AVweb's Howard Fried shares his foolproof way to ace the written (now known as the Knowledge Test since the FAA has gone high-tech). Howard believes that people don't fail these tests because they don't know the material. He says they fail because they didn't answer the questions as they were asked, yet he also claims there are no trick questions! Howard's method — which isn't really cheating — is designed to get you the highest possible score, even if you don't know all the answers.
May 29, 1998
|About the Author ...
Howard Fried started flying with the Army Air Corps in WWII, where he
served both as a multi-engine instructor pilot and in combat piloting B-17s.
After a stint teaching sociology and on-the-air and management jobs in the
radio business after the war, he turned to teaching flying again full-time.
Over 40,000 general aviation hours later, he is still instructing
and running his own flight school. Along the way he administered over 4,000 flight tests
as a Designated Examiner until victimized by rogue FAA
He has authored two popular flying books aimed at student pilots and
instructors, Flight Test Tips and Tales and Beyond The Checkride, and a
series of audio tapes, Checkride Tips from
Flying's Eye Of The Examiner.
Knowledge Tests are required for the
Private, Commercial and Airline Transport Pilot certificates and for the instrument
rating. If you know the material, what follows is a surefire way of passing whichever of
the knowledge tests you are attempting, and doing so with a high score. I have used this
system for a great many years as I prepared both individual students and classrooms full
of students for FAA written tests, and enjoyed absolutely huge success doing so. The
system works for any of the FAA knowledge tests, including those for Flight Engineers and
The first step in considering the knowledge test, which used to be called the written
test before they were all computer generated, is to acknowledge the fact that people don't
fail these tests because they don't know the material. They fail because they didn't
answer the questions as they were asked. In other words, they didn't read the questions
carefully and answer them precisely as they were written. Second, applicants must
acknowledge that there are no trick questions. They are all straightforward. This does not
mean that the applicant is not invited to give a wrong answer if he or she is not careful
in reading the question. By this I mean if all the data is in Fahrenheit and the answer
calls for Celsius, one of the answer choices will come out to be in Fahrenheit and if the
applicant misreads the question he or she is likely to chose that (wrong) answer. And it
is the same with the conversion from statute miles per hour to knots and vice versa. One
of the answer choices will steer you wrong if you don't read the question carefully and
answer just what is asked. I simply cannot overemphasize the importance of reading the
Now as for taking the test, here comes your Old Dad's handy-dandy method of cheating on
the FAA knowledge tests. It is not actually cheating, but from the score you will get if
you follow these simple steps, it might as well be. The first thing to do is to go over
all the data that is given to you. This includes the performance charts for the
hypothetical airplane. And pay particular attention to the charts you will be using for
the hypothetical cross-country trip you will be planning. Do not neglect the legend on the
chart! You will no doubt find the answers to a couple of the questions here.
The next step is to start answering the questions. Go rapidly through the test
answering only those questions you know right off the top of your head. Skip all the rest.
On this first time through answer only those questions you are absolutely sure of. Be sure
to read the questions carefully. Skip any question about which you have the slightest
doubt. Do no problem solving at this time. When you have finished going through the entire
test like this, you will have answered a substantial portion of the test questions, and
will probably have a score over seventy, which the FAA considers a passing grade.
Now, go through the test a second time. This time do the problem solving (weight and
balance, cross-country planning, aircraft performance, etc.). As you go through the test
the second time, you will discover that the answers to some of the earlier questions
appeared in later questions the first time through, so you can confidently answer those
now. Continue to skip those you flat-out don't know. Also, on this time through you may
learn that a few of the answers you gave on the first time through were wrong. This is the
time to change them, but before you make any changes, be advised that the psychologists
tell us that the first answer you come up with and gave is usually right and that many, if
not most changed answers are from right to wrong, so be very sure of what you are doing if
you decide to change any of your answers.
Another important point to remember is to be sure to bring several very sharp pencils
or a mechanical pencil for the cross-country planning and the walk-through performance
charts, for even the width of a pencil line can result in a wrong answer. It also helps to
have a magnifying glass to be sure of the location of the lines you draw, for if the
answer to a question is 83 degrees, one of the choices will be either 82 or 84 degrees,
neither of which is correct. By the time you finish this second trip through the
examination your score will be in the high eighties or low nineties.
Now, we'll put the frosting on the cake with a third trip through the test. This time
we will apply logic to answer all the remaining unanswered questions. For every question
there is one correct answer. For most of them there is one that is obviously wrong, and
one that could be right. Eliminate the wrong one. As to the other two, if one looks better
than the other, go with it. The ones that drive you up a wall are those that ask for the
best answer, then offer you two right answers, one of which is slightly better than the
other. If you just simply don't know, mentally toss a coin and chose one. If your guesses
are lucky, you'll get a hundred, if not, your final score will at least be in the high
Believe me, this system works. For over ten years I taught a ground school for the
private pilot written exam. The final lecture consisted of laying out the system I
outlined above. I operated on the theory that if the student studied the material, and
knew the material, the test would take care of itself. Therefore, we did not study test
questions, but rather the material. We must have been doing something right, for of the
first five hundred fifty graduates from that course, there were only three busts! And this
was at a time when the national average was running about 50 percent. Our record was
nothing short of phenomenal.
All these words of wisdom from your Old Dad presuppose you know the material to start
with. If you haven't studied and don't know the stuff at all, don't even bother taking the
examination. The FAA has a saying, "A seventy is as good as a hundred." Don't
believe it! The higher your score, the better pilot you will be. You can never know too
much, and when it comes to the practical test with a Designated Pilot Examiner or an FAA
Inspector, the oral portion is just as important as the flight part. And remember, the
practical test is just that. Oral quizzing goes on throughout.
In the days when it was called a "Flight Test" it came in two distinct parts,
the oral and the flight, and it was rare indeed that an applicant would bust on the oral
portion after he or she actually got in the flying machine. Now, however, since it has
become a "Practical Test," it is not altogether uncommon for an applicant to
bust because of giving the examiner some wrong answers to questions asked after the flight
portion starts. The applicant will first talk his way into passing, then keep talking
until he talks himself out of it by exposing a lack of knowledge in some area that the
Inspector or Examiner had previously credited him or her with knowing. Just answer the
question, don't try to further impress the examiner. Don't hang yourself by feeling you
need to keep talking.
And, on the subject of the practical, I simply cannot overemphasize the importance of
the oral portion. Nobody likes to question his own judgment, and if you offer up crisp,
clear, concise, correct answers to the inspector's or examiner's questions during the
oral quizzing portion of the test, he or she will have already decided that you know your
stuff, and if you slightly exceed the tolerances allowed while maneuvering the airplane,
the examiner will be making excuses for you. In order to put you down he has to question
his own judgment, for he's already decided that you are good enough to earn the
certificate or rating sought. So, if you knock the oral part right out the window, the
ride itself becomes easy.
The key to success is to be properly prepared. A well-prepared applicant never busts a
test. I have always maintained that if an applicant is properly prepared there's no excuse
for him or her to bust a test, and it is up to the instructor to get them properly
prepared. Go over the Practical Test Standards with your instructor and make sure of just
what is expected of you. If you do all this, you are sure to pass your tests and join the
ranks of happy, safe aviators.
Next month's topic is one that will be of interest to every pilot. I will be discussing
violations, how they are processed and what the pilot can do about them. Be sure to stay
tuned for this one.
In most cases, someone else has already gained the experience you need the hard
waykeep an eye out!