The checkride. It’s the last thing standing between you and your new pilot certificate or rating. You hope to be successful on this pass/fail graduation exercise the FAA calls “the practical test.” How can you overcome your nervousness and pass the checkride on the first try? Here are some tips from local examiners and a flight instructor.
Tip #1: Read the Practical Test Standards (PTS)
Thankfully, the FAA’s practical test standards (PTS) take away most of the guesswork about what to expect on your checkride. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the PTS for your certificate or rating. Don’t forget to read the introductory section, which includes special emphasis items to be tested throughout the checkride.
The practical test standards for private and commercial pilots were updated June 1, 2012. Visit the FAA’s Pilot Practical Test Standards web page for the most up-to-date information.
Hoping to avoid making common mistakes, you might be wondering which PTS tasks people struggle with the most. But according to local FAA designated pilot examiners (DPEs), there isn’t necessarily one particular thing that trips up “everyone.” So don’t put too much emphasis on one skill at the expense of another — make sure you’re well-versed in all of the tasks listed in the PTS.
Shane Lehman, a DPE who’s been conducting checkrides in northeast Wisconsin since 2002, says, “Everyone seems to have a different weakness.” He says a couple of more common trouble spots are the topic of pressure altitude and the regulations regarding inoperative equipment.
Since he became a DPE in 2003, Sherwood “Woody” Williams has also seen that weak areas on checkrides are as unique as the individual. But if he were to name a more common overall problem, he’d say that candidates don’t always know where official information comes from. They might only be able to say, “My instructor told me,” or, “I saw it in my study guide.” Woody wants candidates to be familiar with and able to use official sources like the FAA regulations and the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM).
AOPA’s Pilot’s Checkride Guide (PDF) is worth a read because it supplements the private pilot and instrument rating PTS with some helpful tips.
Tip #2: Use a Study Guide
As suggested above, you shouldn’t rely solely on an study guide book to be able to answer questions. But these books are a great place to start in order to be sure you know your stuff. ASA publishes oral exam guide books for various certificates and ratings. Companies like Jeppesen include checkride study guides in their pilot training kits.
Tip #3: Trust Your Instructor
It should set your mind at ease (at least a little bit!) to know that you’re probably over-prepared for the checkride without realizing it. Good instructors will train you beyond the bare minimum standards. They’ll only endorse you for the checkride when they’re confident you’re ready and able to pass.
Examiners have faith in your instructor’s opinion that you’ve been properly trained. “Instructors do a marvelous job of preparing candidates to take the test,” according to Woody.
Shane says, “As far as I’m concerned, by you being there, you’ve already passed.”
Look at it this way: the new certificate is already yours, and you just need to show the examiner why you’ve earned it. It’s not uncommon for new pilots to say the checkride was easier than they thought it would be.
Tip #4: Don’t Fear Your Examiner
As AvWeb columnist Linda Pendleton writes in an oldie-but-goodie article about becoming a DPE, “Your local, neighborhood DPE is a pilot just like you — and a human being, believe it or not!”
Examiners are on your side. Remember, they are flight instructors who know what students go through in training. Woody, whose professional life is centered in education, says, “Candidates should remember that the examiner has to come through the same route they did in order to learn to fly an airplane. I enjoy watching people grow and helping people achieve what they want to achieve.”
Shane and Woody both recommend that you, not your instructor, make the call to schedule your checkride. This way, you’ll have a chance to get to know your examiner and ask questions directly. “If you call ahead of time, we can create conversation,” Woody says.
Tip #5: Take a Mock Checkride
You’ll probably feel more confident about passing your checkride if you take a mock checkride with an instructor first. If you can do this with someone you don’t normally fly with, there are two bonuses: you’ll get a second opinion and you’ll get more used to that whole “flying with a stranger” idea.
A mock checkride or final “stage check” is often built into a professionally written training syllabus. In fact, a syllabus usually includes more than one stage check, giving you opportunities to have your progress evaluated throughout training.
Tip #6: Have Your Paperwork in Order
Since that new certificate is yours to lose, make sure you don’t botch the whole thing with a paperwork snafu on the day of your checkride. Shane suggests to make sure that your aircraft is airworthy and current on all its inspections. Check its logbooks. Don’t overlook your own endorsements, either. You might be endorsed to take the checkride, but is your 90-day solo endorsement current?
Tip #7: Talk Yourself Through
“I find that applicants who talk themselves through do better than those who don’t,” Shane says.
As you perform maneuvers, do checklists, set up equipment, or even make a mistake, talk through all of it out loud so the examiner knows what you’re thinking. It will make it much easier for him or her to evaluate your judgment and give you the benefit of the doubt.
Tip #8: Don’t Worry About Being Perfect
Would you be less stressed-out if you knew you don’t have to do everything perfectly to pass a checkride? The standards have some built-in room for error — that’s why there’s all those plus-and-minus symbols. Just stay within the tolerances.
Shane says it’s okay to look something up or use a “cheat sheet” as long as you don’t do it excessively. He would rather see you look something up correctly than try to guess at an answer.
“I know everyone’s nervous. There’s no question about that,” Woody says. He knows that your checkride flight might not be your best-ever performance. It doesn’t have to be! It just needs to meet the PTS standards. Think of it as yet another learning opportunity.
Tip #9: Take Care of Yourself and Relax
It should go without saying that you need to be physically and mentally ready for your checkride. Remember the “I’M SAFE” checklist? It applies here. It might be difficult, but try to get a good night’s sleep before your checkride. Don’t wait until the last minute to take care of the planning and preparation.
Above all, try to relax. Part of an examiner’s job is to try and put you at ease before the test officially begins.
Shane will tell you, “Let’s have fun with this.”
Kate Bernard has been a flight instructor since 2005 and instructs at Jet Air Group in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Jet Air Group has flight school locations in Green Bay and Sheboygan, Wisconsin. FAA designated pilot examiners (DPEs) including Shane Lehman and Sherwood “Woody” Williams are available to conduct checkrides for pilot certificates and ratings. For more information on flight training and testing, please call Jet Air at 920-494-2669 in Green Bay or 920-467-2303 in Sheboygan.