An FAA aviation rulemaking committee has released its report on the state of FAA airman knowledge tests, and the news is good for pilots. The committee was composed of many of the most forward-thinking and experienced pilot-educators in the industry, and their findings represent the cutting edge of opinion on testing.
The authors spared no feelings on the part of the FAA in assessing the state of the current instruments, finding the current tests to be often outdated, irrelevant and trivial. The perception on the part of pilots, the authors said, is that some questions reinforce “the impression that the test is a barrier and not an important assessment,” and that “the tests should be purged of any questions that (1) only discern whether the applicant memorized a specific passage from a specific FAA publication, (2) contain a correct answer that is subjective to how the question is interpreted, or (3) are based on obscure or trivial information.” This recommendation mirrors the opinion of Flying magazine.
Other recommendations reflect a new look at how the tests reflect the way pilots fly. Among them, the authors wrote that “The FAA should adopt a continuous review process to ensure test questions are relevant to the current technology used in aviation, with priority given to removing obsolete information from the tests,” adding that “test questions should not only be relevant to the way pilots operate in the real world, utilizing current technologies both in and outside the cockpit, but also test how those technologies can be used to facilitate proper risk management skills.”
The authors were also critical of the tests’ outdated stance on flight planning technology, in part as it relates to modern, computerized flight planning utilities. “Unfortunately the knowledge test lags far behind in the testing of not only the proper use of this equipment, but more importantly an applicant’s ability to compile data gained through all the available technology into meaningful pieces of information and use the acquired knowledge to apply it to accomplish the planned flight.”
Finally, the committee recommended that the FAA return the question databank to the public domain, where it resided for decades, though it advised that the question database might again in several years be taken back out of the public domain once it was demonstrated that the questions were valid and fair.
The committee’s findings are not binding, but its members are influential and highly respected in the industry. In its report it asked the FAA to begin acting on its recommendations before the end of the year.
Here’s a link to the recommendations. It’s good reading.