Home > Uncategorized > How to get a perfect score on your driving test (on the third try)

How to get a perfect score on your driving test (on the third try)

My apologies for a long absence from blogging. To put it succinctly, this had been the winter of my discontent. Three great shocks and one personal upheaval later, I feel things are getting back on track.

That personal upheaval – beginning a new and considerably more demanding position at work – has kept me away from the blog. Not that there has been much good news. But more of that to follow.

What has gone well, now that I’ve had a chance to settle into my new job, is that I finally made it in for my third driving exam, only three months late. And as I’ve found, the Japanese say “third time’s a charm” for a reason.

So here, in short, I offer you the most important things I’ve learned:

First, a word to the wise: if you suspect you’re not going to make an appointment, it’s better to change it than to be stuck going in at 8:30 in the morning to make a new one having missed it.

The biggest factor in your success, whether on the first try or the last, is that you’ve unlearned everything you had expected a driving test should be. Your mindset going into the test determines your success far more than simple driving skill, because skill is not what’s being tested. The Japanese driving exam is neither subtle or nuanced. Silky starts, gentle braking and smooth lane changes will kill your chances of success.

The most important word to keep in mind for your test is merihari. Your driving style must be deliberate. When you complete a turn, your hands return the wheel to center, not inertia. When you change lanes, you do so having signaled well in advance, and you do so abruptly, not gradually.

The examiner wants to feel your knowledge in the seat of his pants: be unambiguous. Hit him with a sledgehammer. When you accelerate, make him feel it. When you brake, make it obvious. When you stop, let the nose of the car dip a bit. Announce to him: “Yes, I have stopped, thank you very much.” Don’t crawl along between turns. Get up to speed, and then slow down when you get where you’re going.

As a test taker, your natural reaction is to be overly cautious in all the wrong ways. You want to crawl along. You want to sit at clear intersections. You don’t want to screw up. But in the eyes of the examiner, your hesitation is a mistake. Yes, when you come to an intersection, visibly move your head both ways, check your mirrors, but then, when you can see you’re clear, just go. Moving to the side of the lane, your instinct in a test will be to do so slowly and gently, drifting along. What you should be doing is showing your confidence: turn on your indicator, look over your shoulder, and then move with authority. You own that lane.

Let your interaction with the instructor reflect that. When they tell you to make a turn, give them a strong hai and repeat what they’ve told you. Show them that you’re mentally in control. If you’re timid on their test course, imagine how they think you’ll behave on a real road.

And keep in mind as you prepare for the test, when you look at the map, when you visualize your course, that you are not doing this test to demonstrate your profeciency in operating a motor vehicle. They don’t ask you to do a J-turn, you never even need to put your car in reverse. You are being tested on your ability to follow the idealized rules of the Japanese road. This is why lane placement and turns are so critical, because Japan’s academic driving style differs so much from other countries.

Practically, a few points are critical: When you turn left, hug the curb. Unless, of course, that left turn is immediately followed by a right; then make sure you proceed straight into the instersection and delay your turn such that you align your car beside the center line from the moment you enter the intersection. You’re showing anticipation of your driving path, and this is key.

Likewise, when you turn right, start from the far right, move straight into the intersection, delay your turn and align your car with the far left of the lane. Don’t cut the corner – go straight, turn sharply. A right followed by another right, naturally, should do the same, but align with the right hand side of the following lane.

At a controlled intersection, proceed quickly with a glance to either side, or come to a stop, depending on the indication. Stop forcefully if you must. At an intersection where you have priority, slow to glance to the sides, but don’t crawl. At an intersection where you do not have priority, or at blind corners, slow to a crawl, but do not stop unless there is traffic. Demonstrate to the examiner that you understand how to proceed through the intersection, and do so with your right foot. Being overly cautious shouts “I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing,” which is not what you want to say during a test.

Finally, understand that this is all a lot to take in. You will probably not pass on your first test. You may very well make a stupid mistake. Don’t become disheartened as I did. When you first take the test, even if you’ve taken lessons, you may only focus on what not to do. But if you focus on what to do – to embrace the blunt-force method of driving, and focus on demonstrating rather than simply doing – you’ll realize that you can control much more than you think.

And as you walk back to Futamatagawa station (for those of you who, like me, live in Kanagawa), you’ll not be looking at the people driving by and wondering what they knew that you didn’t. Because you’ll have a shiny new green striped license in your wallet.

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  1. 79rivers
    March 24, 2010 at 11:39 pm

    Congratulations on getting your license. And very good advice. So true about being decisive and showing it. That’s one aspect I didn’t realize until you pointed it out. Enjoy your driving.

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