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Five Things NOT To Do on Your Practical Test

Today we’re pleased to feature a guest post from CFI and DPE Jason Blair. Check out his previous contributions to the LTFB here. He writes his own blog at JasonBlair.net

As an examiner, I regularly see the same things cause disapproval on practical test. These common errors are things that anyone can avoid during their practical test.

Don’t go if you haven’t flown recently. A couple of years ago I talked with a number of flight training providers and we reviewed student pass rates on practical tests in relation to recency of flight (see Recent Experience a Major Factor in Checkride Experience” published by AOPA Flight School Business) The results were surprising. The pass rate dropped off significantly, with the average first try pass rate being only 25% after a gap of 8 days from last flight to test day. If you haven’t flown recently, reschedule and get a brush-up flight completed. Your odds of passing go up significantly if you keep your skills fresh.

Don’t guess or make up answers. When an examiner asks you a question, the pressure is on. You want to give them an answer. But that doesn’t mean you have to answer immediately or that we expect you to know everything there is to possibly know. If you aren’t sure, or don’t know the answer, be honest and say that. If you think you know where to find the answer and can do that for us, tell us and then do it. If you just don’t know the answer at all, say so. This will always be better than guessing or making up an answer. Most examiners won’t ask questions about which they themselves don’t know the answer, so you probably aren’t going to fool them if you make one up. I see this during multiple tests every year. While it can be entertaining for the examiner when an applicant starts making up some creative new way in which the aircraft systems operate, it never bodes well for the test. It just gives the examiner a funny story to tell later. Names excluded from all stories, of course.

Don’t try new stuff. If you have never done it before in a plane, test day isn’t the best day to try something new. Even if this means you don’t know how to complete a required maneuver. It happens. CFIs are human too, and sometimes they forget to teach their private pilot applicant how to complete an emergency descent. If the examiner asks you to complete a maneuver that was in the practical test requirements and you have not been trained to do that maneuver, don’t try to guess your way through it on the test. Take your lumps and be honest and come back another day after some additional training. This can be avoided by reviewing the practical test as a student to make sure your CFI has taught you all that you need to know. If the examiner is asking you to do something that is outside the PTS or that you don’t consider to be safe, don’t do it either. You shouldn’t be trying the new inverted half-Cuban-eight back-course localizer approach with one eye closed that the examiner asked you to do. Be willing to be the PIC and say it’s time to head back to the airport instead of making up a procedure as you go.

Don’t fly a plane you are unfamiliar with. This expands on don’t try new stuff, but you shouldn’t be doing a test in an aircraft with which you are not familiar. This doesn’t necessarily mean a specific tail number. And some discretion can be applied to this consideration. If the school has 10 Cirrus aircraft that are all equipped the same, switching planes may be fine. If the school has two Cessna 172s, one that has a glass panel and one that has classic round gauges, you shouldn’t be doing your practical test in the glass panel aircraft if you have only flown the one with the classic round gauges. If the school has a Piper Archer and a Cessna 172 that both have Garmin 1000 panels in them, but you have only flown in the Piper Archer, you shouldn’t be doing your practical test in the Cessna 172. Use some judgment here, but it is common for pilots to try to take tests in aircraft they don’t fly regularly, and it is a bad idea. Lack of familiarity with the aircraft systems, avionics (even just where to turn on an intercom, or how to tune radio frequencies on different equipment), or performance calculations can lead to increased errors on practical tests.

Don’t fly if you wouldn’t normally fly in the weather conditions. Applicants commonly fail tests because they broke cloud clearances, had crosswinds that affected their ability to perform landings within test standards, or flew in restricted visibilities that contributed to loss of situational awareness and resulted in getting lost. The question that any applicant should be asking themselves is simple: “is the weather today going to adversely affect my ability to perform within practical test standards on all required maneuvers?” If the answer to this is yes, you should be rescheduling. Even if it is the fifth day in a row you have had to reschedule, it shows good pilot decision-making skills and increases your chances of passing.

There are lots of other tips you may find if you do a little searching when it comes to practical tests, but these are some repeat offenders that tend to make practical tests go badly. Before you make that final decision to go, consider these mistakes that may turn your potential pass into a certain failure.


Jason Blair is an active single and multi-engine instructor and FAA Designated Pilot Examiner with 4,800 hours total time and 2,700 hours instruction given. He has served on several FAA/Industry aviation committees and has and continues to work with aviation associations on flight training issues. He also consults on aviation training and regulatory efforts for the general aviation industry.

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