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Private Pilot Checkride

This article provides some advice and information for preparation for the Private Pilot Checkride.

Have you met the Requirements?

First of all, have you taken, passed and can lay your hands on the results of your Knowledge Test. If not, get that taken care of. We'll assume that you're close to being ready to take the practical test, so you need to cram for the knowledge test. There are really 3 ways to cram for the test:

If you didn't get 100% on your knowledge test make sure you've looked up the codes of the subject areas you missed and at least review the material. You don't want to get caught twice on the same subject areas!

The second thing you need to consider is have you met the aeronautical experience requirements. You may want to refer to this Private Pilots Checklist to make sure you have everything covered.

Preparing for the Checkride

You've passed the knowledge test and you've met all the requirements for the checkride. There are 2 essential elements you want to cover to prepare for the checkride. Remember that you need 3 hours of training within the 60 days preceding your checkride and the training described here can be a part of that.

Obtain a copy of the Private Pilot Practical Test Standards. Sure you can borrow one, your instructor certainly has a copy, but don't get cheap now. The PTS describes EXACTLY what you need to know to pass your checkride. Get a copy, READ IT, you'll be glad you did. The PTS provides a list of reference documents the FAA uses to develop the PTS. Here is a list of those documents with help on determining which documents are books and which are available on-line.

Make an appointment for the checkride. Having a specific date to work towards concentrates the mind and it means that you won't find your self ready for the checkride but having to wait 4 weeks because your selected examiner is booked up or on vacation. Be realistic about when you'll be ready, but don't schedule it so far in advance that you fool yourself that you have "plenty of time". Make sure you get answers to these questions:

When you present yourself for the checkride you'll need a completed Form 8710. This is FAA's 8710 form online in Adobe PDF format. This is an online form (i.e. you can fill it in), BUT you can't save your changes, so my advice is:

  1. Print a blank copy.
  2. Fill it out in pencil and review it with your CFI, make any corrections.
  3. Fill out the online form, check it once, then twice and print it out.
  4. Then check it again - you probably don't want to type all your information in again!

If you plan on taking a number of checkrides you may want to invest in the software from Dauntless that fills out your 8710 AND stores your information. You can also use AOPA's Online 8710 if you're a member of AOPA.

Preparing Your Paperwork

The more organized you are when present yourself to the examiner the better the first impression you make. Somebody who has to dig through their flight bag to find a torn and creased copy of the 8710 or who when asked for their logbook answers "I know it's in here somewhere" is not starting off well. The PTS contains a checklist of the items you need to bring to the checkride. Read it, and make sure you pull all that information together in advance.

You will need to take the airplane documents, logbooks etc. along for the examiner to review and to ask you questions on. Make sure you've gone through these papers either with your CFI or with your local A&P and make sure you can find and explain all the required inspections etc. Most people mark the pages for each inspection in the logs, if your logs are already marked up check these are the latest inspections and move the tags if needed. Also understand how Airworthiness Directives (ADs) are recorded and complied with for your aircraft.

Oral Exam Preparation

In preparing for the oral exam you should, at a minimum, take a read through the FAR/AIM for the parts relevant to a Private Pilot and to VFR flight. You will also want to read back through whatever primary text you were using for your flight training so that you can review the basics of aerodynamics, weather etc. Finally read through all the reference material specified in the PTS and you'll be well prepared. You should invest in a copy of the Private Pilot Oral Exam Guide which provides a series of questions and answers intended to prepare you the checkride. I use it as guide for preparing my students for their oral exam.

Schedule a session of two or three hours with your flight instructor. Maybe lunch or an extended coffee break. Have your instructor take you through a mock oral, asking questions and getting your answers. Make sure you bring you reference materials and refer to it if you have any questions. There are some things you MUST know for the oral exam. For a lot of the information however it's good enough just to know how to find out. Prepare a cross-country flight plan to take to this practice session so that you and your instructor can review it. It doesn't have to be the plan you'll use for the practical test, although your instructor may know what your examiner normally uses or your examiner may have told you when you made your appointment.

Make sure you go through the PTS and make sure you know all the information covered both in the PTS Tasks as well as the special emphasis areas you'll find in the preamble section. Remember - the oral exam creates the first impression of your knowledge and skills to the examiner. If you ace the oral then the flight check should be a breeze. If you ace the first few questions of the oral, the rest of the oral should be a breeze. If you stumble early, well the DE is going to smell blood. Expect a much longer, much more thorough oral. You can't be over-prepared for the oral.

Expect to spend 10 or more hours preparing for the oral (excluding any time you spend with your flight instructor). I know you think you know it all by now, but you don't. I know you think the flight portion will be the hardest part of the exam, but if you can't get past the oral you're not going flying.

Flight Test Preparation

 The PTS is the bible for the checkride. It describes what you are required to do and the performance standards on which you will be judged. Read it, know the information in it.

Then fly a mock checkride with your instructor, or if you have access to other instructors schedule to fly the mock checkride with another instructor who can give you another perspective on your flying. Make sure that you cover all the maneuvers in the PTS and ensure that you receive (and your instructor receives) a thorough de-briefing after the flight(s). Then identify the area of weakness and go out and work on them and, if you have time, finish up with another mock checkride.

You don't have to be perfect, either on the mock checkride or on the actual checkride, but you do need to show your mastery of the airplane with the outcome of any maneuver never in doubt.

Don't forget to take a view limiting device (hood) along with you. Really, I'm serious, most DEs will check, but don't get up there and discover you have no way to accomplish one of the required tasks. At best it's a trip back to the FBO, at worse it's a bust for poor planning.

Checkride Advice

Finally here's come checkride advice from Ron Levy. Ron is an instructor and teacher with a university near Washington DC. His advice has been posted countless times in various locations, it's used here without his permission.

Captain Levy's Checkride Advice.

Hear is a Web page from a DE with information on this persons specific expectations of a checkride.

One persons checkride notes.

Good luck, you've been trained well, you've practiced well and you're going to RELAX. You'll have no problems!

If I Am Your Instructor

You can expect the following.

Before you schedule your appointment for the checkride we're going to go through a mock oral which will be at least 2 hours and probably more. MAKE SURE YOU KNOW YOUR STUFF. Go through all the references, your basic textbooks, FAR/AIM, the aircraft POH, use the Private Pilot Oral Exam Guide and the PTS to make sure you've covered all the topics and you know them stone cold. Review the subject areas you were deficient on your knowledge test. The idea of this mock oral is to make sure you know your stuff, it's not to actually teach you anything, so coming in unprepared just means I'll end up teaching you, which I'm happy to do, but we'll just need to re-schedule another mock oral.

Get this out of the way first, because completing the checkride prep. in the airplane and then finding out you don't know diddly about the regulations, weather or the airplane is frustrating for you and me. The BIGGEST problem in the mock oral is not having the comprehensive knowledge required. Student who are asked "tell me about the engine in our plane" and who act as if the idea of an engine in the plane had never crossed their mind don't inspire confidence.

Our first flight for the checkride prep. will be a mock flight test. We'll go out and fly the air maneuvers, ground reference maneuvers and all the takeoff and landing options. In general we won't try and fix anything that's not working, we'll try the maneuver, of you blow it we'll note that and move on.

On the basis of that flight we'll know what we need to work on and we'll schedule flights as needed to work on the specific areas. We should have a good idea of when you'll be ready, so now is the time to schedule the checkride with an examiner. Once we've done the workouts we'll run another mock flight test, and if that goes OK then you're good to go.

Don't expect the checkride prep. to be 3 hours, it may well be more. Your recent flights will have been focused on cross-country work and night flying and you may have done some solo practice but it's likely your maneuver work is rusty.

The BIGGEST problem by far for most people at this stage if they don't know the PROCEDURES for each maneuver. Their technique is fine, but when asked for a power-off stall they act as if it's the first time they've heard of such a thing and they make up some kind of bizarre procedure on the fly that may or may not work but never inspires confidence. Write up procedures (checklists) for each maneuver and commit them to memory. You can carry them on the flight test, after all checklist use is being tested as well, but try to commit them to memory as well.