Dealing with test nerves

Defeating Nerves on the Day of Your Driver’s Test


Even if one is generally a calm, happy-go-lucky sort of person, unexpected nerves can hit hard when one is confronted with a sudden pressure to perform, when the possibility of being deemed inadequate is looming directly overhead. Many people who are not generally anxious individuals struggle with tests for this reason, and driver’s tests pose a particular challenge as not only is a person coping with the idea of being tested, there are also a lot of variables present in the environment to deal with (unlike when taking a test on paper).


Even if you feel generally confident in the weeks leading up to your test, once you get to the testing facility, jitters may emerge from what feels like nowhere; it is, therefore, highly advisable to have a plan in place to deal with them before you arrive to be tested.


To cope with nerves should they arise prior to your driver’s test, try the following strategies:


- Practice, practice, practice. They say it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become an “expert” at something, to master it so thoroughly it becomes innate. Whether this exact figure is accurate or not, it’s accepted wisdom that doing something over and over again can make the behaviour become downright automatic. This is one of the best ways to cope with driver’s test nerves, as the moment something distracts you—the instructor speaking, something happening on the road, etc.–you’ll fall right into habit, and once you realise what has happened, you’ll feel a wave of relief knowing that you’ve “got it” after all.


- Don’t focus too hard on imagining you’re already successful. Many people espouse the idea that if you imagine you’re already successful at something—such as visualising that you’re already a prize-winning novelist, for example—you’ll somehow actually become successful. While it’s good to hope for a positive outcome, focussing too hard on success can actually increase one’s nerves—especially if you don’t pass the first test, and have to take a second one.


In reality, research has shown that flow states (known colloquially as being ‘in the zone’) are actually characterised by less thinking, not hyper-focus—so there’s no scientific basis for the idea that aggressively trying to visualise success will do anything to help.


- Don’t fixate on the idea of failure, either. Not only does expecting failure also lead to overthinking, it’s been shown that people who expect to fail tend to actually end up sabotaging themselves. It is better, all in all, to not think too much about concepts like success and failure and simply immerse yourself in what’s in front of you, to get lost in the present moment and the task at hand rather than forecasting outcomes.


- Try deep breathing exercises if you start to get nervous. Anxiety easily works itself up into being a cyclic state; you get nervous, so you breathe more rapidly and lightly than usual. This results in less oxygen entering the brain, which makes one light-headed and activates the stress response further. Breathing then quickens even more, and before you know it, you’re experiencing a full-on panic attack.


The key to preventing the above is to focus on breathing in slowly, filling your lungs, holding it for a second, and then gradually letting it out. This will short-circuit nerves and calm the body before things get out of hand.


- Practise meditation in the weeks leading up to your driving test. Meditation is not merely relaxing, it teaches the brain to more easily enter a ‘flow state’, resulting in less nerves when a person is under pressure and a greater likelihood of achieving a healthy level of focus (one that is neither too intense nor too loose).


- Make sure to arrive early for your test. There’s no faster way to worsen nerves than showing up already late for a test and in a stressed-out, hurried, unfocussed state. Show up for your test at least 15 minutes early; you will then start the test calm and with a sense of accomplishment in place from managing to arrive ahead of schedule.


- Reach out for support. Talking to someone you trust prior to the test and having a warm hug is one of the most effective relaxation techniques there is. Don’t be too proud to seek out a listening ear—you’re sure to feel glad you did afterwards.


- Get some exercise just prior to the test. Exercise is an excellent way to literally burn off stress and cause the brain to release a generous supply of serotonin, causing you to feel happier, calmer, and more focussed during your driver’s test. If fitness isn’t generally your thing, don’t worry about hitting the gym—a simple half hour walk will generally suffice.


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