Knowledge-test revisions surprise, scores suffer

AOPA, NAFI press for reversal of ‘unannounced’ change

March 3, 2011

AOPA has engaged the FAA in response to reports that unannounced, significant changes in the question banks of at least three airman knowledge tests have dramatically increased failure rates.

AOPA urges student pilots, certificated pilots preparing for advanced knowledge tests, and their instructors to be ready to tackle tests that differ significantly from their practice tests. Unfortunately, the FAA does not provide detailed study guides to provide concentration areas to focus training. Applicants often rely on practice exams to gain some better idea of what to expect on the knowledge exam. Due to the recent unannounced changes in the test bank, practice exams do not necessarily give a full representation of what to expect on the new knowledge exam.

AOPA is not opposed to changes in the knowledge test bank; however, those changes must be coordinated with those providing training for applicants, said AOPA and the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI) in a March 3 letter to the FAA. “Unannounced changes in evaluation standards accomplish nothing for learning; it only results in increased student failures, lost time, travel expense and an extra $140 - $150 paid by the students to retake the exam,” said the letter from Kristine Hartzell, AOPA manager of regulatory affairs and Jason Blair, NAFI’s executive director.

Question banks affected by the changes include the Fundamentals of Instruction (FOI), Airline Transport Pilot (ATP), and Flight Engineer (FE) knowledge test. Test providers, universities and flight schools have reported significant increases in the number of failures since the changes were implemented. More than half of those taking the FOI knowledge test since the changes were implemented failed the exam.

There are also reports from flight training programs that previously correlated scores between practice knowledge tests and actual tests for the instrument rating have begun to diverge.  

“AOPA and NAFI request that the test bank be reverted back to the questions in place prior to the recent update, that students who failed the exam since the changeover be allowed to retest and have the initial failure expunged from their record. We believe that prior to any further changes to knowledge test banks, the FAA should coordinate with industry. Changes in focus areas and methods of instruction need time to be implemented before significant changes to the evaluation takes place,” they wrote.

The FAA could begin by providing guidance to better focus training, they said. Because the changes have had such an adverse impact, the joint letter urged a “timely response” to the associations’ request.

AOPA reported on planned changes to knowledge tests on June 23. The project to bring tests up to date was expected to take about two years, drastically increase the number of questions in the test banks, and make the test internet-based instead of being stored on the computers of test centers.

AOPA will continue to press the FAA for action on the knowledge test question bank issue, and stands ready to act in members’ interests, regardless of whether large or small numbers of the pilot population are affected in a specific case.