Practical Driving Exam #1


Little Yaris at the Wood Green Test Center

Months of driving lessons later, I found myself in late December 2010 and all ready to book my practical (road) exam. The closest test center to where I live is in North London, in an area called Wood Green, which is right near White Hart Lane, for all you Spurs fans.

Anyway, I got a test date for April 21, and sparingly took lessons over the last four months to keep up my skills in prep for the big day. I probably should have scheduled more practice sessions/ lessons recently.

See, this post is entitled, “Practical Driving Exam #1”, because yours truly will be pursuing a “Practical Driving Exam #2” in June.

First a bit of background: I had planned 5 hours of lessons/practice time this week, thinking that such would be sufficient to make up for the 5 or so weeks since I had last driven. This might have been so, but this week has been further complicated by my asthma and medicinal side effects, insomnia, in particular. (If you’ve taken Prednisone, you know my pain.)

A view of the parking lot of shame.

Monday’s lesson was the worst one I have *ever* had. I stalled the engine four times, nearly took off someone’s mirror, and really, I just did everything wrong.

Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s lessons near the test center were better, but still, I wasn’t doing well. I felt really out of my element, and the area around Wood Green is full of very aggressive drivers with no sympathy for a car with a learner’s tag. In two days of driving there, I observed a broad variety of hand gestures that I’d not experienced in my own neighborhood. I would have rescheduled the test, but doing so would have been a forfeit, and I thought it best to just experience the exam, as it was already paid for.

Thursday arrived, and I met my instructor at 11 to head up to Wood Green for my 13:03 exam (no, that time isn’t a typo). We did a bit of practice, including a right turn on the Great Cambridge Roundabout, which may not seem like a big deal, but someone even made an instructional video about it and put it on You Tube!

At test time, the first bad news came: my examiner had called in sick. The good news was that they could accommodate me at 14:57 (really!) because an examiner from another center would be coming, or I could just reschedule the test altogether. Initially, the latter seemed a good idea, until they told me that the next date available would likely be August or September. (Note: Wood Green is a small center with a lot of demand, thus the long wait.)

I took what was behind Door #1: 14:57. I felt lucky to at least have the choice!

Two more hours to kill, we took a lunch break (cookies and water) , and reviewed maneuvers. We even did reverse bay parking, one I never mess up. I thought I might as well practice, given that I have the time and I’m paying my instructor.

By the time I returned to the Center, I had already driven for about three hours. (The most I’ve driven in a single go in the last ten years is two hours.)

Anyway, about the Center… Wood Green’s tiny parking lot is anything but welcoming to a new driver. Getting in and out of it isn’t exactly easy, as you’ve got a very short, sloping driveway going into a busy road with a bus stop right where you’d turn left. (You can kind of see it in the picture.) Even the lot isn’t the easiest thing to maneuver. It’s rather small!

After signing in and meeting my examiner, we headed out to the evil lot where the examiner asked me to open Little Yaris’ (yes, that’s what I call her) hood and show him where the coolant goes as well as explain how I ensure that there is an appropriate amount of coolant in the car.

Next, we all got in the car, and I faced my second question on adjusting the headrest. Easy enough.

We began the exam with the maneuver. I was given the easiest maneuver imaginable:

“Please pull out either to the left or to the right and perform a reverse parking maneuver.”

All I had to do was pull out a bit, turn my wheel all the way, drive out of the spot, and then do the exact opposite. It’s the equivalent of putting something down and picking it back up.

Of course, that isn’t quite what I did. For some reason, I decided that was too good to be true.  Surely it wouldn’t count if it was that easy, right?

What did I do? Come join in my shame! (I’m the gray car in the diagrams):

First, I pulled out imprecisely because I… am an idiot, as established. I quickly found I was too close to the cars on my right. What to do? The right thing: readjust my position and then reverse in, or…

The wrong thing: I decided to try to get back in the parking space anyway, only I wasnt quite in there because I had started the maneuver too close:

So, I pulled out again, but I wasn’t far enough from the cars on my right again, so I reversed to give myself a bit more space:

Then, I advanced to almost where I wanted to be in the tiny lot to commence the maneuver (a car’s width from the bay) and I reversed into the spot. This time, I landed on the line because I still was a bit too close. *sigh* I wasn’t panicked or stressed, but UGH: I couldn’t help but think how much I’d really like to just start all over again, but in these cases, you just have to fix the mess you make. I had to reposition the car, something that I normally do effortlessly…

But of course, it only got worse.
As I needed to position the car fully within within the lines, I pulled forward and then reversed to straighten the car. Unfortunately, I was just tired and feeling really stupid at this point. I just lost any sense of bearing and instinct. I reversed the wrong way and completely worsened my position

.It was as though a cardboard box of kittens I was babysitting had popped open, kittens were crawling everywhere, and I couldn’t see any graceful way to collect them all. I ended up needing to advance and reverse TWO more times before getting myself nicely centered in the spot.

When “the longest reverse into a parking spot, ever” was finally over, I put the car in neutral, pulled up the parking brake, and accepted that this test was long and well failed.

We kicked off the rest of the test. The rest of the exam was as expected, only it was easier. My later test time (teamed with my very time consuming maneuver) meant that risking the roundabout traffic on the day before a holiday weekend wasn’t an option, time wise. The independent driving sections went very well. Barring a case where I was asked to drive on after stopping where I did not see a car coming a bit of a way back, despite looking, the rest of the exam went well; i.e. there was no further humiliation. My instructor and I had a good laugh about it on the drive home.

What have I been reminded of through experience today: The most simple of things can become intricate when you make them in to something they aren’t!

Oh, and I’ll be taking my next exam at Hendon! (Not because of the parking lot, but because the wait was shorter for an exam.)

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3 thoughts on “Practical Driving Exam #1

  1. Just reading that was painful. I can only imagine how it felt. I’m so glad my last driving exam was over 20 years ago. Good luck in round #2.

  2. That worries me! I just got my learners license with the goal to get it sorted by the end of summer…but now I’m not so sure?! Anyway, let me know how round two goes and best of luck!!

    • Kay: You’ll be fine! I think my main failing was to take time off from driving. I was so ready back in January! Since the infamous exam, I’ve had a lot of people recommend I take the exam outside London, where the drivers are much less aggressive. You can book your test anywhere, which is nice. I was told that areas around newer cities, like Stevenage, tend to be easier because the roads are wider. I’m considering just re-booking mine in Kent (another friend recommended Sevenoaks). Even my instructor said that so much of it is practice and that you master the fundamentals in lessons and then really master driving overall after you’re licensed and driving around.
      One key thing – sit your theory test ASAP, as you can’t book your practical until you’ve passed the theory exam. Some test centers have long waits. I waited over 4 months for my exam at Wood Green.

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