The Singapore Basic Theory Driving Test…my archnemesis

I have no one to blame but myself.

I knew that as a foreigner I had 12 months to take and pass the Basic Theory Driving Test to convert my license without also needing to the take the Final Theory Driving Test and the Road Test.  I chose to hold my hands over my ears and sing “lalalala” over and over as the months went by.

Suddenly it’s 2011 and I have until April 19th to legally convert my license.  Ravi only has until March 25/26.  We grumble, and schedule the test.  Then we drag our feet and don’t study.

About 4 days ago (with 10 to go before the test) we quit whining and started study.

And OH MY HELL is there a lot to study….

Problem #1—Reversing everything I know

  • Keep LEFT not right
  • Pass RIGHT not left
  • KM per hour, not MPH
  • METERS from fire hydrants/barriers/bus stops, not feet.

Problem #2—They assume I’m going to drive a manual drive car, and ask extensive questions about the process of driving a manual car

I, like many Americans, learned to drive an automatic car.  I have never, in my life, used a clutch pedal.  I have no idea why one would use a clutch pedal.  I never want to drive a manual car.  This is a TON of information that I hitherto had no use for or understanding of.

Problem #3–The level of minutiae is astounding

  • How many classes of driving license are there (9)
  • The exact consequences for various offences and repeat offences (is it jail and a mandatory fine, either or both)
  • My 300 question book has 158 questions on just the road signs because there are so damn many of them
  • Things like “what is the job of the radiator” (answer, I don’t care until the arrow starts moving toward the red zone on that gauge and then I take it to a mechanic)

Problem #4–You need a passing score of 90 or better

On a 50 question test, you can get no more than 5 questions wrong.


Common wisdom is that the way you pass the BTT test is to memorize practice questions.  Hence the market of 300 and 500 and 800 question books, and the many websites that allow you to take practice tests and simulate the test.  We paid for a membership at one of the websites and have been taking multiple tests each day.  Thus far I’ve never score below a 75 (on a truly disasterous test…usually at least an 80 something percent) and passed twice.

We have no one to blame but ourselves, but damn it’s going to suck if I don’t pass.  I passed my learner’s permit test first try, my friend Keyan taught me to drive (I was over 18 so I didn’t take driver’s ed), and two weeks later I had the world’s lamest driving test and got my license.  I’ve been driving for 14 years.

Some expats just don’t worry about the foreign license and just keep renewing in their home state.  Sadly, Massachusetts is one of those states where, if audited, having an in state driver’s license would ruin our eligibility to receive tax breaks–we don’t pay state taxes (we do pay federal).  It would also potentially screw over his parents, who do not include us on their car insurance policies.  If we register as drivers living at their home address (which is our legal address in the US for credit card and such purposes), they violate Mass insurance laws. So we don’t really have a choice.

Don’t let this happen to you!  Plan to convert you license as early as possible so you’re not a last minute crammer like me (and Ravi).

We’ll know right away whether or not we passed, so keep an eye out next Monday, and send good thoughts in our direction.



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8 Responses to The Singapore Basic Theory Driving Test…my archnemesis

  1. kirsten says:

    I bought that fracking theory book thinking I would get it going. I bought it over a year ago now. Still haven’t touched it.

    • Crystal says:

      It’s dense. There was so much information thrown at me that I literally couldn’t begin to digest it. Taking practice tests and memorizing questions is the easier route.

      It’s all going to depend on the questions I get on the test day. there are somethings I just can’t seem to get right (the exact consequences for every damn offense, the difference between all-day/regular bus stops, and the traffic cop signals are confusing as shown in illustration).

      However, if anyone in your family drives, you’d be surprised how much you already know. When I learned to drive in the US, I barely had to study for the test because I’d picked most of it up by living there for 18 years and being a passenger in my mom’s car for 18 years.

      • kirsten says:

        It made me really regret that I didn’t put more effort into getting my driver’s license while I was in NZ. Their theory test was a breeze and I’ve already passed it. Grrr…

      • Crystal says:

        If it makes you feel any better, you’d still need to pass the BTT to convert a NZ license.

  2. bookjunkie says:

    Don’t like driving in Singapore, but am glad I passed that test. Mostly plain memorizing. If I took it again now I would fail for sure.

    • Crystal says:

      I plan to memorize enough to pass the test and promptly forget it once I do. Those brain cells have far better uses I could be putting them to.

  3. jin says:

    Lol, welcome to the Singaporean education system. :p

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