A Driving Instructor's Blog

Originally published in 2012, previously updated in 2014. New update for 2017.


Melted chocolateI will never understand why driving instructors get themselves so wound up about mock tests. I mean, I know why they do, but I’ll never understand. The only test which matters is the actual driving test, and the outcome of any arbitrary pre-test conducted by the instructor (or one of his mates) is completely irrelevant as an indicator of how that real test will turn out. The best learner driver can make a silly mistake on the day of their test and fail, whereas the most nervous learner can put in a faultless performance against all the apparent odds. Mock driving tests are about as useful as a chocolate teapot when it comes to predicting how test-ready someone is!

I’ve mentioned before that some ADIs go to town with their little mock tests. They buy clipboards, hi-vis jackets, and wear a suit just so they can sit there pretending to be examiners. When I originally wrote this, some were already trying to use iPads (the DVSA had been carrying out trials with these at the time) to enhance their ‘mockability’ profile. Unfortunately, the problem with using tablets and computers is that when someone goes to test, for 40 minutes or so they’re not a learner but a candidate, and the examiner is not an instructor, and is not in charge of the vehicle in the same way an ADI is when he is teaching. For that reason, pissing about with gadgets during mock test performances (or at any other time) is right up there with using your mobile phone.

Comments often made on various forums suggest that some instructors spend the last few weeks before someone’s driving test just doing mock after mock after mock, gleefully reporting the “result” back to their “candidates”. At the time of the original article, some were even going public on forums when their pupil failed their real test, complaining that they had passed all their mocks and should have passed the test. It goes without saying that it was the examiners who were at fault in these instructors’ eyes.

The answer is quite simple. There is no way a mock test could ever be considered as “real”. The instructor isn’t a real examiner, even if he thinks he’s dressed like one, is armed with a colour copy of the DL25, and sits there all stern and serious (the last two Christmases, all of ours at one test centre have come out to tests in matching Reindeer sweaters). Even if he gets one of his mates to carry out the mock test, his mate is also not an examiner. The pupil knows this full well, and no matter how they score, they will more than likely still be shitting themselves on the day of their proper test. In fact, there’s every chance that the mock shenanigans will have made them even more nervous by gearing them up for an unpleasant experience, especially if they kept “failing”.Test Centre Sign

Mock tests seem to be of much more value to the instructor than to the pupil. ADIs start drooling over them even before they’ve got their green badges, and many seem to look forward to qualifying just so they can do the damned things. The chance to dress up and pretend to be important overrides all else.

A decent instructor will be highlighting what is and isn’t acceptable from very early in pupils’ training. If something is going well, there’s no need to say anything other than “well done”, etc. When problems arise, the change in approach is a “mock test” situation in itself. Instructors certainly should not be waiting until they start performing their “official mock tests” before relating driving skills to performance in the real test – by that stage they will be becoming habitual and will be much harder to rectify in the inevitably short time that remains,

I don’t routinely carry out mock tests for all the reasons I’ve given above. If a pupil or their parent asks me about them I explain how pointless I think they are, but that I’ll do one if they really want me to.

As an aside, some time ago I had a pupil whose father and sister used to invite themselves on to lessons. He had apparently had a lot of lessons already, and they were forever going on about the him taking his test (which they kept booking against my direct advice), and repeatedly demanded mock tests. The truth was that the young lad was special needs and was extremely slow picking things up. He’d only had a handful of lessons from me. He genuinely believed that if something in the mirror was moving further away from the car, it was actually getting nearer to it in reality,  and this prevented him from being able to carry out any reversing manoeuvre. I could not let him drive unaided without continuously having to intervene to prevent serious issues arising. On one occasion, he sailed into a busy junction where five roads intersect, then – right in the middle, after a red light on the periphery of his vision caught his attention – slammed on the brakes and attempted to come to a stop. In order to make a point, I gave in and attempted to “mock test” him – I think I had my hands on the steering wheel more than he did. Even after this, his father still wanted him to “have a go” at the test. I refused point blank and didn’t hear from them again.

I make it clear to all my pupils that I cannot possibly simulate a real test because I’m not an examiner. I absolutely cannot reproduce the circumstances that lead to the nerves they will experience on the day of the real test because those circumstances are an inherent part of the day of the real test. And I emphasise that if they can drive on lessons without me getting involved, they don’t need a mock test.

It’s not uncommon for me to stop a pupil from emerging at a junction as they attempt to pull out in front of oncoming traffic. It’s part of the job. Every so often, though, one of them will subsequently ask “but apart from that, was it all right?” They are incapable of understanding that purely because of “that”, the entire manoeuvre or procedure was non-existent, and the danger they had put themselves in was of infinitely greater importance than whether they were steering properly (even their MSM on approach is completely sunk if the final assessment resulting from it was so poor). The same mentality carries over to the subject of mock tests, and they use them to try and itemise things which they shouldn’t do on the real test. The worst ones for it are those who can’t afford lessons, or who want to pass quickly, and they end up with an ever-expanding list of things they shouldn’t do. Getting them to understand that if they could drive properly they wouldn’t have to be worrying about remembering what not to do is nigh on impossible (similar to how there are people who think that hiring impersonators and trying to bribe examiners are cheaper solutions compared with learning properly).

On the rare occasions I do mock tests, they’re usually the decider in an ongoing discussion about whether to move the test date, where the pupil is reluctant. I don’t think I have ever done one which lasts the same length of time as the real test – the necessary data is obtained much more quickly.

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