Lessons Learnt From Failing 7 Times

One morning in late Oct 2012, I made my 8th attempt at obtaining a license that the majority of the population can obtain by the 2nd: A 3A driving license.
Back in university, I had made 7 continuous attempts to pass my driving at Bukit Batok Driving Centre (BBDC), over the span of half a year and busting my savings totally, yes, to the extent that my friend had to lend me money so that I could buy Panadol to treat my fever at that point of time.

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Fast forward 5 years, when I was more or less settled in my life, I thought to myself that perhaps I could make another attempt to obtain the license. However, this time around, I was more prepared.

Never Be Ashamed

My friends in 2007 were amazed that I could repeatedly fail my driving test. In 2012, my colleagues were skeptical that I could ever pass it.

Logically, my level of confidence dropped with each subsequent failure. However, the fear of failure drove me to chart my plans very carefully and with utmost detail.

The key was to turn a resistant factor into a driving force.

When I first met my driving instructor, I told him straight away:

  • I failed 7 times before
  • I want to pass this time around
  • I will do anything to pass
  • Help me

I put down my pride and shame, I made sure he was on board with me all the way. Allies must always be before pride.

Focus on Strengths

In the 7 times I attempted my driving test, the only mistake I made in the circuit was when I knocked into the pole on my first attempt. In other words, circuit was nothing to me because I always failed while I was on the road.

Therefore, my instructor only spent some 15 minutes in the circuit to get me warmed up, before focusing the rest of our time on the road.

I told him that I was always penalised for being unable to cut lanes. So he brought me to a parallel parking lot in one of the industrial districts and told me exactly how to gauge the distance of the car behind me. The secret? Dissect the side mirror (my last instructor did not do this for me!). The closer the cars were on the inside of the mirror, the further away. By rule of thumb, I should only cut lane when the first car behind is on the inner half of my mirror.

Every time we stopped at a traffic light, he would remind me to look at my side mirror and count the number of cars on either side.

“Look for the 3rd car from the rear of your car,” that was the advise he gave me, “This is the closest cars can be behind you when you cut lanes, so take note of where the 3rd car is on your side view mirror, and never cut lanes when the first car behind is beyond that mark.”

Next, I know that I hated the sun, so I always arranged for my lessons to be in the morning. Similarly, I arranged for my test to be in the morning too, so that there would be no significant difference in the road condition for me.

Level the Playing Field

As mentioned, I timed all my practices and my test to be in the morning. My practices had to be on weekends, so there was little traffic.

For my test, I chose the day before a long weekend (due to public holiday); many affluent office workers (i.e. those who would drive cars) would have taken the day off for an even longer weekend. I chose the timing that was after 9am, so that most of the workers who did not take leave would have been off the roads. At that window of time, drivers of heavy vehicles would still be enjoying their breakfasts, so most of them would have yet to hit the road.

I even took a few Friday mornings off to attend driving lessons, so that I can familiar myself to the road condition one day before a rest day.

Last but not least, I avoided the evening slot, because I know that as per all organisations, driving centres have KPIs and that they would not exceed KPIs. In this case, the KPI is the number of candidates who could pass. Therefore, by late afternoon, they would be more stringent in their judgement, so that they could avoid exceeding KPIs. On the other hand, assessors (like all humans) are more forgiving in the morning.

N.B: I believed one of the reasons why I failed was because my previous instructor insisted I take the afternoon tests; he never had me for lessons in the morning, even though I told him I hated the sun. There was once he had a stand in, who let me drove in the morning and I loved it, and that was when I knew I would pass if I took morning tests. However, I think my instructor (he was a private instructor, by the way), did not want to wake up early in the morning, so he kept refusing me. 

One Man’s Fish is Another Man’s Poison

Believe it or not, my last test was attempted at Comfort Driving Centre.

Yes, everybody told me I was crazy to try and pass my driving over there. Similarly, they told me I could pass easily at BBDC.

“Bukit Batok has less cars,” they said, “CDC has a lot of heavy vehicles who would not give way.”

Along the same note, I was also told private driving instructors have a higher passing rate for their trainees.

I think I busted all myths when I passed my test at my first attempt at CDC, learning from the school.

Therefore, we should all remember that while we should be humble enough to take advises from others, not all advises are relevant to our strengths and capabilities. Knowing oneself is crucial for any kind of undertaking of challenges.

Practice Practice Practice

When I told my instructor I would do anything to pass my test, he remembered it.

I remembered my instructor would direct me to the craziest, busiest junction at the PIE flyover. The goal was to move from the leftmost lane before the flyover, to the rightmost lane after the flyover, so that I could make a U-turn. It was one of the test routes, and he knew I would fail. So we would attempt that U-turn at least twice every lesson to build my confidence.

When I told my instructor I would do anything to pass my test, I meant it.

He evaluated that I would need about 13 lessons before I could be eligible to take the test.

My final tally was 23.

Like I mentioned, although I took most of my lessons on weekends, right before my test, I added on sessions on Friday mornings, first to familiarise myself with the road condition, next to intensify my training.

2 days before my test, I took 1 lesson everyday, also to intensify my training.

All in all, I spent roughly 50% more than I would for a normal driving test, but based on previous experience, if I had failed, I could have spent up to 7 times to pass the test.

It seemed like an overkill, but it was a one-shot-one-kill.

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