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How to Overcome Driving Test Nerves

Louise Kirkpatrick owns a driving school in the East Midlands region of England.

What to Do If You're Nervous About a Driving Test

No matter how well prepared they are, nearly everyone gets nervous at the thought of taking their driving test! Even people who are normally cool, calm and collected can be reduced to an anxious, stressed-out jelly as the day of their driving test gets closer and their nerves start to work overtime!

Getting nervous and stressed out is actually the reason that many learner drivers fail their driving test!

As someone who runs a driving school in the UK, I regularly come across learner drivers wanting to know how to stop anxiety and nerves affecting them when they take their driving tests.

Overcoming driving test nerves involves understanding WHY you're so nervous. Once you understand the reasons for your anxiety, you can look for the best ways to help you reduce and maybe even eliminate driving test nerves, anxiety and stress! You'll find lots of hints and tips on this page for self-help strategies to combat test day nerves.

Please Note

The advice given on this page is intended only for UK drivers and those taking the UK Practical Driving Test. Please be aware that road traffic legislation and what is considered good driving practice varies throughout the world!

Reasons for Driving Test Nerves and Anxiety

There are many reasons for driving test anxiety. And you can deal with all of them.

  • Peer pressure. For example, from friends who have already passed, or relatives who say unhelpful things like "I passed my driving test the first time after only five lessons". Comparing yourself to others is a recipe for disaster. Everyone is different and learns to drive in their own way and in their own time...what other people did is completely irrelevant to YOU...you're an individual.
  • Fear of failure. No one is perfect. No one gets it right the first time, every time. When they start to learn to walk, babies fall over...when toddlers learn to ride a bike, they fall off. There may be tears and hurt pride, but mistakes and failures are good sometimes because we learn from them. Driving tests are essentially no different.
  • Lack of confidence in your driving ability. if you've taken driving lessons from a professional driving instructor, (and more to the point, if your driving instructor is letting you use their car to take your test), then trust me, they wouldn't be letting you do that if they didn't know that you can drive independently to the standard required for the test. Your driving instructor believes in you...you should therefore trust their professional judgement and have faith in your own abilities as a competent driver.
  • A deep suspicion you're not really ready to take your driving test. This anxiety is a bit different from the previous items in this list but it's one that you can easily address. There are very few people in this world who are "natural" drivers. Driving is a skill requiring many different simultaneous mental and physical processes, which don't necessarily come naturally and which require learning in the first place and then honing by means of consolidation and practice. If you have a test booked and you do not feel confident about EVERY aspect of what you may be required to demonstrate, then my advice is, do not take the test without further training.
  • Previous test fails. Having failed a test previously adds a lot of extra pressure. But it's important to remember that the overall national driving test pass rate is only around 45%, so statistically more people fail the driving test than pass it!

Furthermore, more often than not, nerves themselves, rather than a lack of skill, play a big part in most test fails. It's a cliché, but "putting it down to experience" and learning from whatever you did wrong can turn a negative into a positive...dwelling on a fail results in demoralisation and can be the start of a vicious circle.

10 Easy Ways to Reduce Driving Test Nerves!

Here are 10 simple self-help strategies for coping (and hopefully avoiding!) minor or short term driving test nerves and anxiety.

For advice and suggestions on dealing with more serious or long term stress, please see the section on Coping With Severe or Long-Term Driving Test Nerves further down the page.

1. Work Out Exactly What You Are Worrying About!

Reducing stress can be achieved by identifying what you are actually worrying about! Stop for a minute and try to define exactly what it is that's making you nervous...try to be as exact as possible. After that, you can come up with an idea that addresses that particular worry.

Are you worried about what's going to happen on the test itself? Your driving instructor can (and should) go through what will happen at your driving test appointment with you in detail so that you know what to expect.

In case they don't, or you're unsure of anything, one of my other learner driver webpages tells you everything you need to know about the various parts of the Practical Driving Test.

Are you scared of failing your driving test? More people fail their driving test than pass, so you'll be in good company!

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The standard required for the UK practical driving test is very high. The overall national average pass rate is around 45%. I didn't pass my own driving test until the third attempt and look at me now! I own a driving school, coordinate a team of qualified driving instructors and tell other people how to pass their driving test.

Failing a driving test does not mean that you're not going to be a good driver. It merely means that on the day of your test you didn't meet all the necessary requirements.

Are you worried about the driving examiner? You might have heard tales of miserable, moody driving examiners who take a sadistic pleasure in failing test candidates.

It's a myth. I'm not going to promise you that every examiner in the country is going to have a sunny personality, but almost all driving examiners are perfectly normal human beings, who know that people taking their driving test are nervous and who will try their best to put people at their ease and not to make things worse for them.

Are you worried about driving independently without your driving instructor? OK, on your test, your instructor won't be sitting next to you in their usual reassuring position and so you'll be out of your comfort zone. But that will also be true after you pass your test.

If you've been thoroughly prepared for your test (and by that I mean, you've had as many hours of professional tuition and practice as you need), then you should be fine.

Are you worried about what other people might think if you fail? A natural enough feeling...but most people will be supportive and sympathetic. Anyone who isn't is probably worth avoiding in future.

Are you worried about the cost of learning to drive? It seems like most people don't bat an eyelid about the cost of nights out with their mates, or expensive holidays, but often moan about the cost of learning to drive, which, in comparison, is a valuable skill that will last you a whole lifetime. Learning how to drive a car safely and considerately and anticipate what other road users are going to do, can quite literally save your life.

Skimping on good driving tuition is a false economy. Taking a test before you're ready is a false economy.

Are you worrying about passing your test within a deadline? Customers ring me up and say they need to pass their driving test by a certain date because they are planning a trip or have a week off of work. But imposing deadlines on yourself is an almost cast-iron guarantee of stress, and you don't need stress.

Just accept that learning to drive may be more difficult and take longer than you anticipated, and passing your driving test isn't guaranteed.

My advice is simple: avoid tight deadlines and expectations if you can, but if you are faced with a deadline, clear the decks of your life of all non-essential things and apply yourself.

2. Schedule Your Driving Test Around the Rest of Your Life

Don't take on too much...take your driving test when your life has few other distractions. If there's some kind of important deadline or project involved with work or anything else, then why complicate your life by scheduling your driving test right in the middle of whatever else is going on?

Driving tests can be booked to suit you. If you have a test booked and something important has cropped up, then the test date can be moved or cancelled. Exams and work deadlines, on the other hand, can't be moved.

3. Take Your Driving Test at a Place That Suits You

You can book a driving test at any test centre you like. The routes used for driving tests are intended to be as uniform as possible throughout the whole country, and if you're at test standard, theoretically you should be able to drive anywhere.

If test nerves are an issue, then it makes sense to take your driving test on "familiar territory". I don't suggest that you just "learn the test routes," but being familiar with the roads you may be asked to drive along on your test means that you're not worrying about what might be around the next corner—one less thing to worry about means less stress for you!

You can reduce driving test nerves by taking your test at a quieter time of the day

You can reduce driving test nerves by taking your test at a quieter time of the day

4. Take Your Driving Test at a Time That Suits You

Choosing the time of your test wisely can reduce driving test nerves!

Some people are wide awake and raring to go first thing in the morning whereas others aren't at their best until later in the day.

Think about the time of day that suits you best when taking your driving test, both in terms of yourself and the possible road conditions.

Early morning tests may suit those who like to get on with things rather than spend time fretting, but usually coincide with rush-hour traffic. Lunchtime tests also coincide with the roads being a bit busier, as do tests taken between 2:45 pm and 4 pm when pupils are going home from school.

5. Don't Tell Other People You've Booked Your Driving Test

Not telling people that you've got a driving test booked is a simple way of reducing the pressure on yourself!

"Helpful advice" from those who have already passed can be exactly the opposite when you're on the receiving end, and the nearer you get to the day of your test, the more "advice" you tend to get. Most of the time, none of this will be of any value to you whatsoever, especially if it's about driving tests of 20 years ago.

Either don't tell anyone when you're due to take your test, or tell only those people you feel will be genuinely supportive and helpful and not put you under any unnecessary pressure!

6. Ignore Driving Test "Horror Stories"

You'll probably have people queueing up to tell you about their own driving tests in as soon as you've booked your own.

But other people's scary driving test stories are usually exaggerated and are best ignored!

Tall tales about "horrible" examiners and "awful" test routes abound. The reality is that most driving tests are pretty mundane events!

Strange Advice

Horror stories aside, people often seem very willing to offer "helpful advice" about what to do (or what not to do) during your driving test. Some of the "advice" can be very strange indeed!

Moving your head. The one that crops up most often is "you need to move your head around a lot to let the examiner know you're looking in your mirrors". But the examiner will know whether you're checking your mirrors without you doing that, so save yourself neck strain and just act normally.

Talking (or not talking). Some say you shouldn't say anything during your test...and some say test candidates should provide a constant verbal commentary about everything they do during the test and why they are doing it!

Neither you nor the examiner needs to keep up a line of "chat" during the text. The examiner will be expecting you to concentrate; so if he or she doesn't seem to be saying much, you shouldn't find that significant. They'll talk before and after the test, but during the test, they'll restrict themselves simply to letting you know what they'd like you to do.

Similarly, you don't need to make small talk; it may affect your concentration. You can, of course, ask for clarification of anything the examiner has asked you to do.

What to wear. I've even come across so-called "advice" that female test candidates should wear "revealing clothes" in order to "impress" the driving examiner and influence a test pass!

But such plans will have no effect on the chances of you passing your driving test. It's a test of your driving, nothing more, and who's to say your examiner will be male or even heterosexual anyway? (See the video below for a tongue-in-cheek example of what I mean!) Wear clothes and shoes that you feel comfortable in and which don't restrict your movement—it's your driving which is under scrutiny, not your appearance!

Video: How NOT to Impress the Examiner on Your Driving Test!

Classic comedy video clip from the late, great, British comedian Dick Emery.

Made in the days long before "political correctness", Emery takes his cast of characters through their driving tests. The young lady at 2 mins 42 seconds into the video clip is a humorous example of why "dressing to impress" a driving examiner may not achieve the intended effect!

7. Don't Take Your Driving Test Before You're Ready

Don't rush into taking your driving test before you're properly prepared and confident.

Learning to drive costs a fair bit of money, but it's money well spent.

Most people don't bat an eyelid about the cost of nights out with their mates, or going on an expensive holiday, but often moan about the cost of learning to drive, which, in comparison, is a valuable skill that will last you a whole lifetime.

If you don't think you're ready, then don't take your driving test until you know you are fully prepared and confident about the thought of driving unaccompanied.

It's better all round to have a few more driving lessons and a bit more practice, than waste money to take a test you're unlikely to pass and have your confidence dented in the process.

8. Have at Least One "Mock" Driving Test

A mock driving test with a professional driving instructor will give you a good idea of what taking your driving test will be like.

A "mock" driving test is a practice run at taking a driving test. It's conducted by a driving instructor and aims to reproduce a real driving test as closely as possible.

Mock driving tests can be very helpful in getting a learner driver used to what they will be required to do during their driving test and they can help build self-confidence and reduce pre-test nerves!

Your driving instructor may even be able to arrange for another driving instructor to take you for a mock test—this can get you used to driving with someone you don't know which is even closer to the real thing!

Often just sitting next to a stranger, driving the car, taking all the decisions yourself and getting home in one piece can be an immense confidence booster!

9. Be Confident in Your Own Abilities

While it isn't compulsory to take any professional driving lessons at all, a fully qualified driving instructor really is the best person to assess whether you can drive at the standard required for the Practical Test!

Parents and friends may well be competent drivers, but not necessarily good teachers! Even excellent drivers can pass on bad habits and bad driving practice.

In my opinion, in their own interests, everyone should have at least a few driving lessons with a professional driving instructor to make sure that their driving is both safe and up to the standard required for the driving test.

If a fully qualified driving instructor tells you that you are at test standard, then you really have no need for any self-doubt or worry about your ability to pass your driving test!

If you haven't taken lessons from a professional driving instructor, then at least consider getting a fully qualified driving instructor to assess your driving before you take your test...it could save you a lot of money and stress!

10. Think Positive: You Don't Need to Be Perfect!

The power of positive thinking can make a real difference to overcoming driving test nerves!

Your instructor thinks you can pass your driving test, your friends and family are probably rooting for you too, even the examiner wants you to pass - so don't be the odd one out.

Negative thoughts and defeatism tend to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. So think positive thoughts, get behind the wheel and show that examiner what you're capable of.

Just put into practice what you've learned on your driving lessons, listen carefully to what you're asked to do, stay focused and don't let your concentration lapse!

If during the test you think you may have made a mistake, move on and focus ONLY on what you're being asked to do. Whatever you think you've done wrong may not be as bad as you think. Worrying about a minor mistake could affect the rest of your test and make the difference between a pass and a fail.

Driving Test Nerves Can Actually Work in Your Favour...in Small Doses!

Stress is actually a survival mechanism. Although too much stress over a long period can be detrimental to health and wellbeing, in small doses stress can be very positive!

Stress can actually be positive.

When humans get stressed, a hormone called adrenaline (or epinephrine) is released. Adrenaline increases the supply of oxygen to the brain, making you alert and both receptive and perceptive. You have a temporary increase in energy and motivation.

All this is pretty much exactly what you need immediately before your driving test, so this type of positive stress can actually help you. On the other hand, days or weeks spent in a state of severe stress in the run-up to your test will have a negative effect both on your health, mental state and the chances of you passing your test.

Self-Help for Severe or Longer-Term Driving Test Anxiety: Medication, Hypnosis and Other Ideas

In the next few sections, I'm going to look at strategies for coping with, reducing or even eliminating severe or long-term stress associated with taking a driving test.

Products That Help With Stress

You can buy a range of products from a homeopath, chemist or pharmacist which claim to help alleviate the symptoms of stress (e.g. Kalms, Rescue Remedy etc).

It is advisable to consult a qualified pharmacist and ask for their advice before taking any form of non-prescription medication.

For more severe cases, a visit to your GP may be necessary. Some doctors are willing to prescribe a short-term course of prescription drugs for stress (usually beta-blockers), but some aren't! Some GPs will offer practical advice on how to deal with severe stress.

Don't Put Yourself Under the Influence

Please DON'T be tempted to "calm yourself down" before your driving test by having an alcoholic drink, smoking a joint or anything along those lines. Alcohol and cannabis will probably relax you, but driving "under the influence" is illegal and could well be lethal. Don't even think about getting behind the wheel of a car if you have taken drugs or drunk alcohol - no matter how small the amount it WILL affect you.

Even something as "normal" as caffeine can affect judgement...don't believe me? Have a look at the effects of several recreational drugs on a spider spinning a web.

It's easy to forget that alcohol, cigarettes, coffee and tea ARE drugs (albeit socially acceptable ones) and they DO have an effect on your brain and (especially alcohol) WILL affect how you drive.

Other Stress Relief Ideas

Bach Rescue Remedy. Some use this homeopathic product made from flower essences to relieve stress. It can be taken as drops in a glass of water or as a mouth spray.

Hypnotherapy. Glenn Harold, the UK's best-selling hypnotherapist, offers two 30-minute hypnotherapy sessions specifically to overcome driving test nerves, available on a CD or as an audio download.

Relaxation and deep breathing techniques. Watching relaxation videos at home (a couple of examples are below) before your test can help you cope.

But What If I Fail?

If you fail your driving test, it really isn't the end of the world! Lots of other people have failed before you, and often failure is more the result of nerves than a lack of skill!

So don't be too hard on yourself. As the old saying goes:

"If at first you don't succeed, try again"!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2008 LouiseKirkpatrick

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