Is The Theory Test Hard To Pass?

Two stacks of books, one taller than the other, each with a car on top, floating in clouds

Before you can take the driving test and get your hands on a full driving licence, you first have to pass the theory test. Designed to test your knowledge of the road, Highway Code and much more, the theory test packs quite the punch. Of course, this clashes with the popular opinion amongst learners that the test simply requires common sense. You might be wondering then, is the theory test hard?

In order to answer this question, we’re going to have a look at pass rates from the last decade, discuss how the theory test format has changed and take a peek at some of the questions you can expect. Let’s go!

How hard is the theory test?

The theory test was created by the DVSA to test a learner driver’s understanding of the rules of the road, the Highway Code and road safety in general. It currently consists of a multiple-choice section and a hazard perception test. (You can find out more about the format of the test in the next section.) Now, given how subjective the difficulty of tests can be from person to person, we decided that the only way we could determine whether the theory test is hard or not was to look at pass rates.

With that in mind, we looked towards the DVSA’s latest statistics for answers. We sifted through the statistics available and compiled pass rates from the last decade in order to get a better understanding of how hard the theory test is to pass (and how this might have changed with time). You can get a better look at this in the graph below…

As you can see, pass rates have been in steady decline since 2008/09—with pass rates starting at 65.4% in 2007/08 and ending up all the way down at 47.1% by 2019/20! It’s certainly enough to suggest that the theory test is getting harder. So, why exactly is this the case?

Ultimately, it all boils down to two main factors: how much the theory test format has changed over the years and how learners choose to prepare for the theory test. Let’s explore this further…

Changes to the theory test format


The theory test has been around since 1996, so it’s not entirely surprising to find that its format has had to change over the years. The entire point of the theory test is to ensure that learners are up-to-date with the latest rules of the road—which means that it will inevitably have to be updated. In an attempt to keep the test relevant, the DVSA have had to introduce new elements over the years…

  • 1996: the theory test was first introduced. It consisted of 35 multiple-choice questions. Learners had to score 30 out of 35 to pass. (The test switched to a computer format in 2000.)
  • 2002: the DVSA introduced the hazard perception section. It consisted of video clips which included at least one developing hazard.
  • 2007: the multiple-choice section was increased from 35 questions to 50. Consequently, learners had to score 43 out of 50 to pass (in addition to scoring 44 out of 75 to pass the hazard perception section).
  • 2009: the DVSA introduced case studies at the end of the multiple-choice section to see how learners could apply their knowledge to real-life scenarios. Further case studies were added in 2011.
  • 2013: the DVSA refreshed their question bank in order to stop questions from the actual test showing up in practice papers.

As you can see, the theory test has come a long way since 1996. (And it will surely continue to do so in the future!) As the years have passed, the DVSA have come to expect more and more from learners when it comes to their theoretical knowledge. It’s not enough for learners to guess their way through questions. They need to fully understand this knowledge in order to apply it in real-life scenarios and become safe drivers on the road.

Have these changes made the theory test harder to pass?

It could certainly be said that the changes to the theory test format over the years have made it harder to pass. In fact, MoneySuperMarket compiled a study recently which involved 2,800 drivers being asked sample questions from the theory test. Only 11% of them were able to answer every question correctly! Bear in mind that these participants were all fully qualified drivers—people you’d assume would need this knowledge in their day-to-day lives.

Of course, it could be argued that certain aspects of the theory test are a bit too niche for the everyday driver, which could explain why drivers struggle so much. The AA, for example, argued that some of the questions are “quite obscure”, e.g., knowing what to do if a road user suffers a burn during a car accident.

As with any other test you might take in your lifetime, however, the challenge the theory test poses can be overcome with preparation. This brings us to our next point…

Learners underestimating the theory test

female learner driver

Let’s face it, whether you’re a learner or qualified driver, you’ll have undoubtedly been told by friends and family that the theory test is a walk in the park. Unfortunately, this is just one of the many theory test myths perpetuated by the learner driver community. It is not common sense. You can’t expect to pass it without doing any revision.

When it comes to revising for the theory test, start with the Highway Code, which provides vital road information and rules. We advise buying resources like the official DVSA handbook or the AA theory test book. They both contain official DVSA questions with answers. Revise them thoroughly—they could show up on your test.

Don’t believe us? Let’s take a look at the sample of questions used by MoneySuperMarket:

1. You wish to tow a trailer. Where would you find the maximum nose weight allowed on your vehicle’s tow hitch?

a) The vehicle handbook
b) In the Highway Code
c) Your vehicle registration certification
d) In your licence documents

2. When are anti-lock brakes (ABS) most effective?

a) When you keep pumping the foot brake to prevent skidding
b) When you brake normally but grip the steering wheel tightly
c) When you brake firmly and promptly until you’ve stopped
d) When you apply the handbrake to reduce the stopping distance

3. What does the law require you to keep in good condition?

a) Gears
b) Transmission
c) Door locks
d) Seat belts

4. You’re driving on the road in dry weather. What should the distance be between you and the vehicle in front?

a) A two-second time gap
b) One car length
c) Two metres
d) Two car lengths

5. What colour are the reflective studs between a motorway and its slip road?

a) Amber
b) White
c) Green
d) Red

Check your answers here...
  1. a
  2. c
  3. d
  4. a
  5. c

Though you might be able to answer a few questions correctly just by pure chance, you can’t get away with passing the theory test simply by blagging your way through it. It requires you to carefully read through the Highway Code, familiarise yourself with road signs and get to grips with various other need-to-know topics.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t agree with how specific some of the questions can be, or if you feel like you’ll never need to apply any of the knowledge in your day-to-day driving. If you want to drive, you need to buckle down and put in the work. Not sure if you’re ready for the theory test? Look for these 5 signs.

Is the theory test hard? Yes—but it’s not impossible!

Cartoon globe on books surrounded by traffic signs

We’d be lying if we told you that the theory test is a piece of cake. It isn’t—the decline in pass rates reflects this. It will require you to memorise a great deal of theoretical knowledge and put in a lot of hard work to pass. That being said, hypothetically, it should mean that all learners will be prepared for any challenge that might come their way on the road.

By making the theory test hard to pass, and having expiry dates on theory test pass certificates, the DVSA has ensured that all learner drivers have the skills and knowledge necessary to get behind the wheel of a car. Of course, the it won’t be half as challenging if you actually prepare for it. So, avoid cutting corners and start revising!

To help you out, we’ve compiled our top revision resources just for you!

By Bethany Hall

Whether you’re a learner or a pro driver, Bethany is here to help. From defensive driving to the Highway Code, she’ll tell you everything you need know about driving. If she’s not on the road, you’ll probably find Bethany with her head in a book or binge-watching the latest TV show.


  1. Reply

    Roland Kesel

    Hello ‘I had always problem with learning something i really loved to even in school I need help to pass ? and I’m also disabled i cant hear well

    1. Reply

      Bethany Hall

      Hi Roland,

      We’ve got plenty of resources on our blog to help you ace your theory test! Head on over to our ultimate theory test revision resources guide to find revision materials, apps and mock tests. You might also find it useful to read up on our guide to passing the theory test. If you’re in need of additional help, you should also have a look at the support that the DVSA offers for the theory test.

      Hope this helps!


  2. Reply

    William Mc Donagh

    Doing the theory test in 4wks have I enough time to pass, how many hrs should I put in.

    1. Reply

      Bethany Hall

      Hi William,

      Four weeks should give you plenty of time to properly revise for the theory test! As we discuss in ‘How Many Hours of Revision To Spend On Theory Test‘, we recommend learners spend at least 10 hours revising for the theory test. Your best bet is to spend at least half an hour to an hour revising each day.

      To give yourself the best chance of success, I’d recommend checking out our top revision resources:

      Good luck with your theory test!

      Hope this helps!


  3. Reply

    Miya Marshall

    Hiya Bethany is the theory test hard to pass because I am doing the practise tests online everyday but very hard because I am not very good at written work but I am better I am at doing the practical side of it could you give me some advise to how to pass please.

    1. Reply

      Bethany Hall

      Hi Miya!

      You’re certainly not the only learner to struggle with the theory test! Fortunately, we’ve got plenty of handy resources to help you ace it. For starters, you should create a revision schedule to make sure that you’re revising consistently. Next, you should make your way through our ultimate theory test revision resources guide – it has a range of quizzes, mock tests and mobile apps. You might also want to have a peek at my step by step look at how I passed the theory test first time (it might help give you an idea of how to structure your revision).

      Hope this helps!


  4. Reply


    Hi All,

    Interesting to see the decline in pass rates since 2007. Just do plenty of study. I am doing 2+ hours a day the 10 days leading up to the test as I want to pass this. There will be many out there that dont have a new career in coach driving as they didn’t pass. Exams never my strong point but the new system is what it is. Just study. Believe in yourself too. There is a lot to learn but I get the impression the industry has sharpened its pencils the last few years probably aimed at driver knowledge/improvement, passenger safety. Not just show up, drive a bus. They want trained drivers that have passed assessments / tests etc. I am determined to pass this.

    Good luck.

    1. Reply

      Sam Plant

      Hi Dave,

      That’s the spirit — I’m sure you’ll smash it!

      Good luck!


  5. Reply

    Susan Tunmore

    My daughter has failed her theory test 3 times now on the hazard perception part, but passing the theory part. She has studied the hazards using her phone, then on laptop and passing no problem but in test environment on the day, she’s using a computer with mouse and she isnt used to the mouse. She is clicking on the hazards but system not accepting them all. Any tips will be appreciated as she’s so frustrated and wants to give up! She’s passed her A Levels no problem but can’t do hazard perception test. Thanks in Advance

    1. Reply

      Sam Plant

      Hi Susan,

      That is frustrating, but she shouldn’t get too disheartened because the Hazard Perception section can be a pain! If she’s passing it during mock tests but not at the test centre, the only thing I can think of is asking the centre if she can use a different computer in case the mouse is faulty. Otherwise, I’m not too sure what to suggest (other than plenty of practice, of course).



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