So, you’ve passed your theory test and had plenty of driving lessons. Only one obstacle to overcome to get your driving license: the practical driving test. Did you know that every day around 6,000 provisional drivers in the UK people every day take the test – and roughly 40% fail?
Of course, there are many reasons why people may fail a driving test but as long as you feel you have properly prepared for the task ahead, there should be no cause for alarm, right? That is unless your nerves get in the way. You know the feeling when your heart starts racing, your hands go all sweaty and you get that feeling of doom in the pit of your stomach as your mind goes blank and you’ve suddenly forgotten everything…
Learning to put yourself in the right frame of mind can play a major part in passing your test. Olivia Blake spoke to Paul Allen, an experienced driving instructor in Shrewsbury, and asked him to pass on some valuable tips to learner drivers who might be feeling nervous about their upcoming driving test.
Practice to become a confident driver
It goes without saying that you should have plenty of lessons and practice to learn the basics of driving a car, so you become confident enough to take the test. This includes essential maneuvers such as bay parking, parallel parking, reversing around the corner and turning on the road.
‘On average, learner drivers need about 40-60 hours to become confident behind the wheel, and this can be a mixture of professional driving lessons and private driving practice,’ says Paul Allen. ‘Of course, every student is different, so it’s important to tailor the driving tuition to individual requirements.’
Trust your driving instructor’s judgment
If you know you’re well prepared for your driving test, but a nagging little voice inside your head is doubting your ability to perform, restore your confidence by deferring to your driving instructor’s superior wisdom. After all, you wouldn’t be taking your test if your instructor didn’t think you had reached the required standard and could pass. Why wouldn’t you trust his professional judgment?
Paul Allen agrees. ‘Any good driving instructor will work to ensure that their students become confident behind the wheel and feel ready to take their practical test. My students have an average first-time pass rate of 94% – and I am very proud of that.’
Minimise the element of surprise on the day
Talk to your driving instructor about the Big Day so you understand exactly what will be happening during the test to allow you to prepare mentally and visualize the situation. You can also watch this official DVSA video about how a driving test works.
Get to know your locality. Drive past your local test center so you know where it is, and make sure you get plenty of practice on the known the test routes you might be taking on the day. Not knowing what you’re up against can be scary, so the more information you have, the better you’re able to prepare and the calmer you will be.
None of us can predict the British weather, so be sure to have practiced your driving in all road conditions, including sunny and rainy, slippery and when it’s dark.
Choose a day that’s good for you
Like any big pressure day – whether it’s for an exam, an interview or another major occasion, you need to make sure you’re mentally ready for it. If you can, choose a date and week where no other stressful things are happening in your life, so you can focus fully on performing well in your driving test.
If there’s any risk of the pressure getting to you – even if it’s from well-wishing friends and family – then just don’t tell them about your driving test until afterward. Getting a few good nights’ sleep in will help you to be mentally alert and less fatigued or stressed on the day. You’ll feel calm, confident and ready to go.
Take your driving instructor along
Trick yourself into thinking the test is just another driving lesson – albeit with a different instructor. Tell yourself that you’ll only be doing the same things you’ve done many times before. As long as you remember everything you’ve been taught, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t pass.
Did you know that you can ask your instructor to sit in on your driving test? Obviously, he won’t be able to take part in the test itself, but having a friendly face in the car could help you feel more relaxed.
Allow plenty of time for your driving test
You should aim to arrive at the test center about 15 minutes before your appointment. Under no circumstances do you want to feel rushed, so leave plenty of time to compose yourself before you’re called for the test.
A long wait may exacerbate your nerves, so have some strategies or distraction techniques to hand to help you keep calm. Simple breathing exercises can be really effective to combat test nerves, or you can listen to relaxing music or read a book or magazine to take your mind off the test while you wait.
Have a small snack beforehand
You may well be too nervous to eat but skipping a meal won’t help you concentrate during your driving test. While a big breakfast or lunch just beforehand may make you feel sluggish, a small meal will help you feel mentally alert.
Interestingly, many people recommend eating a banana before the test, especially if you can’t stomach much. Among driving instructors, bananas are known as driving test superfood! Why? Bananas are packed with Vitamin B which will help calm your nerves. What’s more, they contain the essential amino acid tryptophan that the body converts into serotonin, our ‘happy hormone’. Bananas are also high in potassium which helps to rebalance stress, normalize the heartbeat and supply extra oxygen to the brain. Marvellous stuff.
Finally, resist the temptation to have too many coffees before your test. The caffeine can make you jittery and nervous and irritate your bladder! Better to stick to water or a naturally calming drink instead.