The time to take your practical driving test in upon you. You’ve spent what feels like endless hours practicing with an instructor, you’ve polished your skills, and you’re ready to be tested on your abilities behind the wheel. But is there a secret to passing your driving test, and what can we learn from the mistakes of others?
The top ten reasons for failing a driving test
- Junctions: lack of observation at a junction
- Mirrors: failing to use mirrors when changing direction
- Steering: lack of steering control
- Junctions: turning right at a junction
- Positioning: unsafe or inappropriate road position according to surroundings
- Move off: failing to use MSM (mirror signal manoeuvre) when moving off
- Move off: lack of control when moving off
- Response to signals: not responding to traffic lights appropriately
- Reverse park: lack of control when reverse parking
- Response to signals: not responding to road marking appropriately
So, what is it that goes wrong on the day? We spoke to Janet Cook ADI, to get her thoughts on the reasons behind these common reasons people fail their test:
“In my experience, nerves can contribute to a pupil’s ability to pass their driving test. A learner can be the most accomplished and safe driver prior to the test, but once their nerves get the better of them, all reasoning can disappear and they can stop thinking logically. Nerves only work to cloud their thinking, which can make them commit a serious fault.”
How can nerves can lead to mistakes on the road?
When someone becomes nervous, the nerves take up valuable cognitive brain function: namely, concentration – a function that is incredibly important when it comes to driving.
This nervousness and anxiety are related to the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response – a biological reaction that evolved to help us protect ourselves from danger. This takes resources away from the frontal part of our brain, which does all the in-depth decision making, and puts all focus on doing reactionary tasks like running away.
Nicky Lidbetter, the CEO of Anxiety UK, explained how this translates on the big day:
When we are experiencing highly stressful situations, our brains automatically shift away from the details of the current situation and begin preparing to either fight or flee the incoming threat or alternatively to ‘freeze’. For this reason, it is common for people to feel their minds have going blank in stressful situations such as taking a driving test.
Expert tips to curb driving test nerves:
The secret to passing? Keep your nerves at bay. Take a look at these expert techniques to help you stay calm and collected, ensuring that you let your abilities speak for themselves during your driving test.
One of the most important ways of optimising your performance is to recharge your batteries properly. Sleep is very helpful because you’re refuelling resources, but don’t try and substitute a lack of sleep with caffeine. Lidbetter commented: “Limiting your intake of caffeine and ensuring that you get a good night’s sleep before your driving test can make a significant difference.”
Our brains tend to focus on negative things which doesn’t do our nervousness any favours. Dr Edginton suggests trying to “visualise success and imagine how that would feel. The brain tends to focus more on negative information so it’s really helpful to try and push in a bit of positive imagery. Focus on the positives of the situation, acknowledge the fact that you’re human and if you fail then it isn’t the end of the world. You can learn from your mistakes and feel more familiar with the test next time! Definitely try to be gentle and more compassionate to yourself.”
Being aware of your feet on the ground will help you top feel steady and grounded. Life Coach Directory member, Dr Mariette Jansen (‘Dr De-Stress’), is an expert is stress management and meditation. Her advice was to pay attention to your hands and feet: “focus on your feet, feel how they are in touch with the ground and imagine breathing in and out through the soles of your feet. Once you’re in the car, bring full attention to your hands on the steering wheel, notice the tension in those hands, soften your hands and observe how tension is leaving your body.”
As Dr Edginton says, “our fears are largely centred on things that aren’t currently happening so we are apprehensive of what ‘might be’ in the future. To keep your mind and body focussed on the present moment, tune in to your five senses. Paying attention to what you can see, taste, hear smell and feel will take your focus away from the past or future”.
When we’re stressed, our breathing becomes faster and very shallow. To counter this, Dr Jansen uses a special breathing technique called one nostril breathing. This forces you to breathe deeply and slowly, which has a very specific effect on your physiology that works to calm the body down.
Although we’re often told to practice this technique to calm ourselves down, there’s rarely much consideration as to how it works. Dr Edginton explains that when you count to ten, “you’re setting your brain a fairly straightforward task that engages that front part of your brain again, thus taking the focus away from the central part of the brain that’s responsible for ‘fight or flight’.”
When we’re nervous or stressed, our muscles become tense. In the same way, when our muscles are tense, we’re sending a signal to our brain that something stressful is occurring. Dr Jansen recommends using a technique called SMS: soften my shoulders. This can help to send signals to your brain that you’re becoming more relaxed.
Final words of advice
You aren’t the first person to take a driving test and you certainly won’t be the last, and it’s important to remember that nerves are completely normal. Lidbetter reminds us to talk about the way we feel: “Remember to talk to those around you about how you are feeling. Most of us will all know plenty of other people who have first-hand experience of driving test nerves. Talking things through and hearing how others have dealt with the experience can be really useful.”
As well as practicing the above techniques, keep reminding yourself of your capabilities. As Dr Jansen says, “If you can drive, your instructor is happy for you to do the test, you know you are ready and you can do it. What is important now is to just pretend you are in the car with your instructor and drive. You can drive, you know that”.
Passing your theory test
Passing the theory test is all about preparation. Read our helpful guide to find out what's in the test, and how to prepare
Passing your practical
From how to prepare to what you need to bring along on the day, read on to find out more about passing your practical test