Disclaimer: I prepared this list based on what I have observed myself during the last 10+ years in the San Jose, Fresno, Oakland and Sacramento FSDOs. This is not an official FAA list, but simply my personal observation. If you have something to add to the list, feel free to comment below.

Here is a list of top 10 ways (in no particular order) you can incorporate during your CFI (initial) practical test, or checkride, and guarantee your failure and receive a pink slip (letter of disapproval, and it is in fact pink in color):

  1. Show up for your checkride with incomplete paperwork. I know this is very hard to believe, but this is probably one of the top reasons why CFI initial applicants fail their checkrides. With other pilot certificate checkrides, if an applicant shows up with incomplete or improper paperwork, the DPE usually does not fail him/her and issue a pink-slip. But for CFI initial checkride it is almost 100% guaranteed, as you are supposed to know THE PAPERWORK (this is a TASK in CFI PTS), and by showing up with incomplete/improper paperwork you have already demonstrated your deficiency in this area of operation as a CFI. I will write another post shortly to cover the top 10 reasons for incomplete and/or improper CFI sign-off and paperwork.
  2. Bring expired navigation charts, airport facility directory, or other FAA publications to use during your CFI checkride. I don’t think this requires any more elaboration. Simply bring old sectional, AFD, or FAA publications like FAR/AIM, Airplane Flying Handbook, Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, etc, and you will receive a pink-slip in the first 30 minutes into the checkride.
  3. Always passed every pilot certificate checkride on first attempt attitude. For the ones who have never failed a pilot certificate checkride ever, this is a word of caution – leave that attitude in your car and you will have a better chance at passing this one. One, CFI has got nothing to do with your piloting skills. Those are automatically assumed (as you already have a commercial) and expected. CFI is a test of your teaching abilities, and when it comes down to teaching, attitude matters! And more on this topic will be covered in a separate blog post. As a matter of fact, I can write an entire book, time permitting.
  4. Incomplete or improper understanding of the Fundamentals of Instruction. Yes, this is in fact a part of my top 10. FOI is not something that you can simply memorize and repeat word by word out of the book. You will be presented case scenarios and imaginary but real life situations, and you will be expected to use your thorough understanding of the FOI (which in other words mean – do you have a teacher’s attitude) and provide explanations, or remedies and/or corrective actions. Can’t handle this, and you are not ready to be a CFI yet.
  5. Hard of hearing. Not literally, but pretty close. If you do not listen to the examiner with an open mind, and try to understand the question or the comment, and simply assume things, you are going to have to go back for a retest. And you know what’s funny about this? Two things. One, you will never understand why you failed in the first place (as you don’t listen carefully, and assume things), and two, most probably you will fail again the second time for the same reason. I have 2 example cases which will be covered in another post.
  6. Don’t believe in simplicity. Being a CFI is an art. And any kind of art is fun for an artist. And it is always pleasurable and simple. Many have failed their CFI initial checkride simply because they made their presentation too complicated, or came up with scientific doctorate thesis for a simple question that the DPE presented. Or, refer to # 5 above. Didn’t listen to what was asked of them, and came up with something that has got nothing to do with the DPE’s request. Remember, CFI checkride is easy, and the questions are simple, and the answers are simple and straight-forward as well. And you will never fail the checkride if you simply answer the question and nothing more than that.
  7. CFI Checkride TimeDon’t have a way to keep track of time. Yes. Time matters in a CFI checkride, and is a part of a professional flight instructor’s character. Show up late for your checkride and you have already started that vicious journey to failure. Prepare a lesson plan to be taught in an hour, and you are still not half way through with it and the daylight is almost over. Punctuality and Time Management. This is simple to master technique as well, but many have ignored this, or simply lose track of this. Find a way to manage time; whatever works for you.
  8. Be your own Judge, and a harsh one too. This is my favorite one, and I can write a story book on this topic. Once again, CFI checkride is not anything like a typical pilot checkride. If you did something incorrect, continue on to correct it, and point it out to the examiner, and explain why it happened, how it happened, and what can be done (and has already been done) to correct it, and it is an example of what common error. It is this simple. You have no idea how many times I have seen applicants fail simply because in their mind they have already failed themselves because they did something incorrectly. If you let the examiner decide the pass/fail thing, you can save yourself from failing the checkride, and making your instructor proud of you. Rules of engagement: The examiner has to notify you of your failure the moment you fail, and may provide you with an option to continue with the rest. If you did not hear from the examiner’s mouth, “fail” then continue on, as nothing has happened. Read an example of this one at the end of this post.
  9. Distraction Management. This happens both in flight and on the ground. We know that the DPE’s job includes triggering some sort of distractions during your checkride. But many a times, they don’t even have to do this. The CFI applicants create their own distractions, and then they simply get consumed by the distraction animal. Simulated engine failure, can’t locate the checklist, and descends below 500 ft until the examiner takes over. WHY?
  10. Flight Safety. A CFI’s primary job list includes flight safety all the way up at the top. You compromise flight safety, and you fail the checkride.

A Story related to # 8:

CFI Checkride

I just couldn’t help but share this story right here in this post. Let’s say the applicant’s name was Dave and the DPE’s name, DPE. During the pre-flight demonstration Dave forgot to check the aircraft’s main landing gear (refer to # 9). The DPE asked him if he forgot checking something (refer to # 6), to which Dave replied back, “oh ya! I forgot to check the mains”. And then he checked the main gear and completed the demonstration. DPE was satisfied with the checklist demonstration, but posed a question to Dave (related to Critique and Evaluation, refer to # 5), “how was your performance of the pre-flight”. And Dave replied, “I would fail myself for this kind of performance”. And what options did the DPE had after she repeated the same question 2 more times and got the same answer 2 more times. And Dave never understood why he failed the checkride! He always maintained the stand that he answered the question correctly and should not have failed. Do you think he passed the retest? :-).

  • Mary M

    So what's the answer? I'm going for my CFI soon and, based on the info given, I would not have failed the person for the precheck because he caught the mistake and corrected it. Am I missing something?

    • CFI

      I agree 100% with S.E.'s comment below. And yes, the DPE was a little too harsh on Dave. This is why I like a checkride with an FAA Inspector better than a DPE. Much more consistent, besides some other factors.
      And I believe I have spoken to you once in the past Mary. You are from Hercules/Vallejo area, right?

  • S.E.

    I'm studying for my initial CFI and here it seems to me that Dave should have explained why he failed to check the landing gear because of "distraction, not using the checklist, not having a systematic flow" etc. Dave should have used this as a learning experience and treated the DPE as a student
    Just my 2 cents 

    • CFI

      You got it absolutely right S.E.

    • We miss things. That’s the point. We are human. If I miss something on my walk around, even if I’m already belted in, I say, hold on, get out and check it. If I’m on a check-ride I’ll explain why and how I missed it and how I’ll adjust my behavior to make sure that I don’t miss it again. This actually happened to me, not on a check-ride but during check-ride prep. In the end, I got tired of getting back out of the airplane so I started reviewing the check list prior to entering the aircraft vs after belting myself in. Did I check the mains? CHECK! I’ve made mistakes on check rides, that’s okay. What they want to see is that you are aware of it, honest about it, and state the ways you’ll avoid the mistake in the future (just don’t spend too much time on it, and don’t worry, you’ll be fine). As with every flight, safety is rule #1!

      Check-ride story: I rolled out of a steep turn during my commercial check ride and almost missed my visual reference. I led the roll-out with too much rudder (to stop the turn) and the DPE looked at me and said “that felt like crap”.. I laughed and said, I know, I was hoping I’d get that one past you, do you want me to do it again? She laughed and said “don’t worry, that steep turn was perfect, until the end, that was crap”.

  • if you get into an RG and you do not check the gear before you take off then that is #10. it is also unacceptable and a real world threat to safety – I agree with the fail.

  • CFI


    I just came across this blog post from another CFI applicant. I found this to be an interesting and relevant read.