Why is the failure rate so high?
Driving Standards Agency has published a list of the top ten reasons for failure, and not surprisingly, every manoeuvre features on this list. However, the majority of test candidates who fail do so because of a lack of planning and judgement. You may be physically able to drive to a high standard, but this is not enough to ensure a test pass.
As well as being able to drive, you have to have an awareness of what's happening around you, and to act accordingly. However, this is where the problems arise during the test, because nerves can play such a large part on how you are able to perform on the day. So many people say after their test: 'but I never do that normally!'
A recent survey* showed that over half of the people questioned thought that they would fail their test because of 'doing something silly' on the day that they wouldn't normally do on a driving lesson. Furthermore, ninety percent believed that their negative thoughts and resulting nerves would have an impact on their test result.
In the same survey, ninety-five percent of people said it would be wonderful if they could go for their test feeling: 'excited because I have absolute belief and confidence in my ability to pass'. My belief is that if you work through the various exercises and techniques in this book, you can have this feeling, and if you go for your test feeling this confident in your ability, then you will have the best chance possible of passing your test on the first attempt.
Although your instructor will teach you the physical driving skills to enable you to pass your test, the standard method of learning to drive does little to increase your confidence in your own ability, reduce your nerves on the day, and therefore mentally prepare you for your test; that is why the exercises in this book are so useful.
Take a few minutes to look through the list and note which ones you identify with. You may find it helpful to think back to your driving lessons and ask yourself which driving skills
your instructor needs to keep practicing with you. When you have done this, you will have an accurate idea as to where your strengths and weaknesses lie and, if you haven't done so already, you can
then use the relevant exercises and techniques in the book to help you.
Observation at junctions - ineffective observation and judgement
Reverse parking - ineffective observation or lack of accuracy
Use of mirrors - not checking or not acting on the information
Moving away - ineffective observation or control when moving away
Use of signals - not given, not cancelled or misleading signals
Incorrect positioning - at roundabouts, lanes and bends
Reversing around a corner - ineffective observation or lack of accuracy
Lack of steering control - steering too early or leaving it too late
Turn round in road - ineffective observation or lack of accuracy
Inappropriate speed - travelling too slowly
Every single manoeuvre features in the top ten reasons for failure
as published by Driving Standards Agency
If you can perform all the manoeuvres accurately, with good observation and control, with no input from your instructor, then skip this section. If however, you feel that you need help to master the manoeuvres, then read on. As you may have read in Chapter Seven, 'Mastering the manoeuvres', getting a manoeuvre right nine times out of ten is really good but not good enough if the one you get wrong is the one you do on your driving test.
I have spoken to some examiners who really try not to fail pupils on just manoeuvres, but they have a job to do, and if the manoeuvre is not up to the required standard then just a single mistake such as missing a look out of the back window or lack of accuracy is enough to result in test failure.
Even though manoeuvres only account for a few minutes of your test, it's vitally important that you are comfortable and confident in your ability to get them right. That's why if there is any doubt in your mind about your ability to perform the manoeuvres to the required standard, make sure you complete the exercises in Chapter Seven, 'Mastering the manoeuvres'. The techniques you will learn will ensure that you are fully prepared. Remember, every single manoeuvre features in the top ten reasons for failure, so don't let them be your downfall.
As you look through the list, you will see that the reasons for failure fall into two basic categories: observation and judgement, and physical ability. Ask yourself how difficult it is to look in your mirrors whilst driving. When you go on your driving test, does a neck brace mysteriously appear around your neck as the examiner gets into the car, which prevents your head from moving, or do your eyes suddenly start to hurt as soon as you look in the mirror, or perhaps your elaborate hairstyle prevents you from turning around to check your blind spot? Of course not, but look again at the list of reasons for failure:
So why do so many people fail their test for these reasons? If it were so easy to make sure that you use your mirrors effectively, act on what you see, check
your blind spots when necessary and keep good all round observation, then the pass rate would be much higher. At least, that is the theory.
How many people do you know who have failed their test because of lack of use of mirrors or observation? Perhaps you have even done so yourself. However, why do people fail their driving test because of a failure to do correctly something so obvious and easy to learn? It is because when you are feeling nervous you forget the most basic skills. I have thought about this issue a lot and I have a theory why people miss basic mirror checks on their test and that theory is that people learn from their mistakes. If you lift your foot off the clutch too quickly, the car stalls, so you learn to take your foot off more slowly. If you try to go up a hill in a high gear, the car struggles, so you learn that you need a lower gear going up hill.
These two errors have a tangible, physical consequence. Therefore, you learn from your mistake. However, a missed mirror check during a lesson or test may have no physical consequence, but when it does, the physical consequences can be fatal: swapping lanes in front of another car, or braking harshly so that the car behind runs into you, or not checking a blind spot and knocking a child off their bike. However, these events are highly unlikely to occur during a lesson or test as your instructor (or accompanying driver) will prevent them from happening, as they will be more aware and experienced than you about what is happening around the car. You may never get the opportunity to learn from such mistakes until you've passed your test because it would obviously put people's lives at risk (and let's hope that you never do get that opportunity). There can be no controlled errors where mirror checks and observation are concerned.
If you can say the above with total conviction, then you do not need to read this section. However, if your instructor has to keep reminding you to check
your mirrors and blind spots, then read on. It's very simple; all you have to do is:
Look in the appropriate mirrors before
As we have already said if it were that simple then no one would fail their test due to observation errors and missed mirror checks, or acting inappropriately on observations made. In the survey mentioned earlier, seventy percent of people said that their instructor has to prompt them on a regular basis. It is hard to understand why pupils need reminding to check their mirrors, knowing that they are aware that there can be fatal consequences of not doing this.
I'm using shock tactics but I think they are necessary as death is the potential consequence every single time a driver forgets to check their mirrors or blind spot. If the police visited your house to advise that a close relative had been murdered, perhaps shot or stabbed, how would you feel towards the murderer? Imagine instead that this relative had been killed by a driver swapping lanes in front of them. How would you feel towards the driver of that car? Would you feel the same as you would feel towards the murderer? Even though the intention is completely different, the outcome is still the same. The scenarios described above should be enough to ensure that you are always aware of what's happening around you, and that you take full responsibility for your actions.
When I was learning to drive, I was a student and my fellow students and I would often discuss how well our driving lessons had gone. The question most often heard was: 'So, how many times did you stall?' When I talk to my pupils now, they still ask the same question of their friends. I don't remember ever saying: 'It was brilliant, although I stalled a few times, I never missed a mirror check!' People don't seem to consider errors made in checking their mirrors as important or worthy of comment as they do errors made stalling their car. This is incredible. If you are more concerned about how many times you stalled, rather than your mirrors and awareness, then I think that you need a lesson in perspective.
I'm not suggesting that stalling is a good thing to do; I am saying that if you are more concerned with stalling the car than with your mirror checks then you need to get things into perspective. Stalling may have serious consequences, especially if you stall in the middle of a roundabout, or at traffic lights just as they are about to change, but I don't understand why people place much more emphasis on this than missing a mirror check. Ask yourself how many times you keep thinking about the few times that you stalled on your lesson, compared to the many times that you missed a mirror or blind spot check. Pupils often get very nervous and panic when they have stalled because they feel embarrassed and are worried about what the other drivers around them are thinking, or that they are holding people up, and annoying other drivers. They aren't unduly concerned when they have missed a mirror check and they should be.
I hope that this section will have shown you the importance of mirrors, blind spots and observation, but I suggest you work
through Chapter Six, 'The basics' to ensure that this is firmly entrenched in your mind for good.
Remember, a car is a potentially a lethal
weapon and you are in control of it.
It takes less than a second to check your mirrors,
but if you don't, you will regret it for the rest of
your life if you cause a fatal accident.
If you refer back to the top ten reasons for failure, surprisingly the physical skill of driving doesn't feature very
highly. Only 'moving away under control' and 'lack of steering control' find their way into the top ten.
You have probably realised by now that the physical ability to drive is the easiest bit to master, and that the hardest part is the thinking behind it. However, what can you do if on your test, the nerves get the better of you, and the physical ability to drive seems to leave you temporarily? So many people drive really well during their lessons, and then go to pieces on their test. What maybe of little consequence on your lesson can turn into a catastrophe if you let it get to you on your test.
As you learned earlier, no good instructor will let a pupil take their test before they are ready, as it's very
demoralising to fail your test. Your instructor wants you to be as prepared as possible, so you don't have to go through the upset of failing. Therefore, it's in everyone's interest to make sure you
are fully prepared.
Only clutch and steering control feature in this section, and if you have difficulty in these areas, please don't put in for your test until you feel totally confident in your ability. When you have to do an uphill start, if you are scared that you may roll back and feeling nervous about it, then trust me, you are not ready for your test.
So, ask yourself (and your instructor) if your physical driving ability is up to test standard. If it isn't, carry on working on it until it is; but if it is, and you are concerned that nerves will get to you on your test and prevent you from driving as well as you normally would, then make sure you work through Chapter Thirteen, 'Test day stress-busters'. You will find that so long as your drive is up to the required standard, then you will not suddenly lose your ability to drive due to nerves.
I suggest that you now look again at the top ten reasons for failure. Which ones do you think are related to
planning and decision-making? I think that the following reasons for failure could be prevented, or at least reduced with more thought:
Observation at junctions
Use of signals
How many times have you said 'If only…' followed by a range of comments, such as, 'I'd seen that car at the roundabout', 'remembered to turn my signal on/off', 'stayed in the correct lane', 'spotted the speed limit sign' etc.?
After the event, it's very easy to be full of remorse, bitterness, anger and a range of other emotions, but that just makes you feel worse about failing your test. How much better would it be to say: 'I drove to the best of my ability, and was really in the “zone” and was aware of everything happening around me.'? If your physical drive is up to the required standard, then how frustrating would it be to fail on something as simple as missing a speed limit, or forgetting to cancel your signal?
Remembering this statement is all very well when preparing for an examination; all you have to do is know what's on the syllabus and revise accordingly. However, when talking about driving, we are talking about making instant judgements and decisions that can affect lives; a split second decision that could result in life or death. Perhaps this sounds a bit heavy. But consider this: so is a car when it hits you at 70mph! Therefore, it's imperative that your judgement is sound and that you always drive with utmost concentration and thought. This is perhaps the hardest part of all when learning to drive.
I once taught a pupil who was meant to be taking her test in two weeks. We were on a wide, straight country lane, doing about fifty mph with several cars approaching from the opposite direction. Up ahead there was a tractor travelling at about ten mph, and we were rapidly getting closer and closer to it. My pupil asked: 'Shall I slow down?' This particular pupil frequently didn't judge situations very well and tended to rely on me for everything. I had been trying to get her to think for herself a little more. Therefore, instead of telling her to slow down, I said: 'no, that's fine, keep at fifty mph', to which my pupil replied, 'but if I do, I'll hit it!'. To this my reply was: 'Well, stop asking silly questions then!'
1. Don't rush it Get as much practice as you can and only apply for your test when you feel confident that you are safe. If you're worried about the theory test, ask friends and family to test you to familiarise yourself with the questions
2. Book the first available driving test of the day. If you take your test early in the morning you will have less time to worry
3. Don’t tell your friends the test date. If everyone knows you are going for the test, you create the additional stress of trying
to live up to your friends expectations. It's OK to let your Mum and Dad know, we are sure they will give you all the support you need.
4. Don’t listen to ‘horror stories’. There are many stories about failed tests. Some may even be true. Just concentrate on
. 5. Get the timing right. Take the test at the right time. Try to book the test so it does not coincide with other stressful events (just prior to school exams or in the middle of wedding preparations etc).
6. Go to the right test centre. No good going to a test centre were your friends have all failed. This will only lose you
confidence. Go to the centre were they all pass!
7. In your last two lessons. Ask your instructor to concentrate on the manoeuvres you find most
8. Do a practice run. We use the term ‘Mock Test’. The instructor should be very realistic and the
student must take it reasonably serious.
9.Practice in your head It's been proven that you can improve your ability to perform coordinated tasks by imagining doing
10. Examiners are only human. Your test is one of possibly eight on the examiners sheet that day. Don’t try to please
11.You do not need to be perfect. Concentrate on the essentials. If you make a mistake, keep calm and concentrate on
your driving. The mistake may not result in failure.
12. Don’t worry about silence in the car. It can be daunting sitting beside a stranger, who seems to just grunt: 'turn right, turn
left'. Avoid thinking the examiner doesn’t like you. If there is a little chit-chat, be happy, but don’t expect it.
13. You will pass. Both instructor and pupil must be convinced that the result will be a pass. An attitude ‘lets have a go at it’
may produce a pass, but is exhausting on the nerves.
14. Don’t take pills to calm your nerves. This only slows your reaction and performance.
15. Get a good night's sleep before the test.
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