Normally when I start a blog post, the words flow effortlessly off my fingertips and I get lost in telling some funny, scary, or educational story about a recent flight I’ve taken or an event I’ve attended. Today is not the case. In fact, I’m a little surprised I’m still able to form complete sentences and not be passed out in my work chair with coworkers prodding me with pencils to get me out of my vegetative state. You see, today is the day that I passed my written exam. Wait; let me say that with more enthusiasm: I PASSED MY WRITTEN EXAM! Not only did I pass, I received a 95%!
The road that led to today’s events went something like this: a couple days before I left for Oshkosh, Wis. to attend AirVenture, my flight instructor called me and said that based on the progress I was making with my training, I was going to need to stop dragging my feet and finally take my private pilot knowledge test. After all, I had taken ground school in early May, and it was now the end of July. “Well,” I told her, “I’m about to leave for Oshkosh, and after that I will have a lot of work to get caught up on, and then I’ll need a few weeks to study, so how about late August?” To that she replied, “How about August 15th?” I kind of chuckled a bit, but I agreed to take the test sometime around then. When I got back from Oshkosh, I had forgotten about the deal I made, but she made sure to remind me.
Every single person who has ever told me about this test has said the same thing: memorize the questions and you’ll be fine. I started that night. It was Friday, August 3rd. I couldn’t remember the last time I had spent a Friday night studying. I’m not even sure I did that in college. But there I was, taking my first practice test since ground school. My first week of practice tests was consistently in the 70s, which grew to be very frustrating. Finally someone asked me if I had been going through the Gleim book, because all of the explanations and questions were in there. I read through it the next week, and my grades improved! I was now getting consistently in the 80s, which was definitely encouraging. My flight instructor asked me to go ahead and schedule my test by August 15th, even if I hadn’t gotten my logbook endorsement from my ground school instructor. I was hesitant to do so, but we had agreed on a date, and I was trying my best to stay in the ballpark. By the end of that week, I got my endorsement.
At that point, there were only two things left to do: finish going through the Gleim book and PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Beginning August 20th (4 days until the test), I hunkered down and took at least three practice tests a day. Additionally, I used the Sporty’s course to choose individual topics that I knew I needed help on. I would say that the regulations were the most difficult part to memorize. I also needed a lot of help understanding how to answer the VOR and ADF questions, which my instructor helped with. I was already starting the feel the impact of how much I was studying. I was starting to make careless mistakes on my practice tests and I was growing increasingly irritable and mentally drained.
The night before the big day, my instructor told me not to study any more. Much to my discomfort, I followed through with her advice. I spent the entire night before the test lying on the couch watching Glee reruns on Netflix. And you know what? Those few hours of getting my mind off of the test and getting lost in the musical stylings of the show greatly improved my outlook.
The next morning, I was feeling nervous, as per usual before I take a test. To get myself back in the game, I went through a few practice questions. I purposely scheduled my test for 12 pm, because I knew I would need some time in the morning to wake up and compose myself.
The test itself was actually very easy. Miraculously, many of the questions I had reviewed in the morning ended up being on the test. I took my time with every question, so I didn’t feel the need to go back and review my answers. I knew that by doing so, I would risk second guessing myself.
When the proctor came back in, she said that I could review the questions I had missed. I was delighted to see that there were only three. However, I declined to review the questions. I knew that facing those questions would mean agonizing over them the rest of the day, when I needed to be excited and proud of my achievement.
So what did I learn from this experience?
- I should have started studying sooner. My advice would be that if your instructor or flight school have certain expectations of when you should take your test, make yourself aware of them and plan out your study time in a more balanced and reasonable time period.
- You really do have to learn the questions. Because I crammed my studying into a 2-3 week time period, I was getting discouraged and frustrated by cycling through the questions, but it was entirely necessary. Try to find a study source that explains why you get an answer right or wrong.
- Choose a few areas where you are really weak and focus on them. The regulations are a big part of the test, so I knew it could cost me a few points if I didn’t know the weather minimums in airspace or how long you can exercise the privileges of having a private pilot certificate if you haven’t changed your address with the FAA Airmen Certification Branch. If you aren’t great with calculating time en route, go over those questions with your instructor step by step. You will start to notice a pattern after a while of what you’re not consistently getting correct.
- Watch Glee the night before. Just kidding, you can do whatever you want, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend studying. If you don’t know the majority of the material by the night before, agonizing over it and preventing yourself from getting a good night’s sleep isn’t going to help.
While it feels super good to be done with this exam, I know that next week I get back to flight training and trying to fulfill the rest of my training requirements to become a private pilot. Until then, I’m going to enjoy the weekend in a way that doesn’t involve an E6B flight computer, a plotter, or having to figure out the total distance required to land over a 50-foot obstacle with a pressure altitude of 5,000 feet, a headwind of 8 knots, and a temperature of 41 degrees Fahrenheit on a hard surfaced runway. By the way, it’s 956 feet.