Handling a failed checkride

Overcoming FearFor any training that you complete as a pilot, you will be evaluated on a checkride. The ride represents the culmination of a lot of hard work on the part of both you and your instructor. People are often their own worst critics, and it must be part of a pilot’s DNA to get that characteristic in double doses. Whenever pilots get ready to take a checkride, it seems that they begin to develop a lot of doubt and concern about how prepared they are.

It is imperative that you trust your instructor here. If your instructor is telling you that you’re ready, you can be sure that you are (it’s very, very rare that an instructor will send a student for any kind of evaluation if that student is not ready). Likewise, if the instructor is telling that you are not ready, then rest assured that you really do need more practice. Just because you have done a maneuver to the Practical Test Standards once or twice may not matter. It needs to be consistent.

Once you begin a checkride, your nerves should calm down. If they don’t, then just slow down a bit and take your time. Relax. The examiner wants you to pass. More than one has been known to help a bit more than they should, so long as they have overall confidence in the applicant.

But what if you totally blow something? What if you are doing an emergency landing and come up short of the runway? What if you totally screw up an ILS?

The beauty of the system is that you can finish the rest of the tasks that require evaluation, and that’s what you should do. If you know you failed something, or even if you just think you did, then put it behind you and press on. Get as many items done as you can, so that when you are re-examined you can just concentrate on the one or two areas that need to be revisited.

It’s very rare that an examiner will not allow an applicant the opportunity to finish the balance of the ride. If the rest of the ride is stellar, you may get a free pass on something that was otherwise questionable. If you totally blew something, you will have to retrain on it, and go back up. But if you’re lucky, you may be able to finish that day.

I’ve always made it a point to enjoy checkrides. Not everyone can do that, but if you can, you should. It’s a chance to show off your hard-earned skills, and the best examiners will also try to genuinely teach you something.

And there is nothing like having a new certificate in your wallet!—Chip Wright


  1. Good advice! Based on my experience, my instructor has always been right, and I’ve been ready for my checkride. The one checkride that I didn’t pass the first time was my instrument, and in that case, it was something simple that I overlooked. I got into a reverse sensing situation on my VOR because of my nerves. I went back, retrained a bit with my instructor, including some maneuvers that I struggled with during the first attempt and passed the second time. I’m also now extra vigilant setting up my VOR’s!

    One other bit of advice I have, if the weather looks bad the day of the checkride, do at least the oral portion. First, it breaks up the checkride into more manageable chunks, and sometimes you gain an advantage. On my multiengine checkride, the weather terrible. I got the oral out of the way, and my examiner went over all the maneuvers and flight plan for the air portion. There was a maneuver I didn’t feel comfortable with and an approach I hadn’t done before. I rescheduled the air portion for the following week, and scheduled some time with my instructor before then to go over the things I was concerned about. I passed the multiengine on the first try!

  2. I agree, continue. During my IFR check ride, I mistakenly heard the alternate clearance for the miss as vector to be executed then. The examiner came back and stated, “you know I have to fail you for that” (not following ATC instructions) and asked if I wanted to continue. I stated that I would continue and performed the rest of the ride without a hitch. I learned how to recover from the gaff and perform after the initial shock of the failure. I came back another day and completed the ride with one approach. The examiner took another fee but also took time to focus on using the privilege of an IFR rating on every flight to keep sharp. I can’t recall the last time I didn’t file when doing anything beyond shooting approaches.

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