This time ten years ago, I never imagined passing my driving test. To be fair, I was right, as I didn’t actually pass until two years later. I had my first driving lesson in May 2009, and I eventually passed my test in September 2011. Two weeks before my theory test expired. I remember sitting in a car and thinking that I definitely was not clever enough to be driving. September marked 8 years since I finally got my licence, and it got me thinking about the journey it took to get there. By sharing my story, I hope to hand out a few driving test tips, along with a little insight into how I dealt with the pesky driving test anxiety.
Driving Test Fails
I started learning to drive pretty much as soon as I turned 17. My Mum was given the number of a driving instructor for BSM, so I had a lesson booked for the week after my birthday. She was lovely, and she did everything by the book – presumably because they worked for a bigger company, they had a structure to follow. At first, I took this as a good thing, because it meant things were thorough. However, after 5 lessons, I still hadn’t gone out onto the main road. I’m not sure why this was, and no one else knew either because no one else saw me driving.
It became clear that things weren’t progressing with my BSM instructor, so it was very quickly decided that I would change to someone else. Luckily for me, my boyfriend’s Mum (now my Mother in Law) was a driving instructor so I started lessons with her. I progressed so much quicker in the first few weeks with her than I did in the few months with my first instructor, and I passed my theory test that September. Mid-way through 2010 however, I failed my first test with just 4 minors. I had a complete cock-up when I was changing lanes at a roundabout and apparently got too close to a parked car. I was absolutely gutted, but I took solace in the fact that a lot of people don’t pass the first time.
Fail Number Two
In September, I took my second driving test the day before I moved to Northampton. Again, I failed. If I remember correctly, it was another major steering fault at a junction, and a couple more minors. I was even more gutted but my Mum and Mother in Law to-be told me to focus on the positives. After all, tomorrow was going to be incredibly exciting. It would be the start of my new life as a student. My Mother in Law also emphasised that I’d now essentially driven without proper instruction twice, and the fact I’d only scored a couple of minor faults was amazing. She made sure that I was still proud of myself, despite the fact I hadn’t got the outcome I wanted.
Fail Number Three
During that first year of university, it became apparent that I couldn’t really afford to learn to drive anymore. So, I decided to buckle down with my studies and look at the situation again when I had enough money. I started learning again in 2011, where I managed to find an instructor that did a student rate. He was a nice enough chap, but every now and then I struggled with him and some of his rules. For example, I always had to 25 in a 30mph zone, 35 in a 40, 45 in a 60 and so on. No wonder people get so pissed off with learners!
I took my third test again that summer and surprise surprise, I failed. I failed through another lane cock-up at one of Northampton’s crazy-ass roundabouts. The worst part? I had one minor. Some people would say that’s a good thing and to focus on that, but not Mr Instructor. As he drove me home, he continued to emphasise how bad it was that I’d only gotten one minor and STILL failed. He made it very clear that I was incredibly stupid to have failed despite having a near-perfect drive. This time, I was more than gutted, I was heartbroken. I felt like a failure, and the person who was supposed to be supporting me confirmed it.
The Final Attempt
By this point, there were only a few months until my theory test expired. I made the decision to try one more time, and if I failed, I’d pack it in for a while. There was a cancellation for the 13th September – which was a year after my second failure, and a week before my theory test expired. I was absolutely shitting myself, as this felt like it was well and truly my last chance. It was the longest forty minutes of my life.
To start with, I read the licence plate on the wrong car where I was so anxious. Later, I completely buggered up my manoeuvre, which was the left reverse. I ended up on the wrong side of the road and asked the examiner if I could just take a minute, where I welled up and had to calm myself down. Thankfully, he was genuinely the loveliest examiner I’d had, and he very calmly told me to take some deep breaths, that I hadn’t failed, and to carry on when I was ready. For the rest of the test, he kept me chatting, which I think really helped.
Thankfully the rest of the test went pretty well, aside from a few silly mistakes. We got back to the test centre, and with a fair amount of pity to his voice, he said “So that’s the end of the test…” I instantly welled up again and said, “I’ve failed again, haven’t I?” He then gave me a big smile and said: “I’ll pass you.” I think my response was “are you serious?!” I couldn’t believe it. I had a total of 10 minors, but at this point, I didn’t care – I finally passed!
A Confidence Knock
As soon as it arrived, my driving licence became my most prized possession. I couldn’t quite believe I finally had done it. I felt so proud after doing that first ever drive on my own, with no one else in the car. It all went well until I tried to reverse out of a space in Asda. It took me a few attempts to reverse out, but my anxiety instantly shot up when I saw a woman stood by the car next to me, giving me the filthiest look. I rolled down the window and said “I’m really sorry, I’ve just passed my test,” to which she asked if I’d scratched her car. Of course I hadn’t, but this wasn’t enough for her. She told me that I was incredibly close to damaging it and that “you need to look at the way you’re f*****g parking, love.” She got in her car and drove off, and I sat in the car and had a little cry.
Kindness of Strangers
I had another attempt to reverse out of the space, but by this time, the lady on the other side of me had come back to her car. Not surprisingly, this just made things worse. She tapped my window to ask if I was okay and I just sobbed at her. She very kindly offered to reverse the car out for me, but because I’d messed things up so much she was a bit concerned she’d end up hitting her own car in the process. In stepped the trolley man, who had been watching everything kick off and came over to see what was happening. One thing lead to another and he was lovely enough to reverse the car out for me. It was a classic example of how for every asshole you deal with, there’s still some decent people in the world. I attribute this incident to me still not being very confident with my parking, but I’m so grateful to the lady who took pity on me, and the man who reversed the car out!
Lessons I’ve Learned
At one point, I never thought that I’d end up passing my driving test. It was incredibly stressful, caused me a hell of a lot of anxiety, and it was bloody expensive. But I did it. To be honest, I think if I took the driving test again, I’d probably fail. Although I think a lot of us would, because we pick up bad habits. My parking is still shockingly bad and I still make stupid mistakes. It’s been 8 years and I haven’t even driven on the motorway either. Baby steps though, guys.
Anyway, during the 2 years I spent learning to drive, there were a fair few lessons I took from it. While they won’t tell you exactly how to pass a driving test, they’ll hopefully be able to help you ease that pesky driving test anxiety.
Find the Right Instructor
It makes such a difference. Every instructor has different ways of teaching, and what works for one person may not work for another. If you feel like it’s not working though, it’s worth looking into other options.
I’ve always been a pessimist. However, I decided to try a little positive thinking when prepping for my final driving test. Surprisingly, it did the trick! I thought about why it was so important for me to pass my test, and what the benefits would be for me if I finally got there. Things like having my own car, not having to rely on getting the bus into uni, and having my own independence. It may not work for everyone, but I swear clarifying my goals and my reasons for doing this was enough to clear my head and help me focus.
Everyone learns at their own pace, and driving is no exception. In the early stages I did nothing but compare myself to my friends. It did far more harm than good.
Get in as much as you can. One difference between me and my friends was practice. A couple of them already had cars and their parents would make them drive everywhere. I wasn’t particularly very confident so it meant that my weekly lessons were pretty much the only practice I got.
Consider the Timings
This was particularly the case when it came to my second test. It would have been incredibly handy to pass before I went to uni, but it probably wasn’t the cleverest of ideas, given that the following day I was due to move into a new flat in a new town. If you don’t work well under pressure, make sure you have plenty of time and no big events are happening in the run up to your test!
Check Your Finances
Learning to drive is very expensive. I guess it prepares you for owning a car. My point is, make sure you can afford it. By that I mean consider the lessons, the theory test, practical, and even the insurance if you’re lucky enough to have a car of your own before you pass. In the UK, you can rearrange your test up to 6 times, so if you’re concerned you may not be able to afford another one if you fail, you’ve got the option to postpone it.
Treat the Test as Any Other Drive
It’s easier said than done, but if you think about it, treating your driving test as though it’s just a normal drive is a good way to help ease any last minute nerves. When I began chatting with the examiner I felt my anxiety easing as it felt more like I was giving someone a lift rather than being assessed! Of course this may depend on the examiner you have, but you can still treat the drive itself as though it’s just another driving lesson.
Find out more about learning to drive, how to book your driving test, and advice for when you pass at Gov.uk.
Post first published on Sassy Cat Lady – August 2019.