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Passing PPL Flying Theory Tests

Updated on May 25, 2017

Exams - a necessary evil

I am yet to meet a person who likes studying for examinations! There is always that feeling of worry, of unpreparedness and the very real possibility of failing. When you sit your PPL examinations, you will likely see many candidates taking and re-taking the examinations. I once met a fellow who had sat the navigation paper 10 times. He needed a passmark of 75% and the last 3 attempts, he consistently scored 74%. Sad state in deed.

Plan to Pass

The first thing you need to do to pass your PPL theory exams is to plan to pass. Sounds obvious but you will be surprised at the number of people who actually plan to fail. Without a plan, you essentially give up control and when you give up control, bad things happen. The tips below will help.

1. A Study Plan

You know all the material that you must cover. The PPL curriculum sets out the various topics that you need to master. If you read randomly, you can rest assured that you will miss out something. The way out of this situation is to make a plan and write it down. List down the various topics and when you will read up on them. For example, every Monday evening between 7pm and 9pm, you may slot in Navigation, every Tuesday 8pm to 10pm you will study aircraft systems. The plan becomes your guide and you know when you are falling behind. It is a companion who reminds you of what you need to do. One more thing, place the plan in a place that you can see it. Don't put it under a sheaf of papers. Let it nag you into action every time you pass by it. Lastly, your plan should have the sources that you will be studying. There are many texts to help you out. In the US, the FAA has handbooks that are to be used in the study. In other jurisdictions, you may need to identify the material that you need use. There are sets of flying instruction manuals such as Pooleys Air Pilots manuals and these often go deeper into the topics.

2. Read before Practical

Assuming you have about 50 hours of PPL practical training, it is important that before each practical lesson, you identify the theoretical reading that precedes it and actually read before the practical. The practical will thus reinforce what you already read. It makes it easy for the instructor to guide you through the exercise if you have already read up on the lesson. The repetition during the practical also helps fix the material in your mind, ready for that day when you shall pass your exam as a well-prepared candidate!

3. Use Your Instructor

Your instructor has lots of experience. She has seen many situations, has sat the same examinations (and even tougher ones). If you are struggling, do not suffer in silence. Set time to discuss with your instructor but do not just show up unprepared. Write down the specific items that you have not properly understood. Instructors are only too happy to help you get that lightbulb moment. A good instructor lives for that.

4. Use Question Banks wisely

In flight school, I saw many students who had subscriptions to online question banks. There is nothing wrong with that. Question banks are a rich repository of possible questions that you will encounter in the examinations and getting the practice is wise. The problem is that many students use the question banks to replace reading. They wade through question banks guessing the answers and attempting to memorise the answers when the blue tick appears. This is a recipe for disaster as it attempts to short-circuit the process of actually understanding the material. So use question banks to polish up the loose ends after you have read, understood, consulted instructor. Question banks are not way to become a safe pilot anyway. You need proper grounding in the PPL study material.

5. Know your weak areas and work on them

Related to point above on question banks, you will see areas where you have not met the standards. If on 5 topics you are scoring strong 90% and the 6th topic you are scoring a measly 60%, there is some work to be done on that lost topic. Work on it, take corrective action and recheck your progress. It makes little sense expecting to walk into the exam room unprepared and hope to come from 60% to the passmark of 75%.

6. Read to understand, not to memorise

This is by far the most important point and one which flying students forget. Your PPL exams are not designed to keep you from getting the license. They are administered to gauge your knowledge. That is the key right there - you need to gain a sufficient level of knowledge that will enable you to gain the license, so that you can continue learning on the job. Therefore, rather than memorise just to spew the material on the exam paper, make sure your study is all about understanding. The passing of examinations is a formality.

7. Teach others

I used this tip with a good amount of success. If you have truly understood something, you should be able to teach it to others. Approach fellow students and form study groups. Meet regularly and compare progress. If a student is struggling with an area that you understand, volunteer to offer "extra classes" for 15 minutes. As you explain the stuff to him, it concretises the stuff in your brain. In a sense, you will not only pass the exams but you will have helped out a buddy. We need more pilots in the air anyway.

There you have it, a simple plan to passing your PPL exams.

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