Memory retention tricks for students learning to drive

Driving | driving test learner drivers

For many people, the first time they sit behind the wheel of a car can seem like sitting in the cockpit of an airplane. All these new controls might seem overwhelming to remember and that’s all before taking the car on the road. From the signs, signals and controls, as well as all the do’s and don’ts, it can seem like a minefield.

When it comes to any kind of exam, everyone is looking for the best way to remember lots of information in the simplest way possible. The driving test is no different, with every driving instructor having their very own tips and tricks to make life easier for learner drivers. We spoke to one expert about prepping for the test. He gave us some handy methods for those learning how to drive as well as some reminders for more accomplished learner drivers too.

Moving off

When it comes to learning the moving off routine, all drivers must follow a simple procedure: a 360-degree observation by the driver to get a proper visual, put the car in gear and then signal the direction you wish to go. Then, you find the biting point, check you mirror, release the handbrake, check your blind spot and, finally, move off. When you become more comfortable with driving, most of this routine becomes natural. When you reach this stage, this process can be simply remembered with two words - Signal and Blindspot. The last thing you do before moving off should always be checking your blind spot.

Driver holding handbreak

On an open straight road

When on a long stretch of open road, it can be easy to lose focus and get distracted. Reciting these three words in your mind will help you keep on track: Position - Speed - Look. If you’re always focused on the position of the car on the road, keeping your speed within the limit and being vigilant, you’re doing all the right things. If you find you’ve stopped reciting these words to yourself, you’ve broken your concentration which makes you more susceptible to a poor decision, making a mistake or a collision so keep the mind active by repeating what you’re focused on achieving at the time.

First in line at a junction

This can often be a position that incites panic in drivers but there is no reason to feel under pressure. One unofficial but unique method is the ‘Cowboy Approach’ and it can solve a lot of issues. If a cowboy was ready for a dual, he isn’t standing there with his arms folded but each body part ready for action. The same can be said here. It’s recommended (but not vital in the test) to be in gear and ready to go. Have the left hand on the handbrake, right hand on the steering wheel, left foot down on the clutch and right foot on the accelerator. It doesn’t have to be a tense experience, you can relax the body but never, ever relax the eyes and keep focused on those lights.

Stop signs

Very often drivers slow down as they come to a stop sign but don’t come to a halt. Instead, they cruise along until they see it’s safe to continue and then pick up speed if it’s clear. If you don’t come to a complete stop, as in the wheels stopping on the ground during your test, you will fail. A clever trick for those learning how to drive is to imagine a black stage curtain when they see a stop sign. It makes you more aware of how you must stop even if you think the way might be clear. Then when you fully stop, imagine the curtain opens and you focus on moving away when it’s safe to do so.

Stop sign


Dealing with roundabouts can be a lot more straightforward than you think. When you’re about 40 metres away, ask yourself these two simple questions: Do I keep to the left or right? Do I signal or do I not? When you know the answers to these, you know exactly what you have to do. Asking yourself early is the key to success.

The Tester

When it comes to the actual test, the Tester isn’t going to be asking you how your weekend was, they are there to instruct so you can be guaranteed that whatever they say will generally involve you taking your next driving action. 90% of the time the same rules apply - Mirrors, Signal, Mirrors, Manoeuvre, or MSMM for short. Decide that anytime the instructor speaks, you can say to yourself ‘MSMM’. That way, no matter what the instruction, you’ll be approaching the next step in the right way. Check your mirrors, signal the direction if required, check your mirrors again, and then move.

Driving instructor writing on clipboard

The book approach

You can only read a book one page at a time and approaching not only the test but driving in general this way is ideal. For example, don't be worrying about the left reverse when you are doing the hill start, focus on the now. By taking it one step at a time, you’ll be a much more focused, conscientious and successful driver.

Brendan Tierney is a qualified driving instructor and is the owner of Brendan Tierney School of Motoring based in Sligo.

We know that learning to drive can be both an exciting and challenging experience. Talk to us today about our car insurnace and car insurance for young drivers insurance cover and have one less thing to worry about.

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