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.


Eye Of ExperienceKnowledge Tests are required for thePrivate, Commercial and Airline Transport Pilot certificates and for the instrumentrating. If you know the material, what follows is a surefire way of passing whichever ofthe knowledge tests you are attempting, and doing so with a high score. I have used thissystem for a great many years as I prepared both individual students and classrooms fullof students for FAA written tests, and enjoyed absolutely huge success doing so. Thesystem works for any of the FAA knowledge tests, including those for Flight Engineers andMechanics.

First Step

The first step in considering the knowledge test, which used to be called the writtentest before they were all computer generated, is to acknowledge the fact that people don’tfail these tests because they don’t know the material. They fail because they didn’tanswer the questions as they were asked. In other words, they didn’t read the questionscarefully and answer them precisely as they were written. Second, applicants mustacknowledge that there are no trick questions. They are all straightforward. This does notmean that the applicant is not invited to give a wrong answer if he or she is not carefulin reading the question. By this I mean if all the data is in Fahrenheit and the answercalls for Celsius, one of the answer choices will come out to be in Fahrenheit and if theapplicant misreads the question he or she is likely to chose that (wrong) answer. And itis the same with the conversion from statute miles per hour to knots and vice versa. Oneof the answer choices will steer you wrong if you don’t read the question carefully andanswer just what is asked. I simply cannot overemphasize the importance of reading thequestions carefully.

Now as for taking the test, here comes your Old Dad’s handy-dandy method of cheating onthe FAA knowledge tests. It is not actually cheating, but from the score you will get ifyou follow these simple steps, it might as well be. The first thing to do is to go overall the data that is given to you. This includes the performance charts for thehypothetical airplane. And pay particular attention to the charts you will be using forthe hypothetical cross-country trip you will be planning. Do not neglect the legend on thechart! You will no doubt find the answers to a couple of the questions here.

Second Step

The next step is to start answering the questions. Go rapidly through the testanswering 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 sureto read the questions carefully. Skip any question about which you have the slightestdoubt. Do no problem solving at this time. When you have finished going through the entiretest like this, you will have answered a substantial portion of the test questions, andwill probably have a score over seventy, which the FAA considers a passing grade.

Third Step

Now, go through the test a second time. This time do the problem solving (weight andbalance, cross-country planning, aircraft performance, etc.). As you go through the testthe second time, you will discover that the answers to some of the earlier questionsappeared in later questions the first time through, so you can confidently answer thosenow. Continue to skip those you flat-out don’t know. Also, on this time through you maylearn that a few of the answers you gave on the first time through were wrong. This is thetime to change them, but before you make any changes, be advised that the psychologiststell us that the first answer you come up with and gave is usually right and that many, ifnot most changed answers are from right to wrong, so be very sure of what you are doing ifyou decide to change any of your answers.

Another important point to remember is to be sure to bring several very sharp pencilsor a mechanical pencil for the cross-country planning and the walk-through performancecharts, for even the width of a pencil line can result in a wrong answer. It also helps tohave a magnifying glass to be sure of the location of the lines you draw, for if theanswer 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 theexamination 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 timewe will apply logic to answer all the remaining unanswered questions. For every questionthere is one correct answer. For most of them there is one that is obviously wrong, andone that could be right. Eliminate the wrong one. As to the other two, if one looks betterthan the other, go with it. The ones that drive you up a wall are those that ask for thebest answer, then offer you two right answers, one of which is slightly better than theother. If you just simply don’t know, mentally toss a coin and chose one. If your guessesare lucky, you’ll get a hundred, if not, your final score will at least be in the highnineties.

Believe me, this system works. For over ten years I taught a ground school for theprivate pilot written exam. The final lecture consisted of laying out the system Ioutlined above. I operated on the theory that if the student studied the material, andknew the material, the test would take care of itself. Therefore, we did not study testquestions, but rather the material. We must have been doing something right, for of thefirst five hundred fifty graduates from that course, there were only three busts! And thiswas at a time when the national average was running about 50 percent. Our record wasnothing 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 startwith. If you haven’t studied and don’t know the stuff at all, don’t even bother taking theexamination. The FAA has a saying, “A seventy is as good as a hundred.” Don’tbelieve it! The higher your score, the better pilot you will be. You can never know toomuch, and when it comes to the practical test with a Designated Pilot Examiner or an FAAInspector, the oral portion is just as important as the flight part. And remember, thepractical 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 oralportion after he or she actually got in the flying machine. Now, however, since it hasbecome a “Practical Test,” it is not altogether uncommon for an applicant tobust because of giving the examiner some wrong answers to questions asked after the flightportion starts. The applicant will first talk his way into passing, then keep talkinguntil he talks himself out of it by exposing a lack of knowledge in some area that theInspector or Examiner had previously credited him or her with knowing. Just answer thequestion, don’t try to further impress the examiner. Don’t hang yourself by feeling youneed to keep talking.

The Practical Test (a.k.a. Checkride)

And, on the subject of the practical, I simply cannot overemphasize the importance ofthe 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 theoral quizzing portion of the test, he or she will have already decided that you know yourstuff, 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 questionhis own judgment, for he’s already decided that you are good enough to earn thecertificate or rating sought. So, if you knock the oral part right out the window, theride itself becomes easy.

The key to success is to be properly prepared. A well-prepared applicant never busts atest. I have always maintained that if an applicant is properly prepared there’s no excusefor him or her to bust a test, and it is up to the instructor to get them properlyprepared. Go over the Practical Test Standards with your instructor and make sure of justwhat is expected of you. If you do all this, you are sure to pass your tests and join theranks of happy, safe aviators.

Next month’s topic is one that will be of interest to every pilot. I will be discussingviolations, how they are processed and what the pilot can do about them. Be sure to staytuned for this one.

In most cases, someone else has already gained the experience you need the hardway-keep an eye out!