10 Things to do on the
Day of your Driving Test
1. Think positively. As soon as you get up in the morning, tell yourself that you are going to get through the day calmly.
2. Make sure you eat a good breakfast. Even though you may be nervous and have lost your appetite eating breakfast is very important. Research has shown that your brain needs food to concentrate, so give yourself some food for thought!
3. Dress comfortably Make yourself feel good.
4. Arrive in plenty of time You should be present in the test centre at least ten minutes before the appointed time of your test. If you are late the test will be cancelled, and the fee will be forfeited.
5. Just before the test Relax by taking a few slow deep breaths. Clench and then relax your muscles to relieve tension.
6. Remember that some nervousness is normal and that it can improve your performance.
7. Listen carefully to the examiner's instructions Act on them in good time, and ask for them to be repeated if necessary.
8. Give the examiner a beautifully smooooth drive, one that both of you can enjoy.
The examiner just wants to see what you would normally do - nothing that you do not already know.
9. If you make a decision that you think could be misjudged by the examiner, explain your reasons while you drive.
10. If you come across a new situation Hold back and assess it carefully before you decide to proceed - and be prepared to change your decision if necessary.
OVERCOMING DRIVING TEST NERVES
Extract from The Girls’ Guide to Losing Your L Plates – how to pass your driving test by Maria McCarthy published by Simon and Schuster
Some people feel completely calm at the prospect of taking their practical driving test and are confident they’ll breeze through effortlessly. If that’s you, then please feel free to skip this section, safe in the knowledge that the rest of us are teeth-grittingly envious of you.
If, on the other hand the prospect makes you feel rather anxious, that’s perfectly understandable. Exams are nerve-wracking at the best of times, and driving tests can feel particularly harrowing. After all, with written exams if you get something wrong you can always go back and cross it out, whereas if you reverse into a bollard on your practical test then your fate is sealed. Knowing that someone is watching and judging your every move can feel pretty bizarre as well. It would be enough to make most people feel bumblingly self-conscious if they were just doing an everyday activity like folding laundry or eating beans on toast, let alone demonstrating a complex skill like driving.
Most learners get their knickers in a twist about their test to some extent.
‘I was very worried about letting my driving instructor down – he was so keen on getting pupils through first time I was terrified that if I failed he’d feel I’d brought shame on him and all his ancestors and we’d both have to commit hara-kiri together or something.’ Eva, 33
‘I was so nervous on my first test I accidentally put my front door key in the car ignition. It jammed and I couldn’t get it out again so the test had to be cancelled.’ Jane, 23
‘I took my test a total of five times before I passed. Two tests I actually took. The three in the middle I got myself in such a state that I refused to leave the test centre building and get into the car. Eventually I got the same examiner twice and he said, ‘Look, at least promise me we’ll get out of the car park this time.’ Amazingly, I passed!’ Lucy, 24
All these women went on to pass their test and are now capable and confident drivers – so it just goes to show that it can be done! Remember nerves don’t mean failure. Most people are nervous. If the only people who passed tests took them in a state of zen-like calm, there would be very few people on the roads!
A degree of nervous tension is actually a good thing – it releases adrenaline, helps you be extra-alert and on top of your game. But on the other hand, if you get too stressed out that can lead you to make silly mistakes. Basically it’s a balancing act, but there are plenty of techniques available to help you get it right.
Here’s a pick-and-mix selection of strategies you can use in the run-up to your test – ranging from scientifically proven mental and physical calming techniques to spells, crystals and wearing your lucky pants! Choose the ones that appeal to you.
But firstly, here is the most effective anxiety-reducing advice of all
The absolute, number one, top tip for being less nervous in the run-up to any exam is to get to be as good as you possibly can be at the skill you’re going to be tested on.
Do everything you can to get to the highest standard possible before going in to take your test – extra lessons, lots of practice and time spent reading the road as a passenger will all help you raise your game and feel more confident about your test.
Visualisation – visualisation is where you repeatedly imagine a positive situation and by doing so help it happen. Your subconscious comes to see this outcome as normal and achievable rather than out of your reach and helps get any emotional blocks out of the way.
One of the good things about visualisation is that in many ways it’s a fancy name for what used to be called ‘daydreaming’ – which means you can do it anywhere – in supermarket queues, on trains and during boring meetings. Here are a few different approaches.
Seeing yourself as a driver
Sometimes people fail their tests because they don’t feel they’re ready to be ‘a real driver’ yet. So they self-sabotage by making an out-of-character mistake on test and failing. If you feel this could be you, it’s time to start thinking as though you’re already a qualified driver.
• Cut out pictures from magazines of various cars you like the look of and of confident women driving – then get a photo of yourself and put it at the centre of this driving-heaven collage.
• If your test is in a couple of weeks time talk confidently about trips you’re planning on making shortly afterwards – ‘I’m going to drive over to see Sarah’s new flat at the end of the month.’
• Visualise yourself driving – see an image of yourself in your mind’s eye bowling along country lanes or parking confidently near your favourite shops. And you’re by yourself – no instructor, no mum, dad or boyfriend. You don’t need anyone to supervise because you’ve got your own licence now!
Performing well on your test
Imagine yourself during your driving test – not as a sweaty bag of nerves, but as someone cool, calm and collected. See yourself making good judgements at junctions and roundabouts. Imagine yourself carrying out manoeuvres perfectly. Really tune into the emotions and let yourself savour that sense of satisfaction bordering on smugness that comes from being effortlessly good at something. Finally, let yourself imagine your driving examiner turn to you at the end of your test and tell you that you’ve passed!
If you’ve got a problem with thinking of yourself as dithery or clumsy, role play being someone else in your imagination. Would Madonna, Lara Croft, Lady Penelope from Thunderbirds, or Daisy Duke or Kate Adie be reduced to quivering wrecks by the prospect of their driving tests? No, they wouldn’t! By temporarily taking on the characteristics of your favourite feisty role model, you can overcome your self-imposed limitations and become more confident in every aspect of your everyday life, not just when it comes to driving.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy – if you’ve got a tendency towards negative thinking and prophecies of doom (known in CBT as ‘catastrophising’) then using CBT techniques can be really helpful. One approach involves looking at your fears around your test, bringing them down to a more realistic level and replacing them with a more positive viewpoint (called ‘reframing’). For example
I’ve absolutely got to pass this time – I don’t have enough money to carry on with more lessons.
‘Not passing would be a real drag and I’ll have to save up again – but I’d still be able to practice in the meantime. And anyway, this is a pointless thing to worry about as my driving is up to standard and I’ll probably sail through.’
I’ve absolutely got to be able to drive before I have my baby.
It’ll be inconvenient if I don’t pass this time – but I can have another go shortly afterwards and get through then. It’s not the end of the world.’
The idea is that you write down whatever your worst fears about failing are and then ‘reframe’ them in a more down-to-earth way. ‘The point of this strategy,’ says psychologist Gladeana McMahon, ‘is not to make light of your very real concerns about work, money or whatever. Its aim is that by bringing your worries down to a more manageable level and not seeing failure as the end of the world, you’ll lessen your anxiety and be more likely to succeed.’
Hypnotherapy – Hypnosis is a term derived from the Greek word for sleep and is a technique that can be used to get in touch with your subconscious. Certain suggestions can be made when you’re in this receptive state – such as it would be a good idea to stop smoking, or that you can pass your driving test. Booking a personal appointment with a hypnotherapist can be helpful, especially if you feel you’ve got emotional blocks around driving or have had repeated failures. However, it will cost in the region of £25-45 and you might need more than one appointment. Also, if you’re expecting a dramatic Derren Brown style experience you may be disappointed – most hypnotherapists only place their clients in a light trance which feels similar to being very relaxed. There are also driving test hypnotherapy CDs available, which take you through a general relaxation session and then a visualisation of passing your test. See the reference section for details.
‘I went to a hypnotherapist and found it worthwhile – though when she was doing that ‘counting back from one to ten’ thing, I did find it hard not to giggle. Before the actual hypnosis we did a lot of talking about how I felt about driving. My mother never drove and saw it as ‘the man’s responsibility’ and I think I picked up from her that being capable around mechanical things was ‘unfeminine’. To be honest, I think the counselling was as useful, if not more so than the actual hypnosis. It felt great to be able to talk things over with someone who helped me have a fresh take on the situation – especially since, after three failures I’d exhausted the patience of my family and friends. And I did pass the very next time!’ Rachel, 40
Breathing exercises - These are great for reducing tension and overcoming panicy feelings.
Many people feel the best way to practice breathing exercises is sitting cross-legged in a candlelit, room that’s been thoroughly feng-shui-ed. If you’re in a position to do that, fantastic. But if not then just having a private space where you can sit or lie down for ten minutes, and maybe closing your eyes if you wish is good enough to be going on with.
It can also be helpful to get into the habit of just taking a few minutes when you’re in the park or waiting in a queue to just tune out other distractions and focus on calming down. Under these circumstances it’s fine to keep your eyes open. Like pelvic floor exercises, one of the plus points of breathing exercises is that no-one else need know you’re doing them.
Here are a few different approaches for you to try – use whatever feels best to you.
• Observing your breath
Relax your shoulders, let go of your tensions
Let your breath out
Breathe in, slowly and gently
Breathe out, slowly and gently
Take just a little longer to breathe out than you did to breathe in
Focus on letting yourself feel calm and heavy as you breathe out
Pause and stay empty for a moment
Breathe in once more
Gradually the rhythm of your breath will slow down
Let yourself calmly observe the cycle of your breathing
• I feel calm
Take in a gentle breath
As you breathe out imagine the words, ‘I feel calm’
Then imagine each word separately as you breathe out
Breathe in gently….. Breathe out…I
Breathe in gently…… Breathe out…. Feel
Breathe in gently…… Breathe out…. Calm
Repeat this sequence getting slower each time. Gradually you will discover that you are leaving longer and longer periods between each word and that it becomes very calming to stay empty for rests before breathing in again.
The major complaint when people start breathing exercises is that it’s difficult to stay focused on their breath when other thoughts about work, home or the row they had with their boyfriend keeps intruding. This is perfectly normal! Hermits sit in caves on mountainsides for years trying to tune out all distractions through meditation and still end up thinking about what they’ll have for breakfast, so you’re not alone. The best strategy is to just let the thoughts come and go, without getting too attached to them - just gently draw your attention back to your breath exercise.
Breathing exercises have been scientifically proven to reduce blood pressure and reduce heart rates. But like going to the gym, you don’t necessarily get results immediately. It’s good to practice these techniques in advance so you can see their positive effects and by the time your test arrives you’ll be able to use them in the waiting room in the test centre and feel confident that they’ll work.
Acupressure techniques - Acupressure is like acupuncture, but without the needles. It’s based on a form of Chinese medicine which maintains that energy in the body flows along meridians and that putting pressure on certain points along them can assist in staying healthy and stress-free.
Two of the points associated with stress are located on the bottom of your middle fingernails, on the side nearest the thumb. Massaging these points with a thumb or fingertip for a few seconds each may help you feel calmer. Give it a go, it’s worth a try!
Herbal remedies, Bach rescue remedy, Aromatherapy
By this point you may be thinking, ‘this visualisation, breathing and acupressure is all very well – but actually I’d much rather just go to the doctor and get ‘something for my nerves’. Don’t, though. For a start, the days when GPs used to hand out tranquilliser prescriptions to all comers are long gone so you’d probably end up hanging round their waiting room reading three years back copies of My Weekly for nothing. Secondly, life is full of stressful situations and best to get into the habit if coping with them via methods other than medication. And thirdly, many tranquillisers can affect your reflexes, and would be likely to bring down your performance on your test anyway.
Here are some better options.
Herbal tablets – Tablets such as Kalms can be helpful in soothing your nerves without having the negative side-effects of prescription drugs. They need to be taken for a week before your test and can be purchased from all good chemists.
Bach flower remedies – You may have already been using Bach Flower Remedies to help you with anxieties about your lessons. But even if you haven’t you still might like to take Rescue Remedy in the run-up to your test. This is a combination of five of the flower essences devised to help in stressful situations and is available from most health food shops.
‘I knocked back Rescue Remedy on the day of my test and found it really calmed me down. I don’t think I’d have passed without it.’ Abigail, 27
Aromatherapy - Aromatherapy involves using essential oils from various plants and can be used to treat a wide range of health problems, including stress. Three of the best for anxiety are Geranium, Lavender and Basil. Adding between five and ten drops of the oil to a bath once it has been run or putting a few drops on a handkerchief and inhaling them can be very soothing.
Spiritual and new age techniques. And good luck charms.
Crystals – Some people believe crystals can have healing and magical qualities and that they work like lenses, focusing electromagnetic energy to help balance body and mind. You can buy them relatively cheaply at New Age shops.
Bloodstone - is the one to go for if your driving problem is hesitancy, it’ll make you more assertive.
Rose Quartz – if your problem is being too hard on yourself.
Amethyst – if you’ve a tendency towards road rage, this will calm you down.
Tiger’s Eye – linked to integrating brain hemispheres – so good for those pesky reversing manoeuvres.
Keep your crystal near by you so you can absorb its energies – perhaps on your desk or bedside table. Some crystals, such as amethyst are often made into jewellery, so maybe you could choose one that’s set in a ring or necklace. Smaller ones can be carried round in your pocket - that way it can even get to help you during your driving lessons and test.
Good luck charms - Such as a four leaf clover symbol, or a pebble that’s had a hole worn all the way through it. Not a rabbit’s foot though, that’s just nasty.
Wearing your lucky pants – That always works!
The Big Day
By the evening before your test your instructor will have taught you all he can and believe you’re ready to pass. You are ready to pass. All you need to do is believe in yourself and by this time tomorrow you’ll be the proud owner of your very own driving licence! All the time, money and stress will have been worth it.
Things to do the night before
It’s important to lay out the documents you’ll need in advance – your test can’t be conducted without the correct paperwork and apparently a surprising amount of people turn up without it.
Then get your outfit sorted – especially if you’re prone to ‘oh god, everything is in the wash and I’ve got nothing to wear’ wardrobe crises. Racing around fretting about laddered tights or a broken zip on your skirt won’t be the best way to start the day. Casual clothes are best and layers can be a good idea. Nerves can have you alternating between feeling cold with terror and hot and flustered, so it’s a good idea to be able to respond to whatever your emotional thermostat is doing. When it comes to shoes, the ones you’ve worn for most of your lessons are the best bet. Don’t forget your glasses/contact lenses - or sunglasses if the weather might be bright. It’s best to have your hair tied back so the examiner has a clear view of your eye movements, so if you’ve got long hair or a fringe find a suitable ribbon, hairclip or, (if you must) scrunchie.
You might also want to find a book or magazine to read in the waiting room in case you want something to distract you. Then get your Bach Rescue Remedy/aromatherapy oils/good luck charm of choice to hand as well and you’re completely prepared for the challenges of the following day!
Now it’s time to relax – or at least distract yourself from any build up of nerves.
Taking some exercise would be a great idea – maybe swimming, a dance class or the gym. It’ll release upbeat endorphin hormones and remind you how powerful and capable you really are. If you go out with friends make it an early night and avoid alcohol. You don’t want to wake up groggy, and if you have a morning test it could still be in your bloodstream and affect your performance the next day. It’s probably best to avoid your test as a topic of conversation too. You don’t want to risk either having to sit through your mates’ driving test horror stories or being on the receiving end of so much pink and fluffy love and encouragement that you become extra-paranoid about letting them down by failing
If you spend the evening at home, a good way of distracting yourself is to have a decluttering session. Sort out your wardrobe, make-up bag, work or college files. It’s a very absorbing pastime and will leave you with a real sense of achievement
Or you could curl up and watch a movie. Ideally an inspirational one with a positive role model of a woman learning a skill and triumphing against the odds.
• Bend it Like Beckham
• Erin Brockovich
• Working Girl
• My Fair Lady
• Private Benjamin
• Little Voice
• Strictly Ballroom
Listening to soothing music in a hot bath, drinking hot milk or camomile tea and having an early night would be a good way to round the evening off. If you have trouble sleeping, don’t worry. Although prolonged sleep deprivation can have a negative affect on performance, one broken night won’t do you any harm. Do some of your visualisations and drift off imagining yourself enjoying the freedom and confidence of driving anywhere you like on your own.
We are sure you can do it.
After all, about 35 million people hold a licence in the UK.
So should you!