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How to Cope Driving Test Nerves and Anxiety

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For some people, taking a driving test can cause so much stress and anxiety, but understanding how achieving the right level and balance of confidence can help you cope with the stress of the big day It’s also useful to know how your personality and attitude affect how you drive. Having the right balance and the right mindset will enable you to perform at your best on your driving test and will help to eliminate all negative thoughts of any previous tests that you may have failed. There are many centres that specialise in helping people overcome nerves when they are taking a driving test.

Firstly, though, I’d like to use a pupil’s own words about how he felt about the driving test, which unfortunately is all too familiar and highlights how stressful learning to drive and taking the test can be for many people. 

John is a 28-year-old lawyer working for a reputable solicitor’s firm in Hampshire.

‘Driving has always been a real burden for me. At 28 years of age and still having to get lifts everywhere from family and friends, my driving lessons became an in-joke amongst friends – surely he can’t still be learning to drive? I felt like everyone else had this magical ability to do it and passed when they were about 17, whereas I just couldn’t get it at all and consequently got left behind.

‘At university, I was on a work placement that was some distance away from my halls of residence and involved walking and then catching three buses. I decided that was the time to learn to drive; hundreds of pounds, days of lessons, and two failed tests later, I decided walking and buses weren’t so bad, and I even bought a bike! My instructor at the time got so frustrated with me for getting nervous on the day and stuffing up the test that he’d say things like, “You know how to drive; all you’ve got to do is get over your nerves.” This wasn’t especially helpful for me; my nerves were the one thing that I’d proved time, and again, I couldn’t get over it. I’d drive fine in the lessons, but I was so afraid of the test. The apprehension would kick in the week before, the nights prior to the test would be sleepless, the day of the test I’d feel physically sick, then the test itself would go badly, and I’d realise I’d gone through all those horrible emotions for no reason at all, because I’d failed again. So, I gave up completely, didn’t sit behind a wheel for two years, and then my mum heard someone talking on the radio about how he worked with nervous drivers and encouraged me to call him – that phone call was one of the best decisions ever.

‘My new instructor/coach took on board my nerves and my fears; he understood them and helped me see that I could overcome them. During my lessons, as well as learning driving skills, we also discussed techniques for overcoming nerves. On the day of the one and only test I took while learning with my new instructor, I felt fine – no fears, no apprehension, just calm and ready for the test – and aware that if I passed, it’d be great; if I failed, I’d just do it again; it was no big deal. Passing that test was such a great feeling, as is driving now. I love it! I really could not have achieved any of this without the techniques that my instructor showed me.

‘Firstly, I want to look at the worst-case scenario: failing a driving test. Perhaps for a few people, a test failure may have serious consequences, for example, a job riding on the outcome, etc., but for the majority of people, a test failure results in a loss of pride, the cost of taking another test, and a few weeks of having to wait before taking it again. I’m not suggesting that these things aren’t important, but it’s a relatively small issue. You haven’t failed your finals at University and are waiting a year to take them again, your house hasn’t burned down, you haven’t lost your job, your best friend hasn’t gone off with your partner, you haven’t been diagnosed with a serious illness, etc. It’s only a driving test.’

Here’s a useful exercise that we hope you’ll find useful if you suffer from nerves or anxiety when taking a driving test.

Are you ready to take your test? This exercise will help you determine if you really do feel test-ready. Take a few moments to think about taking your driving test. Imagine that you are sitting in the waiting room of the test centre waiting for the examiner to come out and call your name. Write down the thoughts as soon as they come into your head. This is a useful exercise because it will allow you to get to the bottom of the emotional challenges that you will face during the day. Now that you have written down all the emotions that you are feeling, you need to analyse them. This is important because you need to know whether the emotions that you are feeling are because you are nervous or because you aren’t ready for the test and your emotions are trying to tell you something. If you feel that this is the case, then you need to make sure that you and your instructor genuinely feel that you are physically ready before taking your test.

Adam Mulligan did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health and well-being.

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