of how likely it is that you will pass when test day rolls around.
The important thing to remember in all of this is that, while there are factors you can’t change, your driving journey is in your hands. The best way to combat the pass rates (good or bad!) is to prepare. From choosing the right driving course through to relaxing before your test, there are myriad ways you can give yourself an advantage. So, don’t fret—even if your test is booked in at The Pavilion in Birmingham.