This has been a tough couple of weeks. After flying 3, 4, even 5 days a week all summer long, I have come to the end of my flight training and have only flown once in the past week, which at this point seems more like a month.
Today was knowledge test day, and while I have studied as much as I possibly could throughout the summer I still felt like there were areas where I could have used more time. Personally, I found it difficult to prepare myself for the written exam, not so much comprehending the particular areas of knowledge, but in psychologically preparing myself and trying to predict what might be asked, which, of course, you can't do.
Here's a few things I'll say about the whole process.
1) Figure out a pace for your training that allows you the time you need to get the ground work and studying done. While it was great for me to push my way through it all in a matter of months, flying nearly every day does not allow for much extra time to study, especially if you're working full time, and it puts extra pressure on you that could be relieved by stretching out the process.
2) Study something every day, no matter what it is. There is a mountain of material out there and it would be nearly impossible to read it all, so rather than become overwhelmed by it, just pick a subject that interests you and read about it.
3) Get material from a variety of sources. While my flight school set me up with a package of excellent materials, there are a variety of other sources out there. My flight school supplied a set of DVDs from ASA, Private Pilot Virtual Test Prep, for example, that were a good compliment to the reading I was doing throughout my training. I found that after reading, watching the DVD on the same subject matter helped my comprehension of the subject. Of course, there are even more great resources on the AOPA website like their excellent online courses at http://www.aopa.org/asf/online_courses/. Unlike the DVDs, the online courses at AOPA are much more interactive and you can return to them over and over again. The dynamic nature of the courses I found, was also much more engaging, and for me, that results in better understanding and retention of the material. I highly recommend taking advantage of their excellent free resources for student pilots. The FAA also publishes a vast array of free material for student pilots on their website http://www.faa.gov/training_testing/. I downloaded dozens of files and publications from these sources that helped immensely during my instruction.
4) Prepare in a variety of ways. Since it's not really feasible, or at least it wasn't for me, to carry around all of the books and training materials at all times, create opportunities that allow you to study in other ways. Bookmark websites on your computers and mobile devices, download PDFs and copy them to your computer or iPad. I can't tell you the number of times I found myself with 15 or 20 minutes somewhere when I would just open a link or a PDF and get a little studying in, whether I was waiting for my food to arrive at a restaurant or just taking a short break at work, I tried to take advantage of any spare time and leverage all of the resources at my disposal.
5) Read the PTS Test Guide and Requirements. Don't wait until a week before your test to start looking at the requirements. Start reading through the test guides and requirements a month or 2 before you plan on taking your test. While you can't predict what specific questions will be asked, knowing the types of material you're going to be tested on, and what the FAA expects you to know about it will make the process much less stressful. There's a reason they call it a test "guide". All of the PTS standards and additional training material, including sample test questions can be found on the FAA website here http://www.faa.gov/training_testing/testing/airmen/test_standards/
6) Take practice tests early and often. You may not need to go as overboard as I did, taking the practice test dozens of times in the final weeks, but I would certainly recommend taking the practice tests at least a few times prior to your exam. The questions on these practice tests are very similar to the questions you will be expected to answer on the knowledge test. If you can get a passing grade on the practice tests, you'll probably do the same on the real thing, but don't be satisfied simply with a minimum passing grade. Take the practice tests enough that you pass with as high of a score as you are capable of. The more questions you fail on your knowledge test, the more you will need to go back and study anyway, as all of the failing subjects will be covered again during your oral exam later. There are some excellent practice test sources out there, like the sample questions available from the FAA at http://www.faa.gov/training_testing/testing/airmen/test_questions/ or the ASA PrepWare course at http://www.asa2fly.com/Prepware---Download-Edition-C361_category.aspx, not to mention the tremendous amount of excellent information on the AOPA website at http://www.aopa.org/training/.
7) When you take the test, answer all of the questions you know the answers to and skip the ones you are uncertain about until the end. They give you plenty of time to complete the test so don't panic. Answering all of the questions you are certain about will give you additional confidence and help to calm any anxiety you might have which in turn, will help you focus when you return to the questions you were unsure about. Jot down the question number of those you need to return to and then return to each one in sequence and answer them as best you can. Remember, they aren't trying to trick you, they're trying to test you, and in most cases there is only one logical answer to the question being asked, so take your time and think them through.
8) Lastly, try not to second guess yourself, if you think it's right, it probably is.
Well all this is sage advice to be sure, and you'd think that if I followed it myself I would have scored 100%, but alas, that was not the case. While I did pretty well, I did not follow item number 8, and returned to 4 questions 3 different times at the end of the test. In all 4 cases I changed my answer at the end, and in all 4 cases, my original answer was correct, and while I was a little disappointed in myself for over thinking those particular questions, I couldn't help but laugh a bit at myself at the same time.
I'm sure I would have liked to walk out the door with that perfect score, but then, that may have just given me a false sense of security about my abilities because realistically, I know that I don't know all the answers, and that I still have a lot to learn about flying, but I have to say, passing the knowledge test is a nice notch on the belt and makes you feel a lot closer to becoming a pilot.
For now I can't get this dumb smile off my face and I'm going to enjoy the moment.
1 down, 2 to go.