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I finally passed my driving test, however it really wasn't an easy road for me, so if you're struggling to pass your test or putting off getting your license: you're not alone and this post is for you...
Just to give a bit of context, I'm from Manchester and when I was in 6th form I lived maybe a 20-30 minute journey outside of the city centre by public transport, and I'd say at my school it was 50 / 50 between those who learned to drive whilst doing their A-Levels and those who didn't because there was no immediate need to or because they just had enough on their plate with getting the grades and going through the UCAS process. I have to point out that my partner grew up somewhere more rural than me, and everyone he knew learned to drive as soon as they turned 17. I did actually have a couple of lessons whilst at university, but I suppose with the distractions of student life, my heart wasn't really in it and I wasn't going to prioritise it. However, I'd say most people I knew had their license within a year or so of graduation. I kind of just kept not getting round to it. I guess the nomadic lifestyle of a rotational graduate scheme didn't help, so it was only when I settled into a permanent role in Birmingham that I began flirting with the idea again.
I finally took the plunge in spring 2019, I believe, so you can see what a long road this has been for me. Deep down, I was convinced I'd be terrible because I don't have great spatial awareness, I'm someone who falls over and walks into things a lot and have the ungainly clumsiness you'd expect of a 5ft 9, left-handed girl who dreaded group sports at school. Even at this point, if you can relate to anything I'm saying, then please remember: I did pass in the end, and this is the story of how that happened. If you feel like you'll never 'get it', then remember that I managed it eventually! However, if driving doesn't come naturally to you, you do need to be prepared for the time and energy this is going to take you.
By the autumn time, my instructor said I should get a test booked, so I did and got my Theory. People always say to do your Theory as soon as you start learning. If you're not a confident driver, or you're struggling to get the hang of things: I really don't recommend doing this, because as soon as you get the theory you're on the clock before it expires in two years. It's a lot of added pressure, or at least it was for me, for reasons I'll get into shortly. Additionally, I failed my Theory the first time with the hazard perception; everyone says it's so easy, and the questions are, but I recommend paying for all the apps with all the practice on them for the hazard perception because there's a specific technique to it. That's actually the first exam I've failed in my life! I took my first test in December and failed due to one major fault, which actually isn't terrible given I didn't really feel like I could drive at that point! I have to say that going in too early did shake my confidence; it was quite a stressful experience as I knew I'd made a bad call and had to do another 20 minutes of driving wanting to die inside. However, everyone told me to book another for as soon as possible, so I tried again about 6 weeks later and a similar thing happened: I made a bad judgement out of stress and kind of went to pieces.
Then, we all know what happened in 2020... I was actually originally meant to have another test at the start of March, which would've allowed me to get it in before we eventually went into lockdown, however the test centre actually cancelled on me on the morning it was planned for, delaying for another 4 weeks. Then obviously COVID struck and I couldn't have any lessons until the summer. The lack of tests going on created a huge backlog and therefore the next test date available was November! However, with the additional lessons I had over the summer, my confidence was growing, despite the repeated knocks of having failed twice and the anxiety that knotted itself up in my stomach whenever I had the thought of 'what if I never pass?' I actually slept about 3 hours the night before, I was so nervous. However, I felt like I could drive, and realised that's how you're supposed to feel before taking the test, rather than basing it on some arbitrary measure like 'well, I've had 'x-amount of lessons, so it's time to do it'. During COVID there was actually a rule that if you had failed, to reduce the time spent in the car: the examiner would just direct you back to the test centre. I was 36 minutes in when we started to head back, without any hairy moments! However, as I started to pull up in the car park of the test centre, the examiner decided I was too close to a lamppost and failed me. I'd seen it and judged I was fine, but it didn't matter: I'd failed, again. In the feedback the examiner criticised my choice of footwear (comfy trainers) and said my fuel economy was poor. As soon as she left, I burst into tears. How was I so stupid? Why couldn't I do this one thing that everyone else could do? I'd spent thousands and thousands of pounds already and done so many more hours of lessons than what was supposed to be the average: why couldn't I just get it into my head?!
I got the next available date at the end of January 2021, however we obviously headed into another lockdown and the new date I got was in June! The day after my birthday, no less, which put a dampener on any plans I might have wanted to make. However, there was also now the added pressure that if I didn't pass this time, I was likely going to have to go through the Theory again, because it was due to expire in October and the wait times for test dates were so long. I enjoyed my birthday weekend and tried not to worry too much about things. I meditated before bed the night before and got a good night of rest. In a strange moment of serendipity, my instructor asked me a 'tell me' question in my lesson beforehand, I got it slightly wrong so he told me the the correct answer and it lodged in my mind. We practiced a few manoeuvers beforehand and my instructor mentioned 'if they ask you to pull up on the right, it'll be the right reverse, so make sure you carry on straight for a moment so you're in a good position for it'. It was a really hot day, so I was sweating for two reasons! You have to wear a mask for a driving test at the moment, and I wear glasses whilst driving so there was an continual awkward misting-up situation. However, I held it together. The examiner asked me to pull up on the right and I knew what was coming. Then he asked me the exact same 'tell me' question I'd just gotten wrong earlier and had the correct answer for now. I don't think that man had any idea what that pass certificate meant to me, the mental weight it had lifted off my shoulders. For 2 years there'd been a nagging thing in the back of my mind, something that would always return to in moments of stress or low-confidence: I still hadn't passed. As he wrote my details on that certificate, all of that background worry about never passing and how much money I'd spent on all of this just evaporated.
- TOP TIPS -
- Have a few lessons before considering booking your theory, obviously not everyone will take to it as poorly as me, but it's good to get a gauge before you put yourself on the clock
- Book 1.5 or 2 hour lessons - I did 1 hour lessons until I started back up in summer 2020 and it really does stop you getting into it as well, plus the price is usually a bit cheaper if you book a longer lesson
- I really wish I'd practiced in my partner's car, just to gain more experience
- Don't book your Practical for too early or too late in the day; 11-12 was pretty good in my experience, as there a fewer cars on the road
- Research the test centre better than I did - I honestly just went to the one my instructor suggested, and it transpires it has the lowest pass rate in the country... so, yeah...
- Buy all of the books and apps to get through the Theory: the questions are just a memory test, but as a visual learner, I found images really helpful for digesting the information and obviously the hazard perception practice was a must for me!
- Don't think about it or go over anything the night before, focus on relaxation and getting a good rest, whether that's yoga or meditation
- Keep some notes on the test route, for example, there was a road within my test route where you should use the right-hand lane to go straight ahead on every roundabout because there are invariably parked cars obstructing the left; this stops any surprises on the day that you could do without
- Don't be pressured into taking the test if you don't feel ready because a fail can really knock your confidence, go with your own gut feeling throughout the process
- The test date is on a 'need to know' basis; I honestly only ever told my partner and my manager when I was going for my Practical, as you don't want everyone asking you how it went
- REMEMBER THIS -
You aren't a failure and you will get there. I know everyone says that, but hopefully it has some weight coming from someone who has struggled like I have! Everyone has different experiences of driving; my partner theorised that his aptitude for sports and the fact he grew up playing video games (and, let's be real, the inherent male overconfidence I'm sure he had) made him feel instantly comfortable behind the wheel. Likewise, where you learn to drive makes such a difference! For example, in the UK I feel it's portrayed as a cop-out to learn to drive in an Automatic as opposed to a Manual, though Americans almost always just do Automatic. I would've gone down that route if I'd failed again, and honestly I'm sure Manuals won't be widespread in 10 years, so if that's the only way you think you can learn then go for it, I say. Likewise, if you live or regularly visit Birmingham, you'll probably know the infamous Stratford Road, one of the most congested roads in the city. I had to drive up and down it during every single driving lesson! However, my partner (sorry to keep picking on you, Jack) is from Shropshire and really learned to drive where his dad lives in Telford, and had to adopt a much more aggressive driving style when he came to Birmingham. If you don't know the area; Telford is kind of a 'new' town, so has recently-constructed, purpose-built, almost American-style roads with plenty of space. Overall, a far more pleasant place to drive than Brum.
I also wouldn't be put off by people judging you. I had some really unkind and disheartening comments from certain people belittling me because they passed first time. Look, I don't doubt that perhaps some people have ulterior motives for wanting to say to young women 'see, you aren't that smart after all!' but it doesn't change the fact that it's hurtful and it makes you question everything. It's like the imposter syndrome leaks in, and it's like 'maybe I have coasted through life', 'maybe my achievements so far were a fluke'. Realistically, though, there are so many different types of intelligence; yes, there's the bookish traditional intelligence and that's more what I strive towards. I'm reasonably good at chameleoning, but I'm sure some of the conversations myself and my partner have are navel-gazing nonsense to those with a different type of intelligence (writing this I'm realising he actually has both forms of intelligence and never struggles to pick up anything, but he's a freak of nature). Likewise: if I have to put together a flatpack, no matter how hard I try and think I'm really paying attention, I will hammer the wrong thing into the wrong slot or put the shelf on backwards at some point... Some people can create amazing things with their hands; furniture, ceramics, art, and I was always so jealous of that with my clumsy hands. My nail technician will do a few casual movements and I'll look at my nail and see this amazing illustration appear within seconds. My point is: everyone has things that come easily to them, or it's just a case of honing their natural gifts, and everyone has areas of struggle because their brains just aren't really geared towards that specific way of thinking. That's ok. You are not inferior because you struggle with judging space, distance and movement: it just means you have to work harder at the whole driving thing.
And lastly, I just wanted to tell you that: you will do it. Don't focus on how many hours of lessons you've had, on how many test you took vs. the average: it doesn't matter, because you are you. You don't need to judge yourself or measure up against anyone else. Getting that license was honestly such a huge moment for me because it was so hard for me to learn how to do this. Try not to speak to unkindly to yourself, try to remember that your lot on the day is often luck (the examiner, the manoeuvre, the other drivers on the road are all out of your control), try not to let the pressure of passing get to you and just focus on what you're doing in the moment.
Tell me: did you have a difficult 'learning to drive' story?