A driving test, whether a theory test or practical test, can be a nerve-wracking experience. Fortunately there are tried and tested ways of improving your memory and confidence, and reducing nervousness and anxiety.
In this article we’ll look at five techniques you can use as you prepare for your tests, and the earlier you start, the better your results will be.
Nutrition and hydration
Your diet can affect your ability to concentrate and remember. Try changing it if you are studying for a test. Lots of sugar places huge demands on your pancreas and can cause your body to ‘crash’ making it difficult for you to remember facts. Not getting enough vitamins and minerals can affect your concentration.
If you are taking your test in the early afternoon avoid a lunch that contains a lot of fat and protein as this will make you sleepy – a pie and an energy drink are just about the two worst things you can have before a test. Choose a nutritious lunch with vegetables or salad and plenty of liquid (preferably water).
Dehydration can cause sluggishness and difficulty concentrating, but while you need to ensure that you have enough fluids before your test so that you are hydrated, too many fluids can leave you caught short when you are half way through your practical test. Dehydration can also cause halitosis and you don’t want your driving examiner to be desperate to get out of the car because of your bad breath!
There are tricks you can use to help you remember facts more easily, and they can improve your chances in the theory test. It helps for you to replicate the environment that you will be taking the test in. You won’t have music on when you take the test, and you won’t have drunk that glass of wine. If you come to associate listening to music and drinking wine with learning the Road Code, when you have to recall the road rules in a dry, sterile test centre your brain has to do more work than if you have conditioned it to a similar environment.
The second technique is for you to teach what you are learning to someone else as this will help you understand it more deeply.
And finally, you should make sure that your short-term memory is filled with Road Code knowledge by doing an online mock theory test on your computer or smartphone just before you take the actual test.
Affirmations are simple, positive statements that you repeat to yourself to influence your subconscious mind. Also called self-talk, they are used by all kinds of people from salespeople needing a quick boost of confidence before a call through to long distance runners keeping a rhythm in their step and convincing themselves they are strong and have plenty of energy to finish the race.
Affirmations are a form of brainwashing yourself in a positive way. There are some important rules to creating your own affirmations. Firstly, an affirmation must be said in the present tense as if it has already happened. Secondly, you must not use negatives. Thirdly, you must not contradict a core belief that you are unwilling to change.
Let’s take these one at a time:
An example of a statement in the present tense is, “I easily remember the Road Code.” Even though your conscious mind might be acknowledging that you are not be easily remembering the Road Code right now, your subconscious mind will take the affirmation on board and start to change things.
“I’m not nervous when driving” is a bad affirmation; it has a negative in it and your subconscious mind doesn’t comprehend the difference between positive and negative. Essentially you have just drawn your awareness to your nervousness. If you find yourself always wanting to say a negative affirmation look at the antonym (the opposite), and use that instead, so in this case you would say, “I am always confident when driving”, which is also a statement in the present tense.
The third part to creating an affirmation can sometimes be a little more difficult to get right. Let’s take the memory example from above. If you have a deep-seated belief that you have a bad memory because your Dad says that everyone in your family has a bad memory and it’s genetic and there’s nothing you can do about it, then that (wrongly held) belief will fight against your affirmation. Understanding the core belief, which can frequently be hidden, is crucial. In this case you can use affirmations that build your confidence around memory by affirming things you know to be true, adding them to your desired affirmation. For example, “When I practise remembering, my memory improves,” and “I like practising the Road Code because it improves my memory”, and “I easily remember the Road Code.” These three affirmations state something that you can’t deny, followed by something that will give you a positive emotion (“I like…”), followed by something that will give you the result you want.
It’s quite OK to have a few affirmations, say three or four, so you can use multiple affirmations to kill those negative aspects and deep-rooted beliefs.
Visualisation is where you imagine a scenario playing out favourably for you. It’s a form of mental preparation used by elite athletes and business leaders to prepare them for situations. Numerous studies have found that visualisation is almost as effective as actually doing the thing you visualise. This is because the process of visualisation sends the same messages to your muscles as would be sent in reality, but at very low levels. This conditions your mind to send the signals correctly when you have to do it for real.
Musicians (especially classical musicians) visualise giving concerts because much of their playing comes straight from the subconscious and muscle memory. Basketball players visualise shooting perfect hoops (this was the subject of one experiment conducted by Australian psychologist Alan Richardson that found that players that visualised but didn’t physically practise improved almost as much as players that physically practised).
To start with visualisation is very simple: find a quiet place, and now imagine in as vivid detail as possible that you are running through your test and everything is perfect; you are driving perfectly, you are in control and you pass the test.
When you first start to visualise, your mind is likely to play tricks on you by imagining failure. This is because your mind isn’t trained and is controlling you. Simply start the visualisation again and stick with it until your mind begins to comply.
If you’re not sure about trying affirmations or visualisation yourself you can go to a hypnotherapist. Hypnotherapy puts your mind in a relaxed state where it’s more open to suggestions. You are still in control, but the hypnotherapist can work with you to develop suggestions that will help you overcome anxiety and nervousness, improve your spatial awareness and confidence, and increase your memory capacity.
Good luck with your driving test – whether it’s theory or practical – and remember that you can use any of the techniques above for all manner of self-improvement in your everyday life after you have passed your test.