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Sunday, May 5, 2013

10 Tips for Taking Your FAA Written

This is adapted from a list of tips I give my AVIA 111 (the Private Pilot Ground School at Lorain County Community College) class before their final. I make the final exam just like the FAA written so they end the class with a good feel for what it's like to take the real thing. These tips apply to almost any FAA knowledge exam (the "written") you'll ever take; the only difference is the number of questions depending on what certificate/rating you're sitting for.

1. The usual tips that apply to any test you'll ever take: eat something, relax, and be well-rested on the big day. Trying to cram never works—if you didn't learn it in the last 15 weeks, you won't learn it in the last 15 hours. Coming to the test rested is worth a couple of correct answers on its own. Coming in fatigued and bleary-eyed after an attempted cram session will probably cause you to miss a couple you might have otherwise gotten right.

2. Unlike some standardized tests, you are not punished for incorrect answers. Don't leave any answer blank. However, if you answered something and you're thinking of changing your answer after reviewing it, the best bet is to leave it unless you're absolutely positive the changed answer is the correct one. You'd be surprised how many times you'll change the right answer into the wrong one by overthinking it. I got a 98% on one of my writtens, and the only one I got wrong was one I had changed. That's something that stings for years, so learn from my mistake. Pilots have a good saying: Learn from the mistakes of others because you can't live long enough to make them all yourself.

3. There are 60 questions for the Private Pilot written. Some of these take a few seconds to answer, some of them take a few minutes. Each of them, however, is worth 1/60th of your final score, so do the ones that don't take much time first and go back to the bigger ones once you've gotten the small ones out of the way. This lets you rack up the points while you're still fresh instead of spending a lot of energy on something that's only 1/60th of your grade.

4. You have two hours to take FAA Private Pilot written. I have taken 8 different FAA writtens for different levels of certificates or ratings and the only one that took me slightly over an hour was the commercial written—and it's 100 questions instead of the 60 that you have for the private. I've taken many students out to their FAA writtens and the average time is an hour plus or minus 15 minutes. This means that even though it may look like a lot of stuff to answer when you first start, you have gobs more time than you'll probably need. However, if you want to take the full two hours, by all means do so. It's not a race, and no one will give you any extra kudos for finishing in record time.

5. You will be provided everything you need: a pencil, scratch paper, a generic calculator, a booklet with the FAA figures (which are often easier to read that way), etc. The only thing you can bring in are an E6B, a plotter, and a noggin chock full o' smarts.

6. You can mark questions to return to, which helps you skip the bigger ones for later. When you're finished and submit the test for grading, the computer will warn you if you've left any unanswered, so you don't need to worry about accidentally leaving one blank.

7. When you're done, you get to see the question(s) you missed (if any—I've gotten 100% before, as have over 10,000 others, so you can too!) but not the correct answer. It will print out a coded list of topics you missed questions on. You and your flight instructor are required to go over those subject matter codes before you go for your checkride, and he or she will sign your logbook to certify that you have.

8. The passing score is 70%, which means all you need is the equvalent of a C in a regular class. If you fail, you can take the test over and over again. You'll just need another instructor signoff and another $150 each time, so passing the first time is recommended, though not required. As a passing-first-time bonus (and a high-scoring bonus), when you go to take your checkride, examiners tend to be a little easier on those who have high scores on their writtens. Although technically they have to conduct everything roughly the same, by getting a high score you've already demonstrated to them that you have a high level of knowledge and the dedication and discipline to put the effort into studying until you perform at a high level. (Pro-tip: if you go for your flight instructor's certificate, the examiner is allowed to bypass the fundamentals of instruction oral material entirely if you obtain a ground instructor certificate (AGI or IGI) before your checkride.)

9. If you're an AOPA or EAA member, you can save $10 on your exam by giving them your member number when you call to set up the appointment.

10. When you think you're starting to get ready to take the written, I've found that calling and setting up an appointment approximately a week ahead of time leads to good results. This gives you a deadline that isn't so far out as to be meaningless (meaning “procastination-encouraging”), but still gives you some time to review before taking the test. When you don't have a lot of time, you tend not to waste a lot of time, so it will light a fire under you to keep you studying.

Good luck on your written, and when you're ready to take your checkride, I've got 10 tips on the oral part of that, too!

The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a FAASafety Team representative and Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

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