8 ways to deal with nerves on practical test day

Exams are nerve-wracking at the best of times, and driving tests can feel particularly harrowing. After all, with written exams if you get something wrong you can always go back and cross it out, whereas if you reverse into a bollard on your practical test then your fate is sealed. Knowing that someone is watching and judging your every move can be pretty bizarre as well. It would be enough to make most people feel self-conscious if they were just carrying out an everyday task such as opening their post, let alone demonstrating a complex skill like driving.

So if you’ve got your test coming up and you’re feeling anxious about it, then remember you’re not alone. Most people suffer from nerves to some extent and they can in fact be beneficial by raising your adrenaline levels and making you more alert. The challenge is keeping them under control. And getting it right first time is more expensive: the practical test now costs £62 and the theory is now £23. Here are the top 10 tips for overcoming your driving test nerves and passing your practical test.


Remind yourself that instructor wouldn’t be putting you in for your test if he or she didn’t think you were good enough. During your lessons you’re already driving at a standard where they consider you’re safe and responsible enough to be on your own. Now all you’ve got to do is to show the examiner what you’re capable of and that driving licence is all yours!

2. Visualise

Tap into the power of visualisation and positive thinking – sports stars use it regularly to help them attain their peak performance. Spend time imagining yourself successfully carrying out difficult manoeuvres and dealing confidently with heavy traffic. This will reinforce the message to your subconscious mind that you can do these things and lessen the likelihood of you falling apart on your test.

3. Support

Get support. Talking through any anxieties with friends, family and your instructor will help you feel more positive, and many of them will be able to give you useful advice and encouragement. Herbal remedies for nerves such as Kalms can be helpful – but you do have to start taking them a couple of weeks in advance to reap the full benefits.

4. Breathe

Breathing exercises can be very useful – practicing them doesn’t have to involve sitting cross-legged in a room surrounded by burning incense. Just focusing on your in and out breaths will have a soothing effect – you might like to try counting the breaths, or focusing on a mantra such as ‘I feel calm’.

5. Flower power

Many ex-learners put their success down to Bach Rescue Remedy. This is a new-age concoction of ‘flower essences’ developed by Dr Edward Bach, a Harley Street doctor and homeopath. It’s available from most health food shops and has a reputation for being very effective in stressful situations.

6. Eat a banana

Shortly before your test, eat a banana. It’s well-known among instructors as the driving test superfood, for the following reasons – bananas are full of B vitamins, which help calm the nerves. They contain tryptophan, a type of protein that the body converts into seratonin, the ‘happy hormone’ – which will keep your mood upbeat. And they’re also high in potassium. When we are stressed our metabolic rate rises and potassium levels decrease. Eating a high-potassium snack like a banana will help rebalance the levels of this important mineral, normalise your heartbeat and send extra oxygen to the brain.

7. Distract yourself

Sitting in the waiting room before your test is often the situation where people feel the most anxious. It’s a good idea to bring a book or magazine to distract yourself. If you’ve been practicing breathing exercises, this is an excellent time to get them going. And remind yourself that this is the worst bit – once you’re actually on your test you’ll be so busy concentrating on the road that your nerves will ease off.

8. Pretend to be a taxi

If the thought of being tested freaks you out, stop thinking of it as a test – instead imagine that you’re taking someone home and as you don’t know where they live they have to give you directions. If you’ve failed your test through nerves several times, then the answer is to ask your instructor to get your driving above the standard required by the test. That way you can underperform due to anxiety on the day, but still be of a high enough standard to get that vital pass.