According to Driving Standards Agency (DSA) data, between April and September last year, 708,676 driving tests were conducted in the UK. Of those, 336,202 candidates passed – that’s a pass rate of 47.4%, less than half. That’s not great news if you are taking your test anytime soon.
The popular idea that examiners have a quota, that they can only pass so many students is a complete myth – if you drive in a relaxed, calm and above all, safe manner, you will pass your test. So what’s happening? Surely there must be a reason for such a low pass rate? Can we sway the odds in our favour a little?
Assuming that you have been told to apply for your test by your instructor, you are ready. Your instructor is a professional, and it’s in his interest for you to pass. So that should be seen as a massive vote of confidence in your abilities as a safe and competent driver. You’ve put in the hours, put in the practice, but just the thought of ‘test day’ fills you with dread. Have you wondered why?
Anyone who has ever sat any form of important test, exam or interview will plainly see the reason: pre-test nerves, jitters, anxiety – many names for the same issue – a perfectly understandable manifestation of the brain’s natural ‘fight or flight’ primitive response.
During an anxious or stressful time, the body is flooded by various ‘stress hormones’, mainly one that many people will have heard of, adrenaline. This is called a ‘primitive’ response, as it is a by-product of the system that early man used in order to allow the species to flourish. It is a response to a life-threatening event – it gives the body greater physical strength, and makes things appear much more dangerous than they actually are. Several things happen to the body under the influence of adrenaline, all of which are great news if you are a caveman facing a ferocious animal, but not so good when you’re about to take your driving test!
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, that thudding in the chest so familiar to those in a high state of stress. Blood vessels constrict, raising blood pressure, and blood is redistributed away from the brain, and into the muscles. The pupils dilate, and the stressed individual may begin to sweat, in an effort to keep the body cool for the upcoming frenzy of exertion. There is also a sudden metabolism change, usually leading to nausea. There is a digestive shutdown, which in an extreme situation can cause vomiting or the evacuation of the bowel or bladder. And on top of all that another stress hormone, cortisol is released. Cortisol can short circuit the brain’s memory centre, making it difficult to recall coherent knowledge. So your body has now become a warzone – really not the best start for a calm, relaxing, successful driving test!
Some people are chronically anxious, and hypnotherapists are very familiar with the misery and psychological, as well as physical, symptoms long term anxiety can produce. Even in the short term, if the body is prepared to fight or run away, and that life-threatening event does not actually materialise, then the muscles and, more importantly, the brain, has to work very hard to rid itself of this excess adrenaline. And as a result can leave the person feeling ‘washed out’, hung-over or just plain miserable. This is the so-called ‘adrenaline crash’.
If you are preparing to take your test, an understanding of this process, can be extremely comforting. Knowing why we feel this way, and understanding the processes going on in our bodies can be used to tip the odds in our favour. If we can approach the driving test in a relaxed and rational manner, we will be rested, calm and focused. Our memory will be working at top efficiency and we will clearly understand just what it takes to pass. Many people are fully capable of calming themselves down naturally, but just as many people find this difficult if not impossible. Maybe the low overall pass rate could be put down to something as simple as ‘nerves’?
So, given all that, what can be done? Well, thankfully there is a solution, if not a ‘cure’ – this response is actually vital to our survival (if it were genuinely a life-endangering threat, then improved speed and strength would be a great asset), but, as we’ve seen, it can become easily misplaced.
One of the main core aims of hypnotherapy is the reduction of anxiety. Clients routinely find they can successfully and easily overcome a huge range of physical or emotional problems by learning to reduce their anxiety levels. Hypnotherapy can be hugely beneficial in all kinds of ‘test’ or ‘trial’ scenarios by reducing the stress surrounding the event itself, but also by allowing the client to visualise a ‘successful outcome’. Visualisation is a remarkably powerful technique, used by many sportspeople, politicians and successful business leaders alike. It allows the client to actually rehearse the success, to make the brain aware of what is to come, and what’s expected of it, in a safe and controlled environment. The end result of this rehearsal is that the subconscious mind no longer sees the upcoming test as a threat, but as an opportunity to progress.
Give yourself the chance you deserve. You’re ready and able to pass your driving test. If you feel you need a little help, feel free to contact me, or, if you decide to go it alone, remember – just relax, it’s not a sabre-toothed tiger attacking you! Good luck.