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Certified Flight Instructor, Commercial Pilot, Training

Knowledge Exams

October 19, 2014

Total Hours: 84.4

There was very little flying this week as I studied hard for my knowledge exams. As I have mentioned before each certificate involves a knowledge test and a practical test. The knowledge exams can be done whenever the student is ready and generally the sooner the better. Once I finished my private certificate I started studying with the goal of completing the written exams as quickly as possible. I needed to complete three exams for the next phase of my training, one for my commercial certificate and two for the certified flight instructor. Most people split these tests up on different days and chip away at it but I figured I could get it done in a day. The primary reason for this decision was the fact that I would have to make a trip to Honolulu to take the exams and I didn’t want to make multiple trips.

Thankfully the commercial and the CFI exams are very similar so it makes a lot of sense to finish them together. In fact they aren’t all that different from the private knowledge exam and I used the same study techniques that I had applied to the private. This meant lots of work with testing supplements and taking tons of practice exams. The interesting thing about the knowledge exams is that the FAA releases a large portion of the question banks to the public. Various companies and websites make these questions into practice exams, some for a fee and some for free, and many students simply work their way through until they are confident they will pass. Some students use more memorization than others. I am not that good at rote memorization so my technique is to learn the concepts more than memorize. But, due to the nature of the tests some memorization is always necessary.

The FAA is currently struggling with the way that students use memorization for these exams. While I think there is still some value to the tests even when a student relies heavily on memorization it would be hard to argue that more could not be gained from better understanding. The problem is that the exam questions are not always well written. In fact sometimes they are flat out wrong. Some examples that come to mind: A radar summary chart that is missing the direction and velocity information the question asks for. An equipment requirement question where the “correct” answer places the aircraft in the wrong airspace. Then there is the use of terms that I’ve never come across in any FAA publication. Or questions with such poor wording it is difficult to discern what they are even asking. I could go on and on. Because of this a student would be remiss not studying the question bank. It is necessary to be alert to questions that are incorrect and also to ones that are worded poorly.

While these facts frustrate many people, myself included, it is really of no concern. The FAA gives out plenty of information and it does not take too much effort to pass each exam with the minimum of seventy percent. And it generally does not matter if you passed with 75% or 90%, although for those hoping to gain employment at their school a higher score is always a good thing. For my private I studied really hard and truly hoped I would get 100% on my exam. I had to settle for 95% instead and going into my exams this time around I wasn’t presumptuous enough to believe I could achieve 100%. I wanted to do well, hopefully in the nineties, but I didn’t stress over it. Mostly I just wanted the exams done so I could focus my energy on other tasks. The commercial, which I studied for using free Internet websites, ended up being a breeze. The CFI had a lot of questions I hadn’t seen in the test prep even though I used a program I bought. And the FOI, the most intimidating because of the nature of the questions, ended up going far better than I hoped despite also having a lot of questions I had not seen during my studies. In the end I surprised myself by meeting my goal of scoring over ninety on each exam.

During my private and commercial exams I felt like the actual exams were almost exactly like the practice exams. So I found it quite interesting that the CFI and FOI were so different. Perhaps the FAA is changing its game plan in an attempt to discourage memorization. Have no fear though, as I’ve already stated a little bit of practice and a good general understanding of the concepts will be plenty to pass with a good grade. Don’t forget to use good test taking skills as well. I always work through all the questions once simply answering the ones I know or can easily figure out. Anything that gives pause is saved for round two. I like to go back over all the questions a second time to make sure I didn’t miss anything stupid (which of course I still did!) and I will also address the confusing questions at that point. Also, if you truly don’t know an answer remember that your first instinct is often correct.

Here is a list of some of the resources I used to prepare for the exams:

ASA Prepware: Many different products available including books, apps, and computer software.

My Written Exam: A very useful website that has rotorcraft specific practice tests.  No CFI tests at the moment, but still great for the commercial.

Exams4Pilots: This site also has rotorcraft specific tests but they are not quite as good. I used this one a lot for my private.

My Pilots Tests: A very nice website which is fixed-wing oriented. Still a great resource.

The ASA products have to be purchased but the websites all offer free practice tests. Stay relaxed, have fun, and good luck!


About Orin Bakal-Molnar

Besides aviation my biggest passion is climbing. I love spending my free time on the side of something big! But I'm almost as happy doing anything outside in the wild. Travel, photography, and fly-fishing are a few of my other pursuits. And of course there's nothing like meeting new people and sharing good conversation.


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