Patrickís Principles for Passing the Practical Test
By: Patrick Corr, President, Helicopter Adventures, Inc.

The Oral Examination:

  1. Study the Practical Test Standards and know what is expected of you.
  2. Organize your paperwork, books and equipment. This includes making sure that your instructor has completed your Form 8710 at least 24 hours before the test. This is his responsibility, but itís your checkride, so donít assume it will happen. Here is a minimum list of items you will need:
  3. Look organized. Dress appropriately, arrive early, arrange your material, get a weather briefing, check on the status of your aircraft.
  4. Be confident. Remember that you already meet the standards for the rating Ė the endorsement from your instructor proves that. If you were not ready to pass the test the instructor would not have allowed you to take it.
  5. Be in control. With due deference to the examinerís authority and experience, donít forget that he is working for you today. You are paying him to test you and to certify to the FAA that you meet at least the minimum standard for the rating. You should interact as equals, working toward a common goal. For example, if you feel like you need a short break during the oral examination, donít feel obliged to wait for the examiner to suggest it. You are an adult, donít behave like a child.
  6. Listen carefully to the question. Too often students rush to answer before they have given careful thought to the point of the question. If the question is a complex one, write it down, and tell the examiner you want to think about your response. The only questions that the examiner has a right to expect rapid responses to are the emergency procedures questions.
  7. Answer the questions thoroughly, but stick to the point. Donít force the examiner to drag the information out of you like an interrogator; on the other hand, donít try to dazzle him with a lot of additional information he has not requested.
  8. Correct your mistakes. If you say something and then quickly realize that you are wrong, back track and correct the error.
  9. Donít bluff. The examiner will immediately detect that you are not sure of your answer.
  10. If you are asked a question to which you do not know the answer, tell the examiner that you canít remember the answer but you know where to find it. If the issue is not very important, and you can quickly find the source material, he may accept your response.
  11. Watch and listen for clues. The examiners will not deliberately help you but sometimes they inadvertently give away clues to what they are thinking. If he reacts with great surprise at one of your answers, it may be time to reconsider.
  12. Try to see the underlying point of the examinerís questions and address that issue. For example, in a discussion of a possible flight to Lake Tahoe he asks you several questions about the temperature and the elevation; you respond with " I think you are wondering whether I am aware of the density altitude issues. Let me tell you how I am going to use the available data and the performance tables to calculate whether or not it is safe to attempt this flight under these conditions, and how I might amend the loading and fuel plans accordingly."
  13. Keep in mind that this is a practical test, not just an oral version of the written examination. The written exam tests your rote knowledge Ė your memory of facts and figures; the oral examination is intended to test your ability to correlate those facts and apply them in realistic scenarios. For example, on the written exam you will be asked about cloud clearance regulations, but during the oral exam you will be given a weather report and questioned about how it might affect the conduct of your flight. The individual ground sessions with your instructor prior to the checkride are designed to prepare you for this.
  14. Present an image of a cautious, safety-conscious pilot who is well aware of the limitations of his/her abilities as well as those of the aircraft.

The Flight Examination:

  1. Be the Pilot In Command. The examiner wants to see that you have progressed beyond your dependence on your instructor, and that you have the strength of character necessary to cope with issues such as distracting passengers or equipment malfunctions. This means making all of the decisions. For example, sometimes students will say to the examiner: "The weather is a bit borderline, but if you want to go Iíll give it a try" Saying this to the examiner is just as inappropriate as it would be to an unqualified passenger.
  2. Plan and execute your flight with common sense, just as you would with your instructor or a friend. Use pilotage when appropriate, and not just ded-reckoning. Fly at sensible altitudes, and be very attentive to cloud clearance requirements.
  3. Fly in a very safe, conservative manner. This is not the day to try new ideas or to try to amaze the examiner with your skills. If you do a great job the examiner should find the flight boring.
  4. Donít allow the examiner to distract you. They are instructed to try to do so. If necessary, politely ask him to keep quiet - he will be impressed.
  5. Be on alert at all times for the inevitable forced-landing. This means being aware of the wind conditions and the possible landing areas. When it happens, just enter autorotation and turn into the wind.
  6. Listen very carefully to ATC instructions. Question them if necessary, until you are sure you fully understand them. If you are unable to comply, say so.
  7. Stay cool. Youíve done all of these maneuvers dozens of times with your instructor, you can easily do one of each today.
  8. If you are going to do anything unusual, tell the examiner what you are doing and why. The examiner should never be surprised by your actions.
  9. Relax. The examiner is a nice guy. He wants you to pass. Make it an enjoyable flight for him, not one filled with tension and seriousness. You will perform better and he will be more likely to forgive minor errors.
  10. If you make a serious mistake, continue the checkride. You will get credit for everything you do correctly. The more you accomplish today the less there will be to do on the retake.

General Points

  1. A student who demonstrates exceptional knowledge during the oral examination is 75% of the way to the certificate. Study hard throughout your training, not just during the last few days.
  2. Donít allow your nervousness about failing the checkride to cause you to fail. Everyone is tense and nervous on the day, but you must channel that nervous energy into concentration. Use it to help you to do better not worse.