This is the hard part.
Booking the practical test
You'll need your provisional licence number and your theory test pass certificate number to book the exam. You’ll also be asked for your instructor’s licence number, but this is optional – my understanding is they ask for it to prevent the instructor being booked for two tests at the same time. You’ll want to confirm you test date with your instructor anyway, of course.
It’s very easy to book the practical test. There’s no need to use a booking service and you absolutely shouldn’t pay any service fees for booking it. Unless you want to use a rapid booking service – which the government seems to frown upon – I’d recommend booking it yourself through the official GOV.UK portal. You’ll provide your details, pick a test centre, choose a date, pay the fee - that's it.
There is usually a long backlog, sometimes more than two months, for a test. There are a few rapid booking services, both standalone and offered by driving schools, that promise to book a test much sooner than the official site. I don’t have any experience with these services.
Changing your test date
After booking, you’re able to change the date of your practical test. If you check frequently, you might be able to grab a cancelled appointment that is sooner than your booking. You’re only allowed to change your appointment six times - presumably this is to foil the rapid booking services.
On the day
Usually, you’ll meet your instructor an hour earlier for a warm-up before heading over to the test centre.
At the centre, you’ll check-in and you'll need your provisional photocard – don’t forget it! You’ll meet your examiner who will ask you to sign the DL25A driving test report he / she will be using during the test. Then you’ll head outside...
As you walk outside with the examiner to your car, he / she will point to a car in the car park and ask you to read the number plate. Assuming you read it correctly, onwards. If not, “you’ll fail your driving test and the test won’t continue. DVLA will be told and your licence will be revoked”.
Show me / tell me
At the car, the instructor will ask you a few questions. These can be outside or inside the car, or under the bonnet. For health and safety, you won’t actually have to touch anything under the bonnet.
The test - before you drive off
After show me / tell me, you'll both jump in the car, along with your instructor if you want. Your instructor can ride in the car, but can't help you and you can't use an interpreter anymore either. Before you drive off, the examiner will explain a few things and instruct you to pull away. Remember to put your seatbelt on and make sure to ask the examiner too - this is part of the test! Your driving instructor should be a good sport and do this without prompting.
The test route
Your driving instructor knows all the local test routes and during your lessons you should have covered the area – there shouldn’t be any surprises.
Practical tests start out with lower speed driving in a quiet area. At some point, you’ll be asked to pull over and then move off again “when it’s safe to do so”. There is also the manoeuvre check – reversing into a corner, parallel parking, etc. This is all stuff you should already know and have drilled extensively with your instructor.
At all times during the test, remember the details – checking your mirrors, using turn signals where appropriate, etc. Don’t fail for a stupid reason!
About 10 minutes of the test is “independent driving”. Your examiner will either ask you to follow signs towards a destination or show you a very basic map to follow. Page 4 of the GOV.UK car practical driving test page has more details. In my opinion, this was easy.
Practical test grading
You're graded on the DL25A Driving Test Report form you signed at the start. You download a copy of this form in PDF format – check the notes on the last few pages for helpful information.
During the test, the examiner will mark any faults you make. You can make up to 15 minor faults – like jerky gear changing or incorrect hand position on the wheel – but no serious or dangerous faults. If you’re an especially bad driver, the exam will stop immediately but usually it continues in full – even after the examiner has decided you won’t pass.
If you pass, congratulations – you’re all done until your 70 (or get convicted of drink / dangerous driving and need to take an extended retest – but fingers crossed, right?).
The examiner will give you a pass certificate and he / she can also automatically begin the process of sending you a full driving licence – this is convenient as otherwise you’ll need to send in your pass certificate. See the next section for details.
If you fail, you need to wait 10 days before you try again. In practice, due to the backlog, you’ll be waiting longer anyway so this isn’t an issue. You'll need to pay the full fee again and follow the same booking process as your first test.
How to pass the practical test
To pass the practical test, you need to know how to drive. This is obvious, but true. Until you know what you’re doing, there’s no point to try – you’ll just waste £120. Do the test when you’re confident and your instructor feels you’re ready.
Once you know how to drive, the key to passing is not to do something stupid. It’s all in the details. Make sure you ask the instructor to put his / her seatbelt on. Use turn signals. Check your mirrors – especially when moving off. When manoeuvring the car, make sure it stays / ends up within the lane. Drive smoothly – avoid sudden acceleration or braking (unless necessary, of course).