Last week I wrote a post about the fact I was about to embark upon a 5 day intensive driving course with 5day.co.uk. I had lots of reasons, none of them very solid, as to why it took me to the age of 35 to take the plunge into the driving pool but the time suddenly became right for me and I took the bull by the horn and went for it!
Learning to drive in 5 days is a bit of a daunting thought once you’ve shelled out the £914 for the course because if you don’t pass then what a waste of money! And time! I did this course over the whole of half term, precious time that I could have spent with my family and midway through I was really starting to regret giving up the whole of the school holiday to do it but then there was simply no other way. The course is, of course, very intensive and to spend five whole days in a row I needed it to be out of term time so that we could decamp to my Mum’s and she could look after the children for me while I did it. So… This is how I got on.
When I booked the course for February half term I did it quite late in the day and the 9am-5pm class (A) was already booked up. I signed myself onto the 11am-7pm class (B) without really thinking too much but I assumed my driving would be in the first half of the day so that I wasn’t driving in darkness. When I arrived on my first day however, to the training centre in Norwich, I was told that actually, the A class would be out with the instructors in the morning and we would be having our theory training in that time. Our driving wasn’t to start until 2.30 in the afternoon and we would very definitely be doing things in the dark. I was a little worried.
The other pupils, as I had expected, were seventeen. They had all just had their birthdays and were wanting to immediately get on the road. I felt very old but they (there were 6 of us in total) were very sweet and chatted away to me as if I was one of them. Sometimes I think I don’t feel any different to how I did when I was their age but talking to a seventeen year old definitely made me realise that I absolutely do. You don’t realise how young you are or how much growing you have to do at that age and with that comes a magnificent confidence that you can do anything without fear. I could feel their belief in themselves and I just don’t have that any more. It made me feel even more nervous if I’m honest.
Once we had introduced ourselves in the waiting room we were taken into the course study room and given a computer. Our course leader in Norwich, Andy, was very welcoming and friendly and explained a little about how the week would go with our theory practice in the morning and practical in the afternoon. I was a little more worried still to discover that the theory test centre in Norwich was closing down on Wednesday so instead of the 4 full mornings of theory tuition I had paid for, I would actually only get two. I’d already made a start on learning by downloading the app but I hadn’t passed a mock test yet so I was particularly concerned.
And then it was down to the theory:
We went through everything we could expect from the test and were told there is a list of a potential 1500 questions that will randomly select us 50 of them before a 14 one minute clip test for the hazard perception test. Next, Andy went over, in detail, all of the different topics that would be covered with lots of the questions as examples. He gave us simple formulas to work out some of the harder things like stopping and breaking distances and answered lots of our questions with diagrams which for me made it easier to understand; he was really in depth with the information and went right to the bones of the questions which was fab. What really made a difference was that he was very likeable and friendly while also being quite humerous. We also had one of the Norwich City footballers on our course who needed to be in a separate room from us because obviously he is a ‘famous footballer’ and the rest of us muggles would have bothered him… (poor little famous man)! As it turned out he only came in on the Monday because he’d not remembered to apply for his provisional licence therefore couldn’t actually drive a car… Aww, good job he’s a footballer that’s all I can say otherwise it might have been McDonalds for him!
Next up was the road:
Meeting my instructor for the first time was a bit daunting yet at half past two I was behind the wheel and off. I totally didn’t get it and he kept having to say the same things to me over and over. We did some simple driving over that first four hours in quiet roads and then, when it got dark, we went to B&Qs car park to do reverse parking which was surprisingly sensible with a perfect formula. Obviously I didn’t master it but I knew what I had to do even if I couldn’t make the car do it. At the end of the first four hours I could start the car and get off although I wasn’t confident and stalled a lot! I felt that my steering was quite good though and I wasn’t scared of the other vehicles as I’d thought I might be. My instructor was patient when he needed to be although on a form with Andy earlier in the day I had expressed that I wanted t be pushed to my limits so he was quite tough too. He was thorough and he also made me laugh lots although I’m sure he didn’t mean to and thought I was some lunatic. He kept calling me a ‘good girl’ which gave me the giggles as I’ve not been called that for about 20 years and told me I was confident which was great to hear as I didn’t feel it. I surmised at the end of the lesson that I was probably not going to get up to standard by the end of the week… My legs felt hollow and I had butterflies in my tummy. I just felt that I couldn’t do it.
After doing my homework the night before I was feeling like the theory test might not be possible in just two days and went in wondering if it was any use at all as I was clearly going to fail and then because the test centre was shutting and you need to wait three days before applying again, it was all a big crock. But I knuckled down and continued learning with Andy while we did mock test after mock test learning as we went then going over where we had gone wrong individually with Andy. We also moved on to the hazard perception part of the test which I passed first time so felt confident with and thought I had it in the bag so didn’t pay it much more attention.
My driving got better on the Tuesday but I still didn’t feel this thing everyone was telling me about where it just suddenly clicks into place? I couldn’t make the clutch and brake and gas work in harmony with each other and it did not come naturally which was upsetting me. Aside from that the roundabouts we went around over and over again and the junctions we attempted were ok. I kept stalling and panicking and then feeling ok and then going back to the beginning again but my instructor Chris was patient and understanding while still pushing me at the same time. He also chatted and made me feel at ease while we drove so this helped but I left Tuesday evening feeling like passing both the theory and practical tests were impossible feats in just five days.
Well, my class started at 11 and the theory test was booked in for 12.30 so Andy said we could come in earlier if we wanted. I couldn’t, as my Mum had a dentist appointment, get in before 10 but I hurried to make it in for then. We settled down to more mock tests of both the hazard perception and theory questions and Andy sat with each of us going over the things we were most worried about and went through a whole hazard perception test with me on my own as he did with others too. I am so glad he did this as I had completely got what we were supposed to do wrong and my score Tuesday had been a fluke. I was failing all of these until Andy sat through a test with me and pointed out where I was going wrong. He used the white board to explain answers to the last minute questions we threw at him and then at midday we were driven by one of the instructors to the test centre. My heart was in my mouth and I was shaking but I felt like I had an 80% chance of passing if I got the right questions and I read everything perfectly and over again.
My shaking hand picked up the mouse after I had been cleared to go into my booth (my ears were checked for an ear piece, my sleeves rolled up, pockets turned out, mobile switched off and locked in a locker…) and I started the test by reading and re reading everything from the beginning practice to the very end. I felt confident on most questions but I flagged up 6 I was unsure of to look at again at the end. Then I went back over my answers through the whole test one more time before starting the hazard perception test. The new CGI animated hazard perception test is hard but I gave it my absolute best shot and when I came out, over ten minutes after two of the others who had waited for me, I suddenly felt very nervous but when I was given my results I had passed! Not only that but I’d passed with flying colours and got 47/50 for the questions and 70/75 for the hazard perception! The relief was amazing!
With the confidence of my theory test behind me I suddenly felt a bit more confident behind the wheel and driving around housing estates, stopping at double roundabouts and un marked crossings, I suddenly ‘got’ the whole brake, clutch, gas combination while the gears were coming naturally to me too. I stalled a couple of times for sure but really only after I’d done things like an emergency stop which would make anyone nervous. We drove on roads with masses of traffic and did a three point turn which of course my instructor had a sense making formula for and then, in the dark, we did meeting points. In and out of roads with cars parked on each side, up hills and down them and all the while cars on coming. I found it hard and while I am not completely confident yet I can see that I MIGHT be come the end of the week. Fingers crossed!
So, not much theory right now as I already passed my theory test! Whoop, whoop! Andy told us we didn’t have to come in until 1.30 if we’d passed which just gave us an hour before we started driving. He went over roundabouts with us using aerial pictures of ones in Norwich and explaining where we should be and why. My problem isn’t knowing where I should be or why, it’s implementing it but his info was helpful all the same and then he talked about dual carriageways which was good as that’s where I knew I was going next.
When I came out to the first half of the afternoon’s drive it was sheeting down with rain and visibility was very poor. My instructor Chris asked me if I’d like to postpone the dual carriageway until tomorrow but I thought, in for a penny and all that so I opted to just go for it. I think it was really good as it let me find out by use how to operate the windscreen wipers and heated rear windscreen. To say it was scary at times was an understatement but it was also exhilarating over taking three lorries and two cars at 70 miles per hour in the driving rain. I felt very confident in this part of the lesson and thought, well, if I can do it in the rain then I can definitely do it under normal conditions. Actually, dual carriageway driving where you just go straight and fast seems to come more easily for me than the rest of it. The afternoon session was NOT so good and at the roundabouts I got in a muddle all over again. The clutch and gear changes coupled with indicators on, then turning them off and staying in the right lane and then doing it all over again if a double roundabout really make me feel stressed and I get so nervous that it all goes wrong. I only have four hours left which technically is 4 more lessons so fingers crossed I can iron it all out but I don’t feel so confident after today. Chris says if I drive my best then I have a shot at passing but my best is only just above where the pass level is so I need to up my game if I want a real shot… I don’t know whether to put in for the test and give it a go or not and he says it’s up to me.
Again not much theory today and a late start due to the test already being passed. Andy talked to us with pictures about the test and what the examiner would expect of us in our actual practical test and then we discussed putting in for it or not? To book on our own the closest date for me was in April so I decided to use the 5Day fast track booking but this did mean my test could come any time… I was lucky and got for next Friday, exactly a week after the course finished. This is great for me personally as I feel I need more practice and luckily a friend has agreed to take me out driving Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday while Jonny will take me out in the evening for parking practice in our automatic. Thursday I will come back up to Norwich and have a double lesson that I have booked with Andy as Chris isn’t free (£50 extra) and then Chris has agreed to meet me mega early Friday morning for a last hour and a half before the big test. You get half an hour as part of the 5Day package but I have booked an extra hour (£25) because I want to give myself the best possible chance of passing. In a way it’s annoying because I took the course at face value and didn’t think about there being a possible extra cost. Before I started I assumed all I would need would be the lessons included in the package but I feel, especially as my test is a week away, that I do need to keep my hand in. I don’t mind too much as I need it but paying to be on my friend’s insurance for a week, petrol in her car and then for the three extra lessons is going to cost me about £200 more than the initial fee and it’s not something I’d thought about before.
Jonny convinced me that I really need to give the test a shot which is why I put myself in for it. He took me out for some practice in our car this morning although it’s not real practice as we only have an automatic (SO much easier and like driving a go cart) but at least it is giving me spacial awareness as this is one of my main down falls. I drive too close to the parked cars or kerb and I know it would fail me. He also took me for some reverse and parallel parking practice just for the spacial awareness too. My last 4 hours driving with 5Days were really positive and I felt very confident behind the wheel. I did a mock test which I failed but not spectacularly so and it doesn’t feel beyond the realms of possibility that with a bit more practice, in a week, I will pass my driving test.
My 5Day experience has been really exciting. I went in there not able to even start a car but have come out with the confidence to take my test in a week’s time. Yes it has cost a little more than I first envisaged and yes, only getting two days theory tuition when I’d paid for four is a little annoying as I do feel they should give me the money for those hours back, but at the end of the day I passed and I think without Andy’s help I would have struggled. If I had been given the full 4 days I would have gone into my theory test a little less shaky and nervous and I do think ideally that would have been better but the end result is the same and it has to be said, 5 out of 6 of us passed. Andy is absolutely superb at his job and made us feel at ease to begin with by being friendly and chatty from the off. He has a wonderful way of explaining things and watching him talk to all the 17 year olds I noticed his skill for being able to talk to them like adults without patronising them yet still getting across that they need to listen to him because he knows all about it and they don’t. He’s just the sort of person who should be doing this job and I’m very grateful that he took my course.
Chris was equally as great at teaching me to drive and in my initial customer survey (which we completed daily) I asked to be pushed to my limit. He did this without shouting at me or making me feel useless. Pass or not he has taught me to drive in a way that suited me and I really feel if he had been teaching me in a way which wasn’t great for me personally then he would have changed his style according to my asking. I liked him very much and we had some lovely chats while driving which also made me feel at ease.
If you are going to have two or three 1 hour lessons a week then I would think you would need a lot more lessons in the long run and it would end up costing more to get to the same standard as I have done with 20 hours of intensive training at 5Days. But… If you can find an instructor who will flood you with lessons in a similar way and you feel confident to do the theory and be on your own when it comes to test booking then you absolutely could do it for less money than the intensive course costs. For me, having done the course, it’s not all about saving money though and having the support both practically and emotionally from 5Days has been worth it. I know that if I fail on Friday then Andy will be on hand to sort me out deciding a plan of action and arranging my free lessons to correct the mistakes I might have made. This is also the case when it comes to theory and if you fail then you can go into the office for hands on and personal training. I won’t say it’s cheap or even perhaps the cheapest way to learn to drive but it certainly is very caring, confidence boosting and gives you plenty of concentrated driving time which was the easiest way to learn for me.
I can’t imagine putting petrol in the car, taking it for a valet, using a drive through or becoming a tyre shopper instead of a shoe shopper… Having been a non driver for so many years the whole process is completely alien to me. I realise I have to actually get past the actual lesson phase but once I do there’s going to be even more to learn. MOT’s, Tax discs, parking places and what about when things go wrong with the car? I’ll have to keep my eye on National.co.uk for all the info I need. But…
This time next week I will have either failed or passed. Either way 5days was a great way to start… I will let you know how I get on!
I have not been asked to write about my experience at 5 days.