How to Master Test Nerves

The first thing to remember is: Nerves are not necessarily a bad thing

For the theory and practical tests a bit of nervousness can help your performance. Any actor or performer, or anyone in a high-stress job, will tell you that some amount of adrenaline helps them achieve good results.

Being too laid-back could mean you miss mistakes in the driving theory test, and in the practical driving test you may appear to be over-confident, and this will not impress the examiner.

Too much nervousness, however, will lead to the ‘fright or flight’ reaction, a known physiological reaction, a legacy that reminds us humans are also animals. This can lead to among other things, sweaty palms, increased heart-rate, loss of concentration, physical discomfort and a host of other symptoms. These are not helpful.

So: how can you keep your nerves at a controllable level?


Be prepared: this means not just ‘know your stuff’, but also, think about how you are going to deal with any nerves.

Cast your mind back to other written exams, the ones you failed, the ones you passed. How did you control/fail to control your nerves on those occasions? If you haven’t taken any written exams, think of other stressful situations and how you dealt with them.

Try deep breathing Concentrating on the simple action of breathing in and out not only increases the oxygen to your brain, but also helps you think about something else other than the ‘ordeal’ ahead. Be careful not to hyperventilate! Incidentally, having a cigarette will only increase your heart rate – the ‘calmness’ that smokers claim they feel is more to do with the action of smoking, not the nicotine.

Make sure you know where the theory test centre is and plan your route. You don’t want to be stuck in traffic, on the wrong bus or dealing with engineering works, particularly if the test is at 9.00am.

Visualise success Some people find that imagining a successful result will make this a reality. Try not to let thought of failure slip in – even if you’ve had a nightmare. Thinking it so won’t always make it so, but it goes a very long way.

Medication There are many herbal and prescription drugs to deal with ‘nerves’. These are not to be recommended, especially if you have never used them before. And anyway, the lessons you learn about how to control nerves the ‘natural’ way are good practice for the practical examination you will be taking later..

And remember, you can always talk to us at Britannia Driving School – we are very experienced and have lots of sympathy!


Remember: the practical driving test is not a job interview or personality test. Follow the advice for the theory test, with the following extras:

Be prepared: Make sure you are confident enough to take the test and have had enough lessons. Your Britannia instructor will advise you of this. Arrange to take a mock driving test as near to the test date as you can. Your driving instructor understands and can tell the difference between silly mistakes made under stress and genuine problems that need to be solved and will tackle both.

Choose a test date which suits you: If you’ve booked a test date and something else more stressful crops up in your life, change it. Yes, learning to drive is important and a wonderful achievement, but if another part of your life has gone topsy-turvy, the chances are you won’t be able to concentrate.

Wear comfortable clothes: Look smart and neat, but do wear something comfortable. You don’t want to be distracted by shoes that pinch or a jacket with tight underarms. If you are going to sweat, try wearing cooler clothes for the time of year – and not too much make-up!

Don’t be put off by an unchatty examiner: He or she is concentrating on the job in hand. Not responding to your attempts at conversation (and if you’re nervous, it’ll probably only be meaningless babble anyway) is not unfriendliness, it’s professionalism. Adopt a similar professional attitude and you’ll get on fine. Examiners are human, even when they’re testing you!

Try not to be put off by a mistake: Many people have made a minor error in the stress of the moment. If the driving examiner can see this for what it is, and you correct it immediately, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve failed. Take a breath and continue.

Medication and other drugs:

Alcohol: We all know the drink-driving rules but, if you are a drinker, don’t be tempted to have a few to help you sleep the night before. Not only could you still be over the limit, but if the driving examiner smells the slightest whiff of alcohol on your breath (or from your pores), the chances are you won’t be allowed to sit the test. If you have even a slight hangover, you’re hardly going to perform at your best, and it’s probably better to cancel the test anyway.

Cannabis: Because of the relaxation of the laws surrounding cannabis use, it is commonly misunderstood that this is not as illegal or dangerous a drug as alcohol to take before driving. Don’t even think about it.

Prescription medication: If you take medication prescribed by a doctor, it might be an idea to check with the DVLA that it is permissible to drive with this. As above, herbal or other remedies are not a good idea if you’ve never used them before, and the ‘natural’ way is best. You don’t want to have to take something to calm your nerves every time you drive!

And remember the old clichés: You can only do your best! Think positive.

Britannia driving instructors are always ready to help with any problem – don’t be afraid to ask for our expert advice.

Forget horror stories: here are a few real-life examples to give you inspiration:

Michelle: “I thought the examiner was a miserable so-and-so because he wouldn’t chat to me. He explained at the end of the test that he didn’t want to encourage me to become too relaxed, or I might make a mistake. Turned out he was a really nice bloke!”


Twins Gemma and Margaret: “We were both encouraged by our instructor just before the test not to worry if we didn’t ‘beat’ our twin, or look silly in front of our friends. By the time he said all this, we were more nervous!”


(Margaret was less successful in banishing the nerves triggered off with the ‘helpful’ comments before the test. Obviously not a Britannia instructor!)

John: “Well, you just get on with it, don’t you? I always knew I could take it again if I failed.”


Lindsey: “I really thought I’d failed. I bumped the kerb as I went through a narrow passage in the road. I even tried to persuade the examiner I’d failed! He said I’d done well as the gap had been made rather narrow for a car to get through anyway, and I had made no other mistakes.”


Susan: “I had been cycling on the roads so had developed an excellent road sense. But my nerves on the day always let me down. In desperation, I tried hypnotherapy. Best £20 I ever spent!”


And finally…

Robert: “When we left the Test Centre to get into the car, we couldn’t find it. It had been stolen! I went back the next day.”


Britannia Instructors are fully trained and experienced to deal with every aspect of your theory and practical tests. Use their expertise. They love to be asked!