Every time you train for a new pilot rating you’re faced with a check ride — an event that can cause the blood pressure to rise even in the best of pilots. After being grilled for hours about your knowledge pertaining to the rating you’re attempting to achieve, you’re expected to perform precision maneuvers under the watchful eye of an experienced pilot examiner. The only way you will pass is by studying the material and practicing the maneuvers, but there are a few additional things you can do to reduce your stress level and increase your chances of passing your test on the first try.
The Check Ride Bible
First you need to realize that your examiner must abide by certain rules. The examiner’s check ride bible is called the Practical Test Standards, or PTS for short. All pilot ratings, from the Sport Pilot through the ATP certificate, have PTS documents, and your instructor should introduce you to the applicable PTS at some point during your training. Although these books are thin, they contain all the information that you need to pass your check ride. The examiner can test only components that are contained within the applicable PTS, and you can challenge the examiner if he or she is attempting to test you on something that is not included.
As you browse through the PTS, you may think that the Areas of Operation and Tasks contained within each area are the only parts you need to read. But you should study the PTS from cover to cover because the introductory pages contain critical information too. One very important section of the PTS is called Special Emphasis Areas. The components within this section vary depending on the rating, but the reason it is critical to read and understand these components is because, according to the PTS, they are “essential to flight safety and will be evaluated during the practical test.” Note that they will be evaluated, so if you expect to pass your flight test you will have to know and understand these items.
The introductory section also highlights what constitutes satisfactory and unsatisfactory performance, and other areas of focus that you are expected to perform such as the use of checklists.
Complete a Mock Test Flight
To ensure that you are ready for your test, have your instructor conduct one or more mock check rides. It is possible that the examiner has a pattern for the flight test with which your instructor is familiar. Knowing the order and where the maneuvers are generally conducted, and where any diversions are likely to happen, will put you at ease once you are in the airplane with the examiner. Like anything that requires a lot of skill, practice makes perfect.
During your mock test flights, you should do all the required maneuvers while making sure that your instructor says nothing to help you until the flight is over and it’s time to debrief. You may actually have to take charge of this very important part of your flight training since it is very challenging for instructors to stop instructing and start evaluating.
Pat Carey, co-owner of Beach Cities Aviation in Hawthorne, California, who works as a flight instructor and designated pilot examiner, once had an applicant for an instrument certificate who didn’t even get off the ground during his flight test.
“Somehow the instructor had helped him with everything to the point where he had never been evaluated to see if he could copy a clearance on the ground from ground control. So obviously he couldn’t pass the flight test,” Carey says.
In addition to preventing this type of embarrassing situation, a mock check ride also prepares you for the silence in the cockpit during your exam. During your flight training, you get used to hearing your instructor constantly telling you what to do, so a quiet examiner may intimidate you if you don’t have a chance to practice under those conditions. Instead, the silence should be calming.