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On Fire's Guide to Dealing with Practical Driving Test Anxiety

How you deal with nervousness as you come to take your practical driving test is entirely dependent on your character. On you. 90% of folk come out of their first test, pass or fail, going 'Why did I let myself get in such a state?!'

You have all the necessary skills to become a safe, responsible and adaptive driver out there in the rough and tumble. Your On Fire instructor would not have told you so, if he/she did not believe it. Your instructor can do no more now. Now you have to believe it.

We've got a whole load of ideas here, and probably at least one will hit the spot for you, or give you an idea which'll help:

In Advance of the Day

Using the Power of Positive

Our minds are always attracted to the negative - it's an extension of our survival instinct: 'Predict possible danger, work out how to deal.' However, your practical driving test isn't a survival issue; you will not be put up against the wall and shot if you fail. So use that rich imagination to visualize producing a good drive well in advance of your test.  

Use the drives you've been doing with your instructor, where you walked away from the car with a feeling of deep satisfaction - yeah, the odd silly mistake, but a good, solid sense of 'I can drive. Well.'

And stop there with your visualization; discipline yourself, and put aside your goals and deadlines: 'If I pass, my family will be so proud/I can get that job/freedom from X/the car will be MOT'd and on the road in a day,' etc. You haven't passed yet. Get real and stop piling on the pressure. Just drive. Drive like it's a normal driving lesson. You drive well on a normal driving lesson, don't you? Do that.

Blank Negativity, Big Up the Positive

Use any nervousness as a springboard, a positive; you'll have someone other than your On Fire instructor/Dad/Mum/mate, in the passenger seat, who won't know your skills - take this as an opportunity to show them your best, using that extra wee bit of adrenaline to keep you sharp.

It may help to say to yourself that you're auditioning a new driving instructor, and you've asked for silence, apart from directions, so you can concentrate on demonstrating what level you've achieved to date.

Blank people who tell you, 'Oh, you won't pass on a Wednesday/end of the Month due to pass quotas/if you stall/get the blonde woman with the glasses', blah diddy blah, they're just covering their own fail with myths - the truth is, they didn't drive well enough. They did not drive to an acceptable standard. You know you can drive to acceptable standard, if not better. End.

Your Examiner is Human ... and a Driver!

Nearly all examiners were instructors before they took up the examiner role, and they drive the same roads you do! If you were in their place, would you not be very careful before letting anyone loose on the roads you're gonna be driving? Yes, they can generally detect when you ease off the gas due to an iffy situation, or twitch the steering to avoid some bampot coming in wide. But they're not your instructor, they don't know you; simply explain why you've taken a particular action as you go along - they'll appreciate it, and it'll show them that you're in control of the situation.

If it helps, bear in mind that examiners are regularly assessed to ensure tests are fair across the board. You may occasionally be told that a Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency assessor will sit in the back to observe your examiner's performance! This only happens now and then, but it may be a useful image, making your examiner more human, and less of a Judge, Jury and Executioner. You'll both be on your best behaviour!

Remember - You Are Sovereign

It's so, so easy to go 'Oh, my nerves are going to spoil everything!' Only if you let 'em - nerves are a product of your mind throwing a variety of outcomes at you; 'what if I clip the kerb', 'what if , what if, what if ...' As mentioned before, your mind's job is to collate information, and predict outcomes; unfortunately, it always looks at the negatives first as a survival function. Brilliant for driving a car on a practical level. But your driving test is not a survival issue - if you fail, you won't die. The examiner would take action in a dangerous sit., as he/she likes living too, yeah?

You are the king, or queen, of your head. Take control, and put your thoughts in their place; if you pay attention to all those negatives, you give them power over you, and it will create a negative outcome. You'll basically get into a negative feedback loop: you worry that your nerves will overwhelm you, that you won't be able to control them, creating more worry, and more anxiety. 

Remind yourself that your unconscious mind can now control a car, and your conscious mind can be used to anticipate what's happening outwith the car. You are sovereign - you can allow your conscious mind to pay attention to all those negative 'What ifs', but Your Majesty'd be far better served paying attention to a warm bath, a nice cup of hot chocolate, a good night's sleep ... and the road when you're on test, yeah?

Here’s a prime example of an excellent driver, who’d taken too much notice of other peoples’ opinions, got into a negative ‘loop’ and consequently failed on things she was really good at:  Claire with LDC - Driving Test Day

The Opt Out Strategy

For this, you simply tell yourself that your driving test will cost twice what it actually does, that you need to take two to pass, and they'll be roughly six weeks apart; essentially the first one is a practice for the real one. Works for some.

A Negative Strategy

This could also work, depending on your character: convincing yourself that you don't care about the result of your test. Going too far with this, of course, could make you drive like a nit. Or a maniac. The prob with negative strategies is they aren't true, are they? Actually you do care, at least somewhat, about the result. So approach that one with care.

Physical Side Effects and Drug Intervention

Anxiety can throw up a whole rag-bag of side effects - you know yours, so make efforts to ensure you're as comfortable as possible; e.g. if you suffer from sweaty palms, practice with driving gloves prior to test (fingerless leather gloves are particularly good); if you hyperventilate, practice steady breathing prior to test in more stressful situations - on busy roundabouts and dual carriageway sliproads; if you overheat generally, set the car controls to cool and wear light clothing, and so on.

If you're confident about your abilities, but are certain your physical reaction to the driving test will undermine you, most G.P.s will be comfortable about prescribing a day's worth of beta blockers to cover you. These supress the physical effects of anxiety - sweating, fast breathing and heart rate. Use one in a mock test to ensure there are no side effects (tell your instructor, but!)

Herbal and, uh, Alternative Alternatives

If you don't like prescription drugs, the herb Valerian can be beneficial, likewise extract of plain old Hops. A branded version, called Kalms, is available from most chemists and health shops. Start to use as directed a week in advance to help with sleep, and on the day as a top up. Herbal preparations, by their very nature, are gentle and gradual, so you will have to use psych strategies as mentioned above alongside.

Try Popping Bubblewrap - Meditation

Not the hippy-dippy sort of meditation, with incense and bells that go 'ting', but true meditation, or silent sitting. Get comfortable, in a quiet place, and let your mind become a blank canvas made of bubblewrap for all those 'What ifs?' to paint themselves. Imagine each of those thoughts that pop up as bubbles on the bubblewrap - consider how true they are, and if they are not true (which they won't be, cos they are imagined), you can then pop 'em, and enjoy the satisfaction of popping 'em ( you know you want to ;-) ) Let that satisfaction stay with you. As each bubble is popped, there is silence straight after. It's the same silent satisfaction you have when driving a car - you know your unconscious can control the car, and your mind does it's job, watching out for the unexpected, and making sure you're accurate doin' manouveurs. Worrying about future outcomes that do not exist, i.e. the possibility of you cocking it up and failing, is wasting time and energy. Now go to sleep.

Into the Realm of the Daft

Folk may offer you other 'helpers', which are frankly not worth the bother; most are either too unpredictable, or relax you to the point that your judgement is impaired. You shouldn't be even considering driving a car with such things, let alone taking a driving test. Period.

No one likes tests, interviews or examinations, but the practical driving test isn't like that; failing it, or any examination or interview won't kill you, as mentioned before, but if the driving test wasn't exacting, wasn't thorough, and kept to Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency requirements, it could, somewhere down the line. And a bunch of folk besides. This is grown up stuff. Approach it with a suitably responsible mind-set.

On the Day

It's a good idea to do at least half-an-hours' driving prior to test, just to settle in and practice anything you feel a little uncomfortable about to reassure yourself; keep it more relaxed and even-paced than usual, as you'll have a recent memory to access if you get a bit flustered on your test. Plus it'll let you get all those nervy mistakes out of your system. Deep breath, begin again, type thing.

Firmly brush aside all those negatives as you go to the car and begin your test with, 'I can do this. I've done it before, I can do it now. All I need to do is focus on driving. Simply driving, nothing more.'

Be aware that the examiner will look at you a good deal more frequently than your instructor, as he/she is watching your actions and reactions to road situations, and will lean across to see what speed you're doing. You may become conscious of this sometimes as you go along. Imagine the examiner is just a neurotic maiden Aunt who hasn't seen you for twenty years, if it helps, and keep your focus on the road and what you are doing. 

Listen to your examiner. They stay quiet, unless you want to talk a little, to avoid distracting you. Examiners are trained to the nth degree to use their own discretion, and if they see you are driving well, they may give you a little leeway, and some subtle hints. If they give you an instruction, and then repeat it, it means they've seen you are about to do something incorrectly - take note! F'instance, they may say 'At this roundabout, follow the road ahead.' You may perhaps be signalling left due to Test fuzz. They will often then repeat the instruction, so you have an opportunity to turn off that left signal!

We know it's very easy to say, but if you make a mistake, ignore it and move on. Refocus on moving forward with the road, and the next thing to be negotiated. Don't allow your mind to run away with 'I messed up that junction, I wonder if that's a minor or a serious, omg that's rubbish, what's the point in going on ...' And so on. By this time, you'll have forgotten to mirror/signal at the roundabout you're approaching, because you're too busy worrying about something that's gone.

Use pauses well: your examiner will ask you to pull up at least 4-5 times along your route to check your parking; you may get held up at a busy junction/roundabout, and when you're asked to do your manouver, it'll be an opportunity to slow right down. Use those brief handbrake/neutral moments to gather yourself and clear your mind. 

This vid has been on YouTube for ages, and for good reason:  How to Pass Your Driving Test With Gumption

And Finally ...

As you sign the form at the Test Centre to begin your test, do it with a flourish; with the same trust in your own abilities you've gained with your On Fire instructor. And pass or fail, you'll be pleasantly surprised at how unscary, and familiar, the whole process is ... including your own ability to drive through it.

The On Fire for Driving Team