Driving Test Nerves

Driving Test Nerves

by Dr Emma Gray - 10th December, 2018
Driving Test Nerves

In this blog I am going to give you 3 tips to help you to manage your Driving Test Nerves so you can maximise your chances of passing your test.

First it is important to remember that up to a certain point feeling nervous can be helpful when we are facing a challenge like a driving test. Nerves motivate us to prepare, focus our awareness and improve our decision-making abilities and response times so that we can give our best performance. However, past a point, feeling nervous turns into anxiety and can start to undermine our performance, it can distract us, cloud our judgement and impair our ability to respond appropriately. So, we need to learn how to control our nerves before a test to make sure they are helping not hindering us.

First a bit of biology. There are two parts to our nervous system, the first is the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) that is active when we are feeling nervous. This system can enhance our performance in challenging situations. However, if overstimulated it leads to anxiety, negative thoughts, poor decision making and impulsive actions. The second part of our nervous system is the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) which is active when we are relaxed and leads to feelings of calmness, clear thinking and controlled action. The ideal position to be in when taking a test is to be able to switch off your SNS when it is overstimulated and no longer helping your performance and switch on your PNS to calm you down and enable you to regain control on your thoughts feeling and responses.

There are 3 ways you can do this:

1. The first is by changing the way that you are thinking. When we are anxious we tend to dwell on the worst case scenario and believe that it is the most likely outcome. For example, predicting that you are going to fail your test. Thoughts like this will overstimulate your SNS which will impede rather than improve your performance.

By highlighting your ability to cope and what is more likely to happen, you can signal to your brain that it is ok to turn off your SNS (and anxiety) and turn on your PNS (and calmness). So, start by asking yourself what you would do if the worst did happen e.g. I would take my test again. Then put together a more likely scenario and remind yourself that this is what is probably going to happen e.g. my instructor thinks I am ready to take my test, he would not have put me forward otherwise, I need to trust his judgement and assume that if I put my best effort in I am likely to pass.

2. Another way of turning your SNS (and anxiety) off and your PNS (and calmness) on is by altering the way that you breath. When your SNS is active your breath is shallow and rapid (as if we were being chased), simply by slowing and deepening your breath your can signal to your brain that it is ok to switch your PNS on. Try this exercise:

  • Inhale of the count of 2, exhale for the count of 2. Repeat.
  • Inhale for the count of 3, exhale for the count of 3. Repeat.
  • Inhale for the count of 4, exhale for the count of 4. Repeat.
  • Inhale for the count of 5, exhale for the count of 5. Repeat.

As your inhale and exhale get longer your SNS will switch off, your PNS will switch on and you will feel calmer. The more you practice the better you will get at this.

3. The final way that you can turn your SNS (and anxiety) off and enjoy the benefits of the PNS (and calmness) is by slowing down. When our SNS is overstimulated we behave in a frantic way, driven on by the adrenalin in our system. By taking the conscious decision to slow down we encourage our brains to switch into another calmer more considered mode, the PNS mode. Like the other two techniques this takes practice, but over time it can be a very effective way of dealing with an overstimulated SNS (and anxiety) and calming those Driving Test Nerves.

Used alone each of these techniques will reduce your anxiety, used together they will help you give your best performance and pass your driving test. Good luck.


Dr Emma Gray

Dr Emma Gray

I am often the first person with whom my patients share significant and intimate thoughts and memories; I never take that privileged position for granted nor the opportunity to help someone to feel better about themselves and discover a more fulfilling life. One of my colleague once described me as natural psychologist; I guess she was alluding to the fact that I feel at ease being a therapist, I can empathise with people’s distress and discomfort but don’t feel overwhelmed by it, I can understand their problem and know how to help, it has always just felt like what I should be doing.


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