The FAA written tests (also known as the FAA Airman Knowledge Tests) are one of those things that every pilot dreads. They’re one of those big ugly barriers that stand in between you and your license — and all too often, student pilots wait until the very last minute to take them, adding a huge headache to their training process.
But you don’t need to fear the written.
In fact, as I’ll show you today, a simple study tactic can easily add 20% to your written test score in a single day…
So far, I’ve
been the victim of taken six different FAA knowledge tests over the years. And I’ve used this simple method to score a 90% or better on every single one of them — in some cases after just a few hours of prep.
For starters, you need to know your stuff. This study strategy only works if you have a good foundation to begin with. So, if you don’t know the difference between class C and class D airspace, or if you have no idea how to do a weight and balance problem, you need to fill the gaps in your ground knowledge before you get to this step. What we’re talking about here is a test prep strategy, not a way to get by without knowing the stuff you absolutely need to know for the pilot certificate you’re working on.
(Getting that foundation of knowledge isn’t hard, by the way. There are plenty of awesome ground school programs from places like Sporty’s, King Schools, and ASA.)
One of the worst parts of the FAA written test is the trick questions. You know, the ones that have absolutely no relevance to being a safe pilot. The gotchas. This tactic helps you remember those too.
There’s an old aviation joke that any written score over a 70% is a waste of time. That’s a cute saying, until you think about the fact that almost any knowledge test question could easily show up during your oral exam — and the new ACS actually requires DPEs to grill you on “Any Task elements in which the applicant was shown to be deficient on the knowledge test.”
Likewise, before you can legally get signed off for your checkride, your CFI is required to cover every missed item from your knowledge test. Why pay for ground extra ground instruction?
You should really try to get the best score possible on the knowledge test these days.
So what’s the study tactic?
Step 1: Take a practice written test.
First off, you need a baseline. Pretty much every ground school program includes practice tests — you typically need to score above 80% on three of them to get an endorsement to take the real test. You can find them at a number of free websites. Study first, and take the practice test seriously (no cheating!) to get a realistic baseline score.
Step 2: Write down the full questions and correct answers for any questions you missed.
Get your wrist ready for a lot of writing.
Once you’ve taken your practice test, go to through all the answers you got wrong. Pull out a notebook, and write out the correct answers to every missed question in the form of a sentence. Yes, it’s a little tedious — but research shows that handwriting notes actually makes you remember better than typing them. Plus, having to hand write a sentence for every question you got wrong adds some extra incentive not to guess.
Here’s an FAA example question:
If an aircraft is equipped with a fixed-pitch propeller and a float-type carburetor, the first indication of carburetor ice would most likely be
A—a drop in oil temperature and cylinder head temperature.
C—loss of RPM.
The answer is C. If you got it wrong, this is what you’d write in your notebook:
If an aircraft is equipped with a fixed-pitch propeller and a float-type carburetor, the first indication of carburetor ice would most likely be loss of RPM.
Yes, you have to write out the whole question — the specific wording can help you remember the answer the next time you see it. Feel free to abbreviate words like takeoff (t/o), aircraft (a/c), cross-country (XC), etc.
And yes, I did this for every FAA written test I’ve taken. Here’s a page of my study notes from my private pilot notebook:
It’s critical that you’re only writing down correct answers. It doesn’t matter what your wrong answer was — you just want to remember the correct answer.
If the question you missed is a math problem, don’t settle for memorizing the right answer — write out the work/formulas to solve the problem correctly in your notebook. Do this even if it’s just a dumb arithmetic error.
Step 3: Rinse and Repeat
Next, take another practice test and repeat the notebook process. Chances are, you won’t miss the same questions — but if you do, there’s no way you’ll write out the same question long hand two or three times without getting it right from then on.
Continue taking practice tests and writing answers in your notebook until you’re consistently scoring in a range you’re comfortable with. I’d recommend scoring at least 90% on two consecutive practice tests before taking the real thing.
This method also works great with memory training aids like Sheppard Air — it’ll cut your study time dramatically.
The good news is that this tactic doesn’t take long to boost your score 20% or more — sure, it’s a bit of a chore, but it’s also effective enough that you can probably fix your trouble areas after a couple practice tests in an afternoon. And that’s time well spent, since it’ll save you money on checkride prep with you CFI and spare you from extra grilling during your oral exam.
Give it a shot and let me know in the comments if it worked for you…