Struggling with driving test anxiety? Which worries you most about your driving test? Your driving ability, the examiner or fear of failure?
With a backlog of driving tests, learner drivers are likely to feel even more pressure than before to pass their driving test when the time finally arrives. Driving test anxiety can come from a variety of sources, including confidence in driving ability, dislike of being watched by the examiner and fear of failure.
Research regarding driving test anxiety (Fairclough et al. 2006) shows that typically learner drivers experience higher levels of stress in a formal test situation than in driving lessons and during mock driving tests. This is understandable, and we know that a certain level of stress helps us to be focused and alert so can be used to a learner driver's advantage. However, the research also indicates that those learners who reported experiencing the highest levels of anxiety in the test centre before their driving test were more likely to be unsuccessful.
If your driving test nerves or anxiety are caused by either fear of your driving being under the scrutiny of the examiner or fear of failure itself we have some advice that might help you keep anxiety at a manageable level!
Fear of Failure
One suggestion is that those learner drivers with the highest levels of driving test anxiety are not worrying about the pressure of driving safely but worrying about the stress of passing or failing the test and how that will impact or reflect on them.
So, how can we reframe the language we use, the way we describe what happens on a driving test and what a negative outcome means, to minimise the fear of failure? If we can reduce some of the emotion-provoking language such as test and examiner, this may help calm anxiety for those who believe they 'are no good at tests' or 'panic in exams and tests’. Alternative terms you could start using in your driving lessons might include having a driving assessment, getting some driving feedback, someone different/else watching you drive. You can also be more aware of the words and language that you use during driving lessons when referring to your driving feedback assessment (test) and challenge the things you say with some questions. For example:
I'm nervous/anxious about my test.
What specifically about your test makes you feel that way? When did that feeling start?
Passing the test is hard.
According to whom? Who do you know that thinks differently to that?
I'm no good at tests.
What stops you being good at tests?
I can't stop thinking about failing my driving test.
Can’t or won’t?
I know you can’t, but if you could, just give me some examples of when you weren’t thinking about it.
I always panic in exams and tests.
Always? Tell me about a time when it hasn’t happened?
These challenges can help pause any well-rehearsed scripts you have that may be limiting your beliefsimiting your beliefs about your driving ability and help you to consider an alternative.
We can also try to introduce a different perspective on the outcome. While passing your driving test is the desired outcome, the longer-term goal is to be a safe driver on the road. What will happen in the worst-case scenario of being unsuccessful – how bad will it really be? Rather than considering it as a driving test fail; it is simply feedback about which areas of your driving need more attention in future driving lessons. If you do not pass, you will receive some detailed feedback on areas that require more practice. Your driving plans have not stopped, you now have a valuable tool that has identified your driving strengths and weaknesses. What can you learn from the test as a stepping stone to achieving your goal of being a safe driver? Could feedback after the test on areas to improve for next time be welcomed or seen more positively?
Fear of the driving test examiner
In the research (Fairclough et al. 2006) fear of being scrutinised by the examiner was one of the suggestions given as an explanation for driving test anxiety and nerves. If this is the case for you, think a little more about what it is about the examiner that makes you feel this way. Is it a fear of being observed or judged? Is it how you perceive the role of the driving test examiner? Is it the unfamiliarity of what will happen before, during and after the driving test? With a few more questions, you may be able to become more specific about what is causing the anxiety about the examiner which will help you overcome or gain some perspective on your nerves.
It is natural to want to avoid situations where we are being judged. Whenever you talk about the driving test, be aware of the language you use. Ensure you word sentences in a way that reminds you it is your driving that is being assessed – not you personally. The examiner is not making judgements about you as a person.
If it is your driving being judged that you are scared of, which areas, in particular, are causing you the most concern? Using a reflective log or coaching wheel (free to download on our website) can help you to track your driving lesson progress and to feel more confident in your driving ability to reduce this worry. If there is a particular aspect of driving that you do not feel confident in, ask your instructor if you can make this a goal in your next driving lesson.
If the fear is of the examiner and how you perceive the role of the examiner, this NLP exercise may help. It encourages you to put yourself in different positions or roles to gain a different perspective on the driving test.
Start by visualising yourself on your driving test (choose the aspect that’s worrying you most)
- From your own position, in the driver’s seat on the driving test, ask yourself what you see, hear, feel and think? Imagining that you’re looking at the examiner in the passenger seat what do you see, hear, feel and think as you look at them?
Now shake that off (move or think about this morning’s breakfast)
- Now put yourself in the role of the examiner in the passenger seat. Imagine you are looking back at yourself in the driver seat and ask yourself from the position of examiner what do you see, hear, feel and think?
Now shake that off (move or think about the weather)
- From a position of a very observant fly watching from the back, what does the fly see, hear, feel and think when viewing the examiner in the passenger seat and you in the driving seat?
Think about any differences in experiences in different positions, how are they different, what has changed?
Hopefully, this exercise will help you to gain a different perspective on the examiner by stepping into their shoes.
If the problem is the unfamiliarity of the test situation, where allowed driving to the test centre, parking and leaving again in a driving lesson can be useful to gain familiarity. Does your driving instructor offer a mock driving test so that you can experience the difference between a regular driving lesson and a test scenario? If the issue is being observed by someone other than your driving instructor, then when social distancing allows inviting an observer to watch can help you become more familiar and comfortable. While social distancing is still in place, an alternative could be videoing a lesson for feedback from others or using imagery instead. If you are familiar with driving in and out of the test centre, you can start to imagine a test, with imaginary examiners, what it will feel like and how you would like it to be. Imagery is an incredibly powerful tool as our brains react to imaginary scenarios in the same way as they do to real situations offering useful mental rehearsal of difficult situations.
Hopefully, some of our suggestions for how to minimise worries and gain some perspective on fear of failure or about the examiner will help you to reduce some of your driving test anxiety and focus more on demonstrating your driving ability on the day. For more help and advice about calming driving test nerves read our Ultimate Guide and sign up for our free 10 day driving test nerves course below.
If you would like some extra help with driving test anxiety our stress management subscription costs just £10 for immediate access to hypnotherapy audios, relaxation and breathing exercises, coaching tools and more, created by leading industry experts especially for those who experience driving test nerves and anxiety. Read what other happy learner drivers are saying and see more details on the subscription in the information below or on our learner drivers page.
Fairclough, Stephen H, Tattersall, Andrew J and Houston, Kim (2006) ‘Anxiety and performance in the British driving test’, Transportation Research Part F: Psychology and Behaviour. Elsevier India Pvt Ltd, 9(1), pp. 43–52. doi: 10.1016/j.trf.2005.08.004.
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What others are saying
It's great to have a website offering fantastic techniques to assist with the challenges of driving. The website recognises the fact that learning to drive can be stressful and there are strategies to help with this. The website's name, 'CONFIDENT Drivers' is what a learner is aspiring to be, so it's very positive. The techniques also apply to building general confidence in all walks of life, so useful again. Thank you!
I was so pleased when my instructor signed me up for Confident Driver. I loved the hypnosis sessions & I recently passed first time with one fault. Recommend 100%
Confident drivers has been a really useful tool in changing my attitude to the driving test. I hadn't recognised just how much my negative thoughts about my ability rather than my actual driving ability have been holding me back and putting me off. I particularly liked the quick fix section that gives you strategies to calm down just before the test!
Nervous Drivers Calming Kit
If you would like some self-help stress management resources to help you tackle your driving anxiety and improve driving confidence then our calming kit is created by leading industry experts especially for you. Access to all the resources is online.
These plans are created specifically for drivers and learner drivers looking for online solutions to manage driving nerves and anxiety. We also have a range of group plans created for driving instructors who would like to offer support offroad to their learner drivers, you can find more details on our ADI page.
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Help & advice for learner drivers and driving test anxiety:
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