How to Deal With Driving Test Nerves

by Adam Phillips - 8 Min Read

Discover how to deal with the stress of taking a test with our practical advice plus top tips from driving instructors.

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.

But by learning some simple techniques, you can deal with those interfering nerves and put yourself in the best possible position to pass the driving test first time.

Practise Driving
“I’m still not sure whether I can pass; have I done enough? Maybe I’m actually cr*p 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.

Keep Quiet
“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.

Hug
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.

Banana

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”.

 

Choose the Right Time
“I might have to do the test during rush hour – all those cars, all that pressure. Just no!”

Any instructor worth their fee will have insisted that you drive in rush hour during your lessons (if you are available) – it’s an essential part of your training – but remember, you can decide what time and day you want to book your test on:

• Best to book it on a stress-free day, better still week. In other words, don’t book it if you have exams coming up the next day or have another important event to attend. If you’re already nervous, the last thing you need is yet more pressure.

• If you’re worried about rush hour, then choose a test time between 10am and 3pm to avoid the worst of it. Also, if you’re the kind of person who loathes mornings (we know that feeling…) then book a test in the afternoon. Alternatively, you may be at your most alert in the morning (we’re impressed) so book a time then; choose what’s right for you and your temperament.

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 showing themselves what they can do!”

– Alison Nolan, Alison’s Driving School, Kent.

Plan, Don’t Predict
“I’m going to mess up the parallel parking, drive up on to the kerb by accident and then 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. For instance:

NIGHT BEFORE TEST

“I’ll…

• 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 with plenty of time to spare

• Go to the loo so I’m not ‘distracted’ during my test

• Wait to be called by my examiner.” 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’.

• Learn some very simple breathing techniques too (like the ones featured here) to help keep any nerves at bay.

• If it helps, drive to the test centre itself a week before the test so you have a clear image in your mind of what it looks like instead of letting your imagination run riot!

If you feel you need more than breathing exercises and planning to help you relax, try Neuro Linguistic Programming – it might sound like something out of sci-fi movie but it’s a great way to learn how to relax and focus your mind using tried and tested techniques that will help you through out your life, and not just with driving test nerves.”

– Kathy Higgins of Insight 2 Drive.

sleep

A full night’s sleep helps calm nerves and increase concentration levels the next day.

 

Believe in Yourself
“I’m ready”

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 especially while waiting to be called by your examiner – and let your hard work and expert training take you through to a result you want and have earned.

• And when you do pass, let us know on our Facebook page – we can’t wait to congratulate you!

Nervous about the Theory Test Too?

Don’t worry, we’ve got that covered as well – Theory Test Pro can double your chances of test success. Sign up for free here.

 

Yoga Image © Gabriel Garcia Marengo

Hug Images © Achi Raz

Banana Image © Dan Brickley

Sleep Image © Planet ChopStick

5 Comments

  1. Pre-Owned Cars

    Hey Adam,

    Nice post on dealing with driving test nerves. Unwinding the night before and laying out your key documents, so you’re all set for the morning are some great tips.

    Dennis

  2. Craig

    I’ve shared to my driving school Facebook wall. Some great tips here. I too mention the banana! I hear kippers are good too!

  3. Kathy Higgins

    Another great article by TTP all the advice given can be linked to any stressful situation, for example a job interview etc. Great ready the night before and do a dry run to check out the parking etc.

  4. Emma Ashley

    I must admit to being conflicted in relation to this article. Although I feel that adverse reaction to nerves is a reality that our pupils (and therefore we) have to deal with I am worried by some of the ideas suggested. For me, the most important thing is that the pupil realises that what they are going to do is ‘just drive’! They have spent the best part of the previous days, weeks, months or even years learning to drive, not learning to pass their test. If they do the former, they will achieve the latter. Some of the suggestions above are things that should be done anyway when learning to drive, not as a special solely coming up to test.

    If we allow pupils to build the test up into a great event, it will assume ogreish proportions and lead to convincing thoughts of failure long before they even meet the examiner. They need to see it as it actually is, not what people would like it to be.

    When pupils are concerned about the test I ask a simple question which has a simple reply. “Can you drive?” If the answer is anything than “Yes” then they have got it wrong! I repeat the question until they are happy to answer “Yes”. I then ask “Do I think you can drive?”, to which the answer is “Yes”. If they are fortunate enough to have had private practice I ask “Does mum/dad think you can drive?” to which the answer is again “Yes”. The test is simply a rubber stamp of the examiner agreeing with the pupil, me, mum/dad and uncle Tom Cobbly and all…

    Managing nerves isn’t about preparation (beyond common sense), drugs (of any kind), practice (which is not the real thing) or being unreal. It is about a state of mind in which belief in ones own ability supersedes all other considerations.

    (Of course I don’t really know what I am talking about and fully expect to be shot down in flames… No belief in my own ability you see… haha)

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