Harder theory test leads to falling pass rate

A learner plate Image copyright PA
Image caption The theory test pass rate has dropped from 70% to 50%

Changes to the driving theory test have led to pass rates falling by almost a third, according to new figures.

Six years ago, seven out of 10 theory tests were passed. This year, just five tests out of 10 have been successful.

Changes to the test have included: asking more questions, stopping the publication of real-life questions, and the withdrawal of interpreters.

The DVSA, which sets the test, said they kept it "under constant review".

The theory test was introduced in 1996, and replaced questions about the Highway Code during the practical test.

In the first half of 2008, seven out of 10 tests were passed, with the pass rate peaking at 70.6% in August 2008.

But a number of changes have made the test harder:

  • September 2007: the number of multiple choice questions was increased from 35 to 50
  • September 2009: a "case study" was introduced, with five questions relating to a specific scenario
  • January 2012: new theory test questions stopped being published online or in practice papers
  • January 2013: the question bank was refreshed, meaning few real-life questions remained in publication
  • April 2014: interpreters and foreign-language voiceovers were banned

The changes have led to a gradual fall in the pass rate, which reached a low of 49.1% in March this year.

The most recent figures, published on Thursday, show the pass rate was 50.7% in April to June this year - 1.5% down on the same period in 2013.

A paper from the Department for Transport said: "This fall in pass rate is a continuation of a reduced pass rate following the changes to questions in January 2013.

"It may also be associated with the withdrawal of voiceovers and translators and foreign language tests from April 2014."

The pass rate for the practical test has increased slightly since 2007-08, from 44.2 to 47.1%.

Males are around 6% more likely to pass the practical test than females.

Females are around 6% more likely to pass the theory test than males.

Driving theory test pass rates, 2007-14
Year Tests Passes Rate
2007-08 1,451,348 949,431 65.4%
2008-09 1,290,638 844,036 65.4%
2009-10 1,347,486 859,813 63.8%
2010-11 1,346,165 849,007 63.1%
2011-12 1,371,494 833,930 60.8%
2012-13 1,244,041 735,368 59.1%
2013-14 1,541,896 795,245 51.6%

The recent fall in the pass rate has coincided with an increase in the number of theory tests taken.

Between April and June this year, the number of tests was 7.7% higher than in the same period in 2013, and almost 20% higher than in the same period in 2012.

The DfT paper said the increase in tests was "in part due to an increased number of retakes".

Theory tests cost £31, but the price is dropping to £25 next month, and to £23 in October 2015.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Practical tests must be taken within two years of passing the theory test

A spokesman for the Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency said: "The theory test requires candidates to demonstrate they have a good knowledge of the rules of the road and the theory behind safe driving.

"We keep the test under constant review to ensure it remains as effective as possible.

"In January 2012 we stopped publishing the theory test questions to make sure that candidates understand the theory behind safe driving, rather than simply learning answers by rote."

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