Eye of Experience #2:
Acing the Written
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.
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 Mechanics.
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 questions carefully.
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.
Finally — The Frosting on the Cake
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 nineties.
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.
If You Don't Know It, Don't Bother
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.
The Practical Test (a.k.a. Checkride)
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 way—keep an eye out!