The Competency-Based Training and Assessment Experience
There are two ways of getting ones motorcycle licence. You can go down the NZTA route, which involves very similar testing to the car licence path, or you use the CBTA method. We’ve noticed that there is little content on the Web about what the CBTA licencing tests (Competency-Based Training and Assessment) actually entail.
Plenty of people recommend doing them, not simply because it can dramatically shorten the time one is on the learner or restricted licence stage, but also the instructors are seasoned motorcycle riders. They would rather you be safe on the road than fail you because you stopped indicating 0.2s before you should have.
We jest, but that can be what it feels like going through the NZTA tried-and-true method of getting New Zealand’s green card to drive. The pass rate for going from the Learner licence to Restricted is 57 per cent, as of July 2017 according to the AA. The same source reports going from the Restricted licence to the Full is 66 per cent. That’s a pretty large fail rate and it’s hard to know where to apportion the blame.
The tests have gotten harder, for sure, and from past personal experience the AA/NZTA instructors are only too happy to fail a rider for the most insignificant of reasons. A quick Google search confirms as much. That said, it’s not only the test difficulty or nitpicking of the instructors. In a Stuff interview, former licence testing officer, Zane Kirk, said overconfidence was a major reason why people had to resit their tests.
Auckland drivers, and indeed Kiwis in general, aren’t the best of drivers, if we generalise, so perhaps the increased difficulty in obtaining the full licence is a blessing in disguise.
The data mentioned pertain to getting a driving licence. Comparable pass/fail rates for motorcyclists using the NZTA system are unavailable at the time of writing, but I can offer personal anecdotes on both systems.
I took my Restricted test through NZTA, out at Westgate. It was an early mid-week booking, a before-work exercise. I arrived too early and spent about half an hour leaning against the VTNZ wall waiting for the licence officer to arrive. When she eventually turned up we spent a few minutes sorting out the one-way radio that allow the instructor to communicate with the rider. Then it was on to the bike check, and finally we were on our way.
Unfortunately the radio transmission dropped out almost immediately and the test was mostly spent staring into my wing mirror waiting for the instructor
to indicate so I could do the same. It made it both harder and easier, as I didn’t have to decipher the garbled transmissions within a second or two,
but of course I wasn’t watching the road as much as I would have liked to.
Thankfully the instructor took that into account when tallying the scores and allowed a few missed turns through the net, and it was off with the ‘L’ plate.
A few weeks ago it came up time to book my full test, and it would be CBTA this time. The CBTA system basically allows you to shorten your time on each licence by letting you sit your Restricted test immediately (should you so choose) after getting your Learners, rather than wait six months, and to go for the Full after only a year compared with a time period of 18 months. The kicker is the tests are harder, which makes sense. A few friends who had done the Full test through the CBTA system said that I should really pay attention to what I’m doing as the tests are significantly more difficult. I don’t know anyone who used the NZTA system, so I assumed they were comparing it with the difficulty of the Class 1 Full test. Needless to say, it was a little bit foreboding.
I booked in with ProRider, who also treated me to a Bronze RideForever course, which I will be writing about soon. My instructor was to be John Redman, possibly one of the most pleasant instructors and riders I’ve ever met. Previous testing officers gave off a very official, bureaucratic vibe which didn’t help the “66-percent pass rate” floating around in my head. John and I met at the McDonalds out in Westgate, which immediately made everything feel a little bit more chilled out; no silent, clinical waiting room here. A handshake also makes a world of difference to the confidence and nerves of an applicant.
After the pleasantries and initial paperwork were sorted, it was bike check time. All good on that front, time to load up the one-way radio. Cue Vietnam-style flashbacks.
The CBTA-F test involves mostly rural and open road riding, with very little in the way of urban stuff. Being out in Westgate, the various roads around Kumeu were to be our stomping ground. Getting on our way and the instructions coming through my right ear were crystal clear, in stark contrast to my previous experience. Of course I can’t fault the VTNZ for that, but still. We also aligned our speeds at the start of the test - a good thing as my speedo reads about 5km/h high. John made it clear before leaving that everything except the route would be up to me. That includes speed and when to pull into an intersection, among others. Making that distinction - that I would have an element of control in the test - both helped my nerves and showed that John is more concerned with safety than anything else. And given we were using State Highway 16, there were plenty of opportunities to demonstrate patience that’s a necessity when overtaking.
There was only one slight hiccup in the whole 40-odd minute test, and that was a moment where John told me to take a hard left in an intersection shaped like a star. It took a hand signal from me and a confirmation from him through the radio, and that was it.
While there were no real moments, I wouldn’t say the test was easy. You definitely need some experience under your belt, with a good bunch of that gained on the open road. The byways in and around State Highway 16 aren’t very forgiving, being tight, winding and the surfaces often in poor condition. If you’re not confident in your ability to hold a line through a corner while bouncing across shallow potholes, it’s best to back off a little and maybe wait before booking your test. It definitely didn’t help that my bike was running on only three of its four cylinders on occasion, so I was fighting a sick machine throughout my test but I mentioned it to John who could tell I was struggling at times, and took that into account.
After returning to the Macca’s meeting point, John pointed out a few parts of my riding I needed to improve upon. Thankfully I passed, but I also realise my riding is a work in progress.
I can’t recommend John and the ProRider team highly enough for doing your licence stages. They are nothing but supportive for riders of all levels, and above all they want the best for you. If you do fail they will offer huge amounts of advice and assistance to get you across the line next time.
As for the CBTA system, I’d recommend going down that route. If you think that you’re good enough, the CBTA system will get you to your full licence much faster, and impart good skills along the way.