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Offering test prep is an easy winOffering test prep is an easy win

Students hate tests. That’s not much of a news flash. Also not surprising is that student pilots feel the same way. Learning to fly is fun. Taking knowledge and practical tests isn’t. For this reason alone, it’s in a school’s best interest to offer as much test preparation assistance as possible.

Another great reason is that they want it. In AOPA’s research into the ideal flight training experience, one of the biggest gaps in the industry’s performance between those students who finished and those who quit was test preparation. This is a shame, considering it’s easy and in many cases free to offer the support students are looking for. Here are a few ideas:

  • Provide a sheet of resources. This is perhaps the easiest and cheapest thing you can do to help students prepare for the knowledge test. Task an instructor with finding a number of different knowledge test websites, books, and videos, and then list them on a single sheet with a brief description, where to find them, and how much they cost (most should be free). Make it a point that every student receives a copy.
  • Dedicate a computer. Most people have an old computer lying around somewhere. Bring it to the school and dedicate it with a sign solely for written test preparation. There are dozens of websites that offer free test preparation. Navigate to one and park on it. Now advertise your new offering.
  • Meet the examiners. Most schools are in the unique position of having a good working relationship with one or multiple pilot examiners. Don’t waste that relationship. Whether formally with a seminar, or informally on a one-on-one basis, give every student the opportunity to meet his or her pilot examiner before the practical test. Simply knowing the person can calm many of the pre-checkride fears.
  • Mandate a mock checkride. Part 141 curriculums call them stage checks. We should all be conducting them, regardless of an FAA approval status. Make the student’s final lesson be a mock checkride with a different instructor (preferably one in an authority position). Run it exactly like an examiner would to help your students feel at ease later when they do it for real.
  • Make introductions. Study groups are a fixture of high school and college campuses. Make them a fixture of your flight school. Introduce students who are generally in the same part of the course so they can study for the knowledge and practical tests together.
  • Create a checkride debrief resource. In airline hiring they call it a gouge. You can call it a debrief. Whatever the name, get each checkride applicant’s impression down on paper and keep a running inventory for students coming up on their tests. Examiners hate this sort of thing, but your customers will love it. Simply knowing how another applicant made it through the test will put them at ease.
  • Offer some advice. A week or so before the checkride, email each applicant a host of pre-written information about the best strategy for passing a checkride. Include facts about pass rates nationally and for your school, go over the checkride process, mention how the practical test standards will be used (in case your instructor never introduced it), give advice on rest and preparation, and generally offer support. In other words, create “XYZ Flight School’s Guide to the Practical Test.” Having the owner or manager send this information will make the student feel like the valued customer he or she is, and will give them additional guidance going into the test.


With students clamoring for the information, and you and your staff’s inside knowledge, there is no reason an applicant should ever feel as though the school didn’t help with the knowledge and practical tests—especially given that much of the help is free to offer.

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly is senior content producer for AOPA Media.

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