Passing a driving theory test in Spain – True stories

You can’t beat a good true story! Many thanks to our client Colin Pope for taking time out to write a detailed account of his experience when passing his theory test in Spain,

Over to you Colin:

”So you thought you’d do the test ! Not sure about you but we got fed up with the uncertainty of not having a decision on the exchange of driving licences with Spain. We started the process of exchange pre Brexit but as our TIE applications had not completed and we did not have numbers we were unable to complete the process. Next step, wait for the two governments to sort something out. No chance ! January came – nothing, then June, surely something will happen in December but still no decision. We started to get jumpy – did we want to live in Spain if we could not drive – probably not. 

Finally the deadline was extended to end of April 22 and we are losing faith in those forecasting a definite exchange. My wife Gill and I discussed it at length. At 69 did we really want to take driving tests ? Do we have any choice ? Where would we be if they won’t exchange, with a recent villa purchase and being totally reliant on  taxis or buses. It would be doable but not what we had planned for our retirement. We could sell and move to France, they are exchanging. That seemed a bit extreme, after all we’d decided to retire to Spain, not France . OK let’s do the test, we’ve both been driving for over fifty years, in the UK and extensively in Europe and the rest of the world. Surely it can’t be that difficult. I ‘ve driven motorcycles and 7.5 tonne vans, so we’ve got a lot of experience. We’ve heard that there are potentially large numbers of ex pats that would need to do the test in the event of no exchange. Someone said 6000 in the Malaga area alone, so that would create severe delays. Best get on with it and tick yet another box ! 

First stage : we both need a medical.  Firstly the Internet search for a medical centre that 

a) will do it, 
b) has a degree of English, as so far our Spanish is not up to much without Google translate, 
c) it is near enough to make appointments in person (we are still struggling with arranging things over the phone) 
d) post Covid , they have appointments. 

Bear in mind that the certificate has a valid life of three months , so we could not arrange it too far ahead of confirming the theory test date (not starting your theory lessons). 

Our first surprise, the medical was quite thorough. Eyesight test, medical history, blood pressure history, any medications or allergies. Weight, height then the two co ordination tests. Click when the light will exit the covered area and follow the tracking with both paddles – both good fun !  

Second stage : find a driving school. By far the most important step to gaining your licence. Again I started with the Internet search but got quite frustrated as several seemed to have closed down post covid. Those that were in a position to reply were initially judged on the fluency of the written reply and their feel for the experienced driver going through the process – which in reality meant any reference to the fact that the process might vary from that given to an eighteen year old Spanish student. 

The school we settled on ( after a visit and discussion) made it clear that they realised the training would be slightly different in emphasis but also made it clear that we were taking the normal Spanish driving test and it would be no different for us just because we’d been driving for 52 years. 

We discussed various lesson packages and each settled initially on the theory lessons ( 45  minutes in class, four times per week ), the on line practice lessons ( access for one month ) the theory examination and four practical driving lessons ( we can drive so just to get familiar with the test route and the test car – right ? ) and finally the practical test. 

We both signed on the dotted line and confirmed details of the first theory class and driving lesson . 

Third stage : theory lessons. At the first theory lesson we were two of 12 pupils with an age span of 18 to my 69. Most people were 40 plus and there was a good mix of nationalities – long term young local Spanish/ Brits preferring to do the theory in English rather than Spanish, ‘older’ expats reluctantly accepting that taking the test was the sensible thing to do, a Russian and two Americans. Most had been at it for some weeks, one had failed the theory 4 times, several had failed twice. I’m very pleased that neither of us made the  introductory statement ‘I’ve been driving for sometime, I just need to brush up on a few things ‘ 

Our class room lessons were casual but taken seriously, and a lot was white board explanations and test practice. We very quickly realised that there was a lot to take in, as there was a number of differences between the UK law and highway code and that of Spain. The standard driving licence in Spain is a Class B and it entitles the holder to drive a car and after a period of time a small van/ truck and a medium motorcycle. As a consequence, the theory examination tests your knowledge of rules and operations for both motorcycles and trucks in addition to cars. Plus of course mopeds etc. My wife has never been on a motorcycle and never will go on one but for this B licence she needed to know about loads, signage and hand controls for both motorcycles and trucks.  

The first thing that strikes you when you start doing the test practice is the language – it is English but not as you know it! It’s more like Google Translate from twenty years ago. It took us a week to start interpreting what the meaning actually was. ‘ As it is’ equalled yes. The warning sign with a cow on it was translated as ‘pets’. This was amusing, frustrating but you just had to accept it and get on. We spent many hours doing the online practice tests (we think about 100 hours each). There are 115 tests, each with 30 questions and a choice of three answers for each question. You can do the test ‘live’ where it will tell you if your answer choice is correct, or you can do it as a full test (as the exam) where they do not confirm answers but just say pass or fail. I did my practice in live tests and took a screenshot of the questions that I got wrong, so I could go through them again.  Some students admitted that they rushed the entry to the theory exam. They failed the exam with four or five wrong answers. They later confirmed that they had only completed a third of the test ‘papers’ before taking the exam. 

We found that questions in the last half of the 113 trial tests (55 to 113 ) were often different to those in the first half, so not surprisingly there would have been unencountered questions in the real exam. Even having completed all the trial questions we both had three or four completely new questions in the exam. Our instructor said on many occasions “if you put in the work you will pass, perhaps not first time but relatively quickly. If you do not put in the work, you will throw your money away”. The exam entry fee covers two attempts at the theory test. After that you pay again. His other main piece of advice was to “read the question – several times, eliminate the answer that is obviously wrong and concentrate on the other two. Be aware that sometimes the  associated picture can be misleading!” My advice is to remember that these questions are translations, and the practice helps you to understand how the translations work. I do not think it is about catching you out but it is about interpreting the questions. 

Fourth stage: the examination. Before your test do a little research about the exam area. Where can you park, get a cup of coffee, is there a loo available. You will need a pen to sign the form (colour ?), mask (?) , TIE for identification. Where do you meet – in the building, in front of the building? We were told that the exam was in the police station and actually we met on the pavement outside. We were checked that we had masks, were handed our registration paper (one person called at a time) and had to walk to a separate building and queue whilst each person was checked for identity, the personal details on your answer sheet (mine were incorrect) and allocated a chair (with a swing writing platform) . It was a very formal procedure but bear in mind it is designed to handle 50 to 60 eighteen year olds in one go. When everyone was seated, there was a five minute instruction in Spanish which ended in the words – ingles, frances, aleman. At the relevant point you raised your hand for an English paper etc. The adjudicator gave out question papers which you could not touch until the exam time was started. You have thirty minutes for 30 questions. There is enough time, but you need to be aware. A percentage of my group left after ten minutes, about two thirds finished by twenty minutes, and I was there virtually to the end with two others. Perhaps at my age I am slow but then with the study and practice that Gill and I put in, utilising the exam time available to us, we both passed first time, with room to spare and we only paid one set of fees.

Colin Pope 15.05.2022

The information in this article was current on the date published.
Article last reviewed/updated 05.08.2022

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