The first thing my best friend said to me after passing the road test for her driver’s license was this: “Driving is just like, freedom. You know?” I didn’t know because I was one of the only people in my friend group who was license-less. I passed the written portion of the test when I was 15, but I was so scared of the part of the test where I’d have to get behind the wheel that I avoided driving altogether. It was only last year, at 18, that I felt prepared enough to even sign up for the road test. With an attitude that was finally “Hey, WHATEVER!” instead of “OMGOMGOMG,” I took the test and passed with only 10 demerits!
If you have your learner’s permit and are waiting—excitedly or anxiously—to take your driving test, don’t stress! Here are some things to keep in mind before, during, and after the test to help yourself prepare and feel more at ease. (I can almost guarantee you will do better than Cher.)
Before the test:
Familiarize yourself with the area you’ll be driving in. I was lucky enough to sign up for a road test at an MPI—my Canadian province’s version of a DMV—close to my neighborhood, so the whole test was in a place I knew like the back of my hand. If you have the option, book your driving test in a neighborhood you know. If you can’t choose the site, I recommend practicing your driving in different parts of your city or town with a parent or guardian. Also: Ask your friends where they took their road tests! More than likely, you’ll have at least one friend who took their test at the same place you’ll take yours. Find out which routes they took so you can study them.
Check your vehicle. If you’re required to drive your or your family’s car for the test, make sure it is in working order. Go online and look up the vehicle requirements for your state or province and thoroughly check! To take the road test in New York, for example, you’re required to have a vehicle with functioning headlights, windshield wipers, and a decluttered area around the seat belt.
I didn’t mention this earlier, but I had a false start before I actually took my road test: I got sent home the first time I showed up for it because a brake light in my dad’s car was burnt out. If I would have just checked the car the night before, it would have saved me—and my dad—time, stress, and the $30 it cost to book the test. Even if you think your vehicle will pass inspection, double check! Better safe (with a license) than sorry (with no license)!
Get a good night’s sleep. I know, I know—thanks, Mom. But it’s TRUE. Driving requires a decent amount of focus, and a decent amount of focus requires a decent amount of sleep. IT’S ALL CONNECTED. The test requires you to pay attention to the road AND listen to another person giving you instructions. You have to be as alert as possible. (If counting sheep doesn’t work for you, here’s a a dreamy playlist that will hopefully help you snooze.)
During the test:
Stay calm and be confident. One of the most valuable things I learned in driver’s ed was that being timid during your road test is NOT good. With almost all other types of tests, taking your time and double-checking is celebrated. Your driving examiner is not looking for excessive caution. They’re evaluating your confidence behind the wheel. It can be intimidating to see the examiner writing things down as you drive, but concentrate on what’s happening on the road. One of the worst things you can do is to try to sneak a couple of glances at the test sheet—don’t do it! It’s just a distraction! Even though it may not seem like it, your examiner wants you to succeed. Be confident, and focus!
Be aware of traffic signs. Your driving examiner may or may not give you hints about upcoming changes in speed-limit, yields, or merges. This person isn’t there to trick you—they won’t ask you to make a left-turn on a one-way going right—but they will be watching for whether you adhere to traffic signs. I was lucky to have my examiner blatantly say to me, “We are approaching a school zone. I repeat: a SCHOOL ZONE,” so I could reduce my speed. Even if your examiner is nice like that, it’s still crucial to be aware of the signs. Depending on where you are taking your test, speed limits can change in a matter of yards. I can’t tell you how many of my friends failed their road tests because they stopped when they should have yielded, or they were going too fast in a school zone. If you need a refresher, you can take a road sign practice test here.
Ask questions if you are unsure. The examiner will be giving you instructions throughout the test and they will, ideally, be clear about what they want you to do. In the case that they are not so clear, it’s important to ask for clarification. If they ask you to make a left turn “up ahead,” but you’re not exactly sure which street they mean, it’s more than OK to ask. Asking questions isn’t a sign that you’re an unsure driver, it’s a signal to the examiner that they need to be more descriptive about what they want you to do. If you have questions unrelated to the examiner’s instructions, there should bet time before your test to do so. It may be nerve-racking, but making sure you and the examiner are on the same page is an important step toward getting your license.
After the test:
Celebrate! There are only two outcomes for your road test—pass or fail—and you should celebrate either way. Driving is scary. It can be a source of anxiety for many people, including adults. Failing your road test is MORE than OK. You can always take it again.
Remember that if you get your license, you can still wait to drive ’til you’re ready. It can be disheartening or stressful to see your friends driving around when it freaks you out, and to hear comments from your parents about how badly they want you to drive. Truly: You can wait. My first time driving ended with me crying in a Target parking lot. But it got better as I gained confidence over the next weeks and months. Teenagers—and their behavior—are often compartmentalized into a very specific timeline. Whether you’re dating, graduating, or driving, when you deviate from preconceived norms, it’s easy to feel ostracized. Listen to what your body and mind are telling you. Drive when you’re ready. It’s safer that way, for you and other people on the road.
Having your license, of course, opens up a realm of possibilities: Road trips! After-school hang outs! Impromptu mall visits! 3 AM McDonald’s runs! Just remember that happiness is most possible (warning: I’m about to be corny but real) when you listen to your gut—license or no license. ♦