How to beat anxiety on your driving test

Learner plate positioned on rear of a red car

Published 6 October 2022
Last updated 6 October 2022

In this blog, Cat tells us about the challenges she faced during her driving test and gives us some great advice about how she overcome them.

‘That's the end of the test and I'm pleased to say you've passed’.

The words came as a surprise. No matter how many times I’d thought about this moment, I still found myself frozen in disbelief at my examiner’s words. This was my fifth attempt at passing the driving test. I was so used to failing that part of me thought I’d never hear that sentence. I told him I needed to get out of the car as the adrenaline was too overwhelming.

The drive back home, my instructor at the wheel, is a blur in my memory. It took several hours for reality to set in, and I only truly believed I’d done it when I got a letter through the post box with my shiny pink licence enclosed.

I should mention that I suffer with severe anxiety and that I am also in the process of being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Good things can also make someone like me anxious, unfortunately.

How I passed my test…

I’ve been driving for just under a year at the time of writing this blog, after three years of lessons, two theory tests, four failed attempts at passing and countless hours of fretting about whether I’d ever get to drive my own car.

But I am here to tell you that even if you’re struggling with nerves, anxiety or both, there are things you can do to help:

Before your test

  1. Read The Highway Code. Then go back and read it again. Even if something hasn’t come up in your driving lessons, knowing the correct way to proceed may help you if you end up in a new scenario.
  2. Watch mock driving tests online. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the driver and see if you can spot anything that you would have done differently. At the end of the video, you can see whether your observations match the feedback given by the driving examiner. Although this is time consuming, it may give you useful insights about the way that you’ll be assessed on the day.
  3. If you’re not sure why you’re doing something the way that you are, ask your instructor to explain it to you again, even if you get it right every time. Once the reason for doing it clicks, you’ll have no trouble applying it every time you drive.
  4. Practice mindfulness. Being able to self-soothe in a safe and controlled way could make the difference between passing and failing. It’s important to remember that different things work for different people, so speak to your instructor and try out various methods. Some people like to keep the window closest to them slightly open, so fresh air can get in. For me, it was having the radio on at a very low level, so that I could bring my attention back to the music any time my mind drifted towards intrusive thoughts. There are links to additional resources at the bottom of this blog that you may find helpful.
  5. Reframe your negative thoughts. For example, if you feel like you *have* to pass, then you might end up under so much pressure that your concentration is affected. Remind yourself that you have prepared well, but if you don’t pass this time it’s not the end of your career as a driver. You’ll get to try again and the world will still be spinning afterwards. I got through those five tests by using reframing. Try it and see if it works for you!
  6. Have a quiet night in before the big day.

The day of your test

  1. Put any thoughts of drinking alcohol or taking drugs – either the night before or on the day of your test – out of your mind. It might seem an obvious thing to say, but it doesn’t make it any less important!
  2. Have some food and stay hydrated. There’s nothing worse than having the jitters before and during your test and focusing on a growling stomach will disturb your concentration.
  3. Ask your instructor for an hour-long lesson before your test. This’ll give you the chance to have a last-minute practice, brush up on manoeuvres and loosen up a little bit.
  4. It’s perfectly acceptable to let the examiner know if you have any additional support needs. English is not my first language, so I made that clear when I got in the car and asked for all instructions to be worded as simply as possible. The examiner was more than happy to accommodate this, and even repeated each instruction twice.
  5. During your test, make safety your number one priority. If you’ve been told to go left, but you are in a right only lane for example, go where the lane takes you. You might have to pull over and allow your instructor to reroute, but what is important is that you demonstrate your ability to follow traffic rules and are always aware of your surroundings.
  6. After your test, whether you pass or not, pay close attention to your examiner’s feedback. This is what will be most useful to you afterwards.
  7. Finally, stay safe, trust yourself and your instructor and take your test as a learning experience, regardless of the outcome.

A year on the road…

After a year’s driving I can safely say that passing the test is just the beginning of your driving journey. Drivers encounter countless situations and figuring out safe ways to respond to them is crucial. In a sense you’re always a student – so don’t assume that passing your test means you know everything!

Good luck, stay safe and enjoy your driving…

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