The key to a successful gear change is to take your time and hold the gear lever as if you are holding a pen; firmly enough to control it but not so firmly that your hand and forearm become stiff. This will allow you to move the gear lever more easily and guide it into the correct gear. The mantra to remember here is ‘speed before gear’ whether you are speeding up or slowing down. Make sure the car is at the correct speed for the gear you need before you change up or down. Naturally, the best way to practice gear changing is to do it on the move. However, if you have a spare moment or two, you can practice in the family car while it is parked at home. As long as the engine is switched off, you don’t need anyone in the car with you – just keep well away from the handbrake to avoid a mishap ;-)
Holding the gear lever too tightly won’t allow the movement necessary for the lever to go to the right place. For example, to go from 2nd into 3rd, the lever has to move a bit to the right. Hold it too stiffly and you will end up in 1st and have a close encounter with the windscreen when the clutch comes back up. Speaking of the clutch, be sure it is fully down before trying to come out of one gear and into another.
If the gear you want to change into involves moving the lever towards neutral, don’t be tempted to move the gear lever over in that direction too much. For example, too much movement to the right when going from 2nd into 3rd will probably result in going into 5th.
If you adopt a standard grip on the gear lever, you can make subtle adjustments to help you get into the gear you want. By placing your palm on the top of the lever, you can then turn the palm left, right, forwards or backwards depending on where you need to move the lever to.