You’re taking lessons and they’re going well – which is good news, right? But you might be the kind of person (and there are a lot of us) who secretly dreads your instructor saying those two words: “You’re ready”.
It means that it’s time to book the driving test and for many of us, that can unleash a mass of butterflies in our stomaches that, as the test approaches, can turn into a flock of woodpeckers. And that was all before the pandemic hit.
“Thanks a lot, COVID…”
Sadly, nerves about driving tests have only increased in recent months because of COVID – and the impact that multiple lockdowns have had on both waiting times and the tests themselves:
• The waiting list for a test is stretching into weeks, even months. This is creating genuine stress for some of us because the delay is making that first test even more crucial and pressured.
• Such anxiety is exacerbated further because if you do fail, you might worry that you’ll need to pay for even more driving lessons and start the wretched waiting game all over again.
• When the big day does finally arrive, some driving instructors say the need for pupils to clean their car’s interior plus follow social distancing rules is making them even more nervous.
• Finally, if a major fault is made during the test, the driving examiner will ask you to return to the test centre immediately. This is to ensure the examiner is not exposed to any student for more time than is necessary because of fears surrounding COVID.
• Because of vaccines, some instructors now believe that we should go back to the old system; when a major fault is made by the student, the test should continue so the pupil gets the invaluable experience of actually having completed an entire test. This will help prepare for the second test.
Focus on the positive
All in then, the driving test can feel like one big stress bomb. It’s why we’ve put together this list of practical, down-to-earth tips to help take the edge off as you get ready for your driving test.
By learning some simple techniques, you can deal with any interfering nerves – and put yourself in the best possible position to pass your driving test:
“I’m still not sure whether I can pass; have I done enough? Maybe I’m actually no good and my instructor isn’t telling me because they just want shot of me!”
First of all, your driving instructor will not recommend you take the test unless they believe you are ready for it – so take comfort in that fact:
• To help you get into the groove, consider increasing the number of driving lessons and private practise sessions with family and friends in the fortnight leading up to the test.
• Head out at different times to experience as many different road conditions and traffic flows as possible to get you in the best headspace possible.
• By practising something that you are nervous about, you’ll reduce your nerves instead of allowing them to become bottled up inside you.
“Everyone expects me to pass – but I could fail and then look stupid. Actually, I’m bound to fail! It’s too much pressure!”
• Tell as few people as possible that you are taking your test. Best to surprise them by saying that you’ve passed than to have the added pressure of people’s expectations piling on top of your own.
• Only tell those who you want to know so they can offer the right support while respecting your space. Plus a hug from a loved one always works wonders for reducing stress and nerves – and that’s a scientific fact.
Know the Test
“I have no idea what is going to happen on the big day – I mean, what are they expecting me to do?”
The driving test itself and what it involves can be an unknown quantity for many of us; yes, we know the kinds of procedures we will need to carry out but how is the test actually performed from start to finish?:
• If you have any questions, your driving instructor will have all the answers; ask them to take you through the entire process so you know exactly what to expect on the day.
• Ask your instructor to do a mock driving test with you so you become familiar with how it works and the roads you will most likely be taken on by the examiner.
• Remember, it’s the unknown that scares us the most normally – and the best way to deal with nerves is to strip away the mystery.
“If you’re training with a driving school then ask them if you can have a mock driving test with another one of their instructors; it’s a fantastic way to get a fresh pair of eyes on your driving ability and we find it helps boost pass rates overall.”
• Kathy Higgins, instructor and owner of Insight 2 Drive driving school, Liverpool
Eat, Drink & Sleep
“I know! I’ll drink seven mugs of coffee to help steady my nerves plus not eat – because I don’t feel hungry! And I could stay up all night to go over driving procedures!”
To make sure you have the right frame of mind for your test, it’s essential to look after your body properly:
• Avoid large amounts of caffeine the night before and during the day of the test because it can add to any nervous energy.
• Eat at the same times you normally would; your body and mind need food to help keep concentration levels up and to make sure you aren’t so distracted by a grumbling stomach during the test that you instinctively drive to the nearest McDonald’s Drive-Thru.
• While it may sound like an urban myth, many instructors swear by the humble banana as an ideal snack before the test; the multi-talented fruit contains vitamin B that helps calm nerves while offering proteins that boost your body’s serotonin level, helping to make you feel more positive.
• Oh, and get to bed at a decent time the night before; no staying out late… or going out on the lash. Booze doesn’t help and you could risk still being drunk the next day.
The humble banana – a great ally for calming your nerves before the driving test. No, really. Kathy Higgins of Insight 2 Drive also says that ‘people swear by Bach’s Rescue Remedy, a homeopathic solution that helps you relax’.
I tell my students to just do what they know – that they don’t need to impress the examiner. Some of my students also tell themselves on the day that ‘I’m ill and this person is taking over from me for the test’ or that they are simply testing themselves to show themselves what they can do!’
• Alison Nolan, Alison’s Driving School, Kent
Plan, Don’t Predict
“I’m going to mess up one of the manoeuvres or drive up on to the kerb by accident or throw up all over the examiner!”
If we’re nervous about something, we tend to start predicting what will happen which will inevitably lead to thinking the very worse. Instead, during the days leading up to the test, take time out to think (or even say out loud to yourself) what the actual plan is; in other words, breakdown the night before the test and the day itself into a schedule:
NIGHT BEFORE TEST
• Lay out the clothes I am going to wear
• Put the key documents I’ll need on the day in a safe place
• Unwind in a bath before bed
• Practise my breathing exercises [see below]
• Get to bed at a decent time.
DAY OF TEST
• Get up, shower and get dressed
• Have a decent breakfast
• Pick up my documents and recheck they are all there!
• Head to the driving centre, and so forth.
By breaking your schedule down into a plan, you can envisage the whole experience practically and ‘neutrally’ instead of predicting and potentially ‘catastrophising’.
It’s also useful to learn some very simple breathing techniques too (like the ones featured here) to help keep any nerves at bay.
A full night’s sleep helps calm nerves and increase concentration levels the next day.
Believe in Yourself
Remember, everything that you’re going to be asked to do in your test, you have done dozens if not hundreds of times before:
• There are no mysteries or nasty surprises waiting to be sprung on you by an evil examiner clutching a clipboard with ‘Fail’ already printed in big red letters.
• Clear your mind instead – remember those breathing techniques – and let your hard work and expert training help you get the result you want and have earned.
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Hug Images © Achi Raz
Banana Image © Dan Brickley
Sleep Image © Planet ChopStick