Tips for passing road test.
May 24, 2010 7:42 AM   Subscribe

Help me ace my road test next week (and boost my confidence).

I have had my learner's permit and have been practicing driving a car for over a year. I'm comfortable on the road and parking. I still have another week until my road test and will be practicing about an hour a day until then. My lovely and patient driving instructor (aka Dad) thinks I'm good to go - and believe me, he would be the first to say "You're not ready yet."

But I still have this nagging feeling that I'm going to fail. I went for my road test when I was a 18 and had a horrendous experience with a nasty driving examiner who yelled at me and reduced me to tears. I'm embarrassed to admit that I pretty much gave up after that, so here I am, trying again at age 31.

So what I need here are some helpful hints for passing my test, suggestions of little nitpicky things that the examiners might be looking for. Personal anecdotes are more than welcome, especially from those of you who have failed a road test or who didn't get a driver's license until you were older. Please no suggestions of taking professional lessons. I can't afford that right now. Thanks!
posted by futureisunwritten to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Driving is almost entirely about looking as far down the road as you can see, just like walking. If you look far enough ahead, all of a sudden you'll find that you're driving 100x more smoothly, fluidly and safely. It's one of those things you don't pick up on your own until you've been driving a while unless your dad is hammering it in to your brain.

Make sure you practice in at least a couple different cars, 'cause they're all different.

Relax. Go slower than you need to, since you're not trying to get anywhere. Use your turn signals. Don't think about things too much. Your brain knows what the rules of the road are. Things in cars happen to fast to process consciously.

Find a big, empty parking lot and play. Seriously, just have fun with the car.

Deep breath. You'll be fine. Really. :)
posted by pjaust at 7:56 AM on May 24, 2010

Every state has a different way of conducting the test, I can only speak to how New York does it.

1. There are no "trick questions" or surprises. It's all very rote.
2. Be slow and careful.
3. *Don't* make contact with the curb when parallel parking. You're allowed to be as far as 11 inches from the curb (in NY), use that your advantage.
4. When you get to a stop sign (and, you will), come to a full and complete stop for at least a full second. If you retain any motion at all before re-accelerating, you'll get dinged.
5. Understand that it's OK to fail the test once or twice. They let you take it as many times as you need, but you have to schedule it for a different day. Knowing and believing that it's OK to not pass the first time will help with the nerves.

Good luck!
posted by Citrus at 8:08 AM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here are a few things I remember from my driving test in BC, many years ago.

1) For the parallel parking, I knew after I started my first try that it wasn't going to work (I got the angle wrong and would hit the curb). I asked if I could start over and my tester was fine with that, didn't lose any marks.

2) Take enough time to consider your actions. By far my biggest loss of marks was because I forgot to use the turn signal when I was pulling out after the parallel parking test. I'd been nervous about that part and I guess it my relief after having done it I wasn't thinking.

3) When you stop behind another vehicle, you should be able to see its back wheels. If you can't, you're too close.
posted by Emanuel at 8:35 AM on May 24, 2010

Best answer: I took my tests in Ontario, and the rules might be different in Newfoundland. But, here's what I remember being helpful for me:

- Exaggerate checking your blind spots and just generally looking around. You'll look stupid doing it, but it makes the examiner happy.
- Drive the speed limit, exactly. A bit under is fine, but whatever you do, don't go over.
- Drive in the rightmost through lane.
- Use your turn signals, turn into the closest lane.
- Drive really slow in parking lots.
- Know the rules for merging into/exiting from a highway (they're very specific).
- Ask to correct your parallel parking if you screw up, to let them know YOU know you screwed up.
- Drive like you're reading the steps straight out of the driver's handbook.
- Make sure the car is in good condition. A broken taillight or a red warning light on the console means you fail before the test even starts.

The road tests, at least when I took them, were nowhere near as difficult as people made them out to be - I was told many times "you'll fail automatically if you make minor error X", when in fact the examiner didn't even notice. The examiner has a checklist with them and takes you on a prepared route. Basically, try to make it as easy as possible for them to check as many boxes as possible (or as few, in Ontario a check means you made an error).

The examiner may be (very!) surly, and may not want to make small talk in the car. Silence is OK. Remember, they aren't out to get you - they do this many times a day, every day, and to them you're probably nothing more than a driver's license number. You can be a downright awful driver and still pass if you don't make any of the specific mistakes they're looking for. On the other hand, you can be a highly skilled driver and still fail. Failing your road test doesn't reflect on you personally. Relax!

One more thing: while I'm sure the examiners are supposed to be completely objective, I've heard from several people that they do tend to go easier on older drivers (read: not teenagers). My theory is that they realize that older drivers are generally more responsible and probably actually need to be able to drive to get to work/go shopping/etc. So you have that working for you.

Finally, good luck and don't fret! You can always re-take the exam.
posted by wsp at 8:43 AM on May 24, 2010

Best answer: I was an older tester myself, although I'd been driving awhile. I kept freaking out at the test. Here's some stuff I wish I'd known at the time, or at least reminded myself of copiously:

1. You don't have to get a perfect score. You just have to pass.

2. You don't have to get a perfect score, you just have to pass.

3. If you don't pass, you can always take it again.

I was so freaked out by every little tiny mistake. Tiny mistakes, I realized later, are things drivers on the road do all the time. Cutting one turn a little close. Parking a little wonky. If you are generally attentive and cautious and generally a good driver, you will make very few small mistakes, few enough to pass comfortably. And if you happen to not pass, there's always the next time.

The other big handy thing I wish I'd done is this: If you can get your dad to take you to somewhere out of the way, a big empty parking lot or something, and let you just drive around by yourself (nobody else in the car) for 15 minutes or so if you haven't driven alone before, it will probably help. I was still anxious after I passed my test. After my first trip out to drive around my neighborhood alone, suddenly I felt worlds better.

The one incredibly useful thing I did do was going and spending a couple hours just driving around the area around the testing center the day before, so that the roads there were all familiar to me and I knew where the turns were and the stop signs and everything else.
posted by gracedissolved at 8:49 AM on May 24, 2010

Can you go to the test site to practice parallel parking? Their spot was much deeper than what I'd practiced, and so I failed my first test due to that. We practiced at the DMV prior to the next test, and I passed without a problem. Anecdotal: my two older siblings, who didn't practice at the test site, failed twice due to parallel parking; my two younger siblings, who did practice, passed on their first tries.

Use all your mirrors.
posted by punchtothehead at 8:56 AM on May 24, 2010

Nobody's trying to get you to fail, and the system (as it were) is biased against younger, less mature and less experienced drivers. You no longer fall into that category, so you should be fine.

Incidentally, you should totally sign up for one of those weekend driving courses, where you take your car out on the racetrack with an instructor. The level of car control and such you'll use from just one weekend's experience will be so far beyond what the tester will ask of you that it'll seem like child's play.

Unless, of course, you just have test anxiety generally. THat's a whole other question, though.
posted by davejay at 9:04 AM on May 24, 2010

Oh, and look at it this way: in a perfect world, these driving tests would do a fantastic job of weeding out incompetent, dangerous people. In reality, they're good at weeding out neither. So you could be a horrible, terrible, reckless driver and still get through the test if you were relaxed. So it isn't about your skills, really, it's just due diligence, and if you remember that you should feel a bit better (ie the only thing that's likely to cause you to flunk is your nerves themselves.)

Also be open and friendly to the instructor, before the test starts. Shake his or her hand. Find out his or her name. Mention that you're a bit nervous, and ask if they're ever nervous when they get in the car with people after however long they've been doing this. The sooner you see your tester as a person instead of a judge, the better off you'll be.
posted by davejay at 9:06 AM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you are still having fears about the nasty examiner, try some of the tricks to relax:
Imagine the examiner in his underwear.
Or use the Harry Potter Riddikulus Spell, and imagine him wearing an old lady's housedress and hair curlers or having a lion's mane or something silly like that.
posted by CathyG at 9:07 AM on May 24, 2010

British, passed when I was 28 on the second attempt. From what I can tell, Canadian road tests are more like their British equivalents than most states' tests south of the border, which means they're looking for a little more on-road experience, and a firm demonstration of defensive driving skills.

In that context: definitely move your head, not just your eyes, to check mirrors and blind spots. Don't feel that you're against the clock, especially when asked to perform manoeuvres: as long as you're staying safe, take your time. Likewise, you won't be penalised for waiting a little longer to make a left turn against oncoming traffic, or slowing down gradually if you think someone's pulling out from the side of the road, as long as you aren't creating a hazard of your own.

I know that you said you can't afford lessons, but if you can arrange a one-off prep hour a week or so in advance, it's not going to cost too much: the big advantage local instructors have over your dad is that they know the most common test routes, and if the test centre is in an unfamiliar part of town, that's going to give you more confidence in navigating.
posted by holgate at 9:28 AM on May 24, 2010

All this week, drive like you're in a cheezy driving training video. Keep your hands exactly at 10 and 2. Exaggerate checking your mirrors and blind spot, etc.

Is there any way to know the route ahead of time? My friend's brother took me along the route the week before so I could get familiar with it. If it's not known, do as gracedissolved suggests and at least drive around the area for a while.
posted by radioamy at 10:00 AM on May 24, 2010

I think wsp nailed it, but I'd emphasize the point about exaggerating checking your mirrors and blind spots. Not only does it make it obvious to the examiner that you're doing those important things, but I found that making a huge point of it was a good reminder of me to be doing it a lot.
posted by Aizkolari at 10:16 AM on May 24, 2010

In Quebec:

Exaggerate checking your mirrors etc.
You actually can fail the parallel parking and still pass the test (as long as you don't hit another car).
The routes here all had one place where the signage was confusing, and the trick (as much as it is a trick) is to check the signs properly so you turn off where you're supposed to -- the tipoff is that the instructor doesn't tell you what you're going to do at the upcoming intersection.
Don't speed. Don't come close to speeding.
I failed the first time, apparently mostly because I stopped to let a jaywalker cross. So don't do that.
posted by jeather at 10:22 AM on May 24, 2010

Oh, wow, I *just* got my learner's permit last week (haven't really driven in 20+ years), so I'd been googling around for tips on how to pass a driving test.

The best thing I found was this set of videos from the California DMV: Top 10 Reasons for Failing the Driving Test. Cheesy, but oh so helpful.
posted by limeswirltart at 7:23 PM on May 24, 2010

Response by poster: Follow up: Just went for my road test a few hours ago and passed without a hitch. Thanks everybody for the excellent suggestions!
posted by futureisunwritten at 1:09 PM on May 31, 2010

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