A Driving Instructor's Blog

This article was originally published in February 2014. I’ve updated it several times because it gets a lot of hits.Pro Pod - map history view

I often get visitors to the blog who are looking for test route information. Test routes are no longer published for Nottingham, or anywhere else – they stopped publishing them in 2010!

If you’re an instructor, it isn’t difficult to work out where the examiners go. To begin with, anywhere near the test centre is bound to be on most of the routes. If you know the examiners to look at, you’ll see them from time to time as you conduct your lessons, so you can add that location to your memory bank. You can also ask your pupils where they went after their tests – some of them will be able to give you some details, though many won’t. If they fail their test, find out where the mistakes occurred – the examiner will be more than happy to tell you – and if it crops up more than once, modify your lesson structure and deal with it going forward. If you’re desperate to know the exact routes you can sit in on tests and learn that way. If you know what you’re doing, you can log the routes for reference using a tracking device.Pro Pod - Hybrid map and satellite history view

I currently use a ProPod tracker from Trackershop). It’s a small device the size of a matchbox, which I keep in the car, and I can use my phone, a laptop/PC, or a tablet to both watch where the pupil is when they’re on test (so I know when they’re nearly back), and to log test routes so I know where they’ve been. If I ever had to find a pupil after an abandoned test, I’d know exactly where they were (that’s not happened yet). Click on any of these three images to see a bigger one.

The Trackershop cloud service keeps journey history permanently (as long as you have an active account), and you can download and edit data as necessary. The main console lets you view real time position (the pointer moves as often as every 5 seconds depending on what you set it to), and history data for any range you choose. You can download an Excel file, which contains map coordinates and addresses of locations, and a KML file which can be viewed in Google Earth or any other navigation software which recognises that tracking file format.Pro Pod - KML file in Google Earth

Of course, you can get apps for your phone which will log routes, but that means leaving your phone in the car.

Finally, there’s the good old dashcam, which lets you see routes, and – if it’s a decent dashcam – the supplied software will log and plot GPS data on a map (NextBase dashcams do this if you use their software).

Having said all that, conducting your lessons only on test routes is rather foolish. Apart from the fact that you’re cheating your pupils by not teaching them to drive properly, examiners can change routes or mix and match from several routes any time they need to. Pupils who try to memorise test routes are far more likely to fail because they’re prioritising the wrong things – worrying about forgetting the route instead of thinking about driving properly. Considering that there are dozens of official routes at any large test centre, it would require a considerable feat of memory to store all of them, and then to be able to recall just one as needed. Based on my own experience, many pupils have difficulty recognising a street we’ve been on a hundred times before, so memorising 20 or more complete routes is more or less impossible.

It is important for an ADI to have some knowledge of test routes, though, so that special features can be covered. Every town or test centre has these – the tricky roundabout with the one-way street and No Entry sign, the unusually steep hill that can only be negotiated in second gear (and which may require a hill start if some jackass in a van doesn’t give way coming down it), the STOP junction immediately after an emerge on to a busy road with a bend, and so on. It doesn’t matter how good someone is at dealing with roundabouts, if they come face to face with ones like the Nottingham Knight or Nuthall roundabouts up my way, without prior practice there’s a high probability they’ll get it wrong. Someone’s first practical experience of such a roundabout shouldn’t be on their driving test, and a good instructor will make sure that it isn’t.

I remember when I first became an ADI. Back then, test routes were published as tables in Word format, and I downloaded them all – 18 just for West Bridgford, if I remember correctly. The list of directions were cryptic unless you knew all the roads roads by name and/or number, which I didn’t at that time. I made a single half-hearted attempt to plot a route for a lesson before giving up – there just wasn’t time – and I quickly realised that it was pointless anyway. These days, my pupils get to drive all over – sometimes on test route roads, sometimes not.

Hanging around test areas like a bad smell also gets you a bad reputation. You get in the way of real tests, and you end up struggling with all the other morons trying to do the same (I’ve noticed it’s often the cheapo instructors who do it, and they don’t give a damn about anyone else).

Where can I download test routes?

You can’t. Not unless some ADI has recorded them and is publishing them independently.

Why don’t you provide your test route data?

A point of principle. DVSA stopped publishing them because instructors were trying to teach only the test routes. I know full well that that’s why people want the information, and I’m not going to go against DVSA. My logged routes are for my own use – I don’t stick to test routes on lessons, but I want to know where the routes are so I can deal with any weird stuff.

Should I pay for downloadable test routes?

My advice would be no. DVSA stopped publishing them for a reason, and if some smart aleck is trying to profit from selling them then he or she is behaving in an unprofessional manner. If you buy into that then you’re not much better. There’s a good chance you’re being sold old routes, anyway.

How do I know the routes I’ve bought are correct and up to date?

You don’t – and they’re probably not. They might be totally imaginary, or simply cobbled together to be reasonably close to actual routes in order that the unprofessional person selling them has some justification for the price they charged you. They may even just be the original ones that they stopped publishing in 2010 and which are almost certainly out of date. As I said above, routes change with time.

A desire to obtain detailed test routes for use on lessons seems to be something newly-qualified ADIs attach high importance to. Trust me: don’t waste your money. If you really want them, record them yourself. But don’t waste time building lessons around them.

Is it possible to record test routes?

Yes. There are free and paid for apps available for both Android and iPhone which use GPS to record journeys. Similarly, there are numerous GPS tracker devices available which do the same (I use a Pro Pod tracker). If you use a phone app, you have to leave your phone in the car, which raises various problems if it is paired with your in-car audio system, plus you can’t play Angry Birds at the test centre if you’re not sitting in.

Sometimes, it can be surprising how many times you do the same roundabout in a single day – or even on the same lesson if a pupil is struggling with it and you need to keep trying it.

Raw tracker data from a typical dayWhat is interesting from my logged routes is how they change over time. Sometimes, tests follow precisely the same route as previous ones, but other times new sub-sections of route are added (I suspect this happens when existing routes get clogged with instructors). Knowing where a pupil went on their specific test is useful if they fail and you need to identify exactly what went wrong, and where.

You can also record routes using dashcams. As well as my tracker, I also have a dashcam recording all the time. On more than one occasion I have been able to show a pupil exactly where and why they failed, even though they had no idea what the examiner was talking about in the debrief.

Do I need to know the test routes for my test?

No. The examiner will give you directions as necessary, or ask you to follow the satnav or road signs. However, if there are one or two awkward features – big roundabouts, steep hills, or so on – then your instructor should know about them and make sure you know how to handle them well before your test.

People fail tests because they can’t drive properly far more frequently than they do because they couldn’t recall a memorised route. However, not driving properly becomes much more likely when your brain is scrambling around thinking “now, what is it I have to do here?”

How many test routes are there?

It varies from test centre to test centre, but there could be 10, 20, or more. You couldn’t possibly memorise all of them – and to be honest, even if you drove down your own street on your test the chances are that you might not notice! You will be nervous, and you will be concentrating. The last thing you want is to have to try and remember a detailed list of directions, then to start fretting if you think you might have forgotten something.

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