The day of your checkride can be one of the most stressful days of your life. The greatest fear of any pilot is receiving a “notice of disapproval.” As a flight instructor, I have prepared and signed off many students for practical tests. As an examiner I have administered a variety of practical tests. I have taken a number of checkrides myself and know what they feel like. Through these experiences, I have observed and identified some common things that can adversely affect an applicant’s performance.
1. Make sure you are ready
Just because you meet the PTS standards, doesn’t mean you are ready for your checkride. If you have any doubts, fly with another instructor for a second opinion. It is always good practice to do this as a matter of course, but if you feel uncertain, ask your instructor for it. If the 2nd instructor feels you are ready it will boost your confidence and if not, it’s better to review areas the stage check instructor thought needed improvement. Whatever you do, don’t rush your checkride because of vacation or other reasons. Make sure you are ready and listen to the little voice inside you, which usually warns you if you are doing something you shouldn’t.
2. Relax and Take Your Time
Try to focus on the job at hand, not the possibility of failure. Take the time to think your way through questions whether on the ground or in the air. Think your way through maneuvers and ignore the fact that you are being tested. There’s no rush on a checkride. Take the time to setup for every maneuver including clearing turns, adjusting entry speed, altitude, checking fuel tanks etc. Rushing into maneuvers regularly results in applicants missing something that could result in a checkride bust. Remember, you are being tested on your ability to be PIC, which includes deciding how much time is enough to setup and safely complete a maneuver. Examiners are not there to fail you. In fact, they want you to succeed as much as you do. A little discussed fact is that examiners who have a reputation for failing students don’t get much business from CFIs. As long as you perform to the PTS standards, an examiner can’t fail you.
3. Schedule Appropriately
Give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport and have the airplane checked and ready for the checkride well before the examiner is scheduled to arrive. Nothing starts a checkride off on a worse note than being rushed or late. Getting there at least an hour before the examiner is good practice.
4. Don’t Put Undue Pressure on Yourself
Having friends or family at the airport while you take your checkride is a bad idea. It will just add to the stress of the day. Likewise, avoid a checkride on any day where there’s another “must do” commitment. Schedule the whole day if you can and don’t do it on any special occasion such as your birthday, anniversary, graduation etc. Again, it just adds to an already stressful day.
5. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Avoid the common temptation to stay up late and “cram” the night before. That will only succeed in making you tired and more likely to forget things and be confused during the practical test. Research has clearly shown that sleep deprivation significantly impairs mental performance, so make sure you follow your normal bedtime pattern the night before.
6. The Examiner is Only Human – Really
Most examiners are pilots who went through the same steps as you are going through so they know what a checkride feels like from your perspective. It is a good idea to meet the examiner before the checkride. An informal cup of coffee at the airport on a Saturday morning can go a long way to make you feel more comfortable.
7. There is No Failure Quota
Examiners are not required to fail a certain percentage of applicants. Applicants who perform at or above the minimum standards will pass, even if the previous 100 students passed as well. Remember, the examiner wants you to succeed.
8. Use the Examiner as a Passenger
Remember that you are being evaluated on your ability to use all available resources and this includes asking the examiner to help just as you would do with a knowledgeable passenger. The examiner will not fulfill any pilot duties for you, but if it helps, ask the examiner to do anything you would a passenger such as holding a chart or scanning for traffic.
9. Don’t Guess
If the examiner asks a question and you don’t know the answer, don’t fake it and guess. Just be honest and if you don’t know, say so but offer to look it up if you know where. Most examiners will allow you to look up an answer but even if they don’t you are not expected to know everything and most examiners relish the opportunity to teach you something. Faking answers will likely end up encouraging the examiner to probe more deeply if they suspect you are shooting from the hip – especially if your answers are incorrect. Remember to bring your FAR/AIM and PTS booklet to the oral, and know how to find things in them.
10. You Will Make Mistakes
During most checkrides, the applicant does something that could result in a failure. This doesn’t mean you will fail. It goes a long way with all examiners if you talk your way through a maneuver. By verbalizing what you are doing or intend to do, you are not only giving yourself direction, but including the examiner in your thought process. For example, if an applicant is doing a steep turn and is 100’ low and says nothing, the examiner will wonder if he has noticed. Better to verbalize the error, and make the correction, giving the examiner confidence that you are in control, even though there was an error. This verbalization goes a long way to communicating your competence.
11. Don’t Let the Weather Spoil Your Checkride
Too many applicants fail checkrides because they accept weather conditions that result in poor performance, even if they are otherwise capable. Don’t feel obligated to complete your checkride just because it is scheduled and the examiner expects you to show up. High winds may be too much to handle for acceptable landings or low ceilings may not provide the minimum cloud clearances. Part of the test is to see if you can make good decisions regarding the planning and execution of your flight. Remember, if you choose to fly in weather conditions that will prevent you from achieving minimum standards, the examiner has no choice but to fail you. Better to give yourself every advantage and wait for weather that helps, not hurts your chances.
12. Oops, Uh-0hs, and Other Giveaways
It should seem obvious, but words such as these can cause anxiety on the part of examiners. At the very least, an “oops” will cause an examiner to look for a reason for it, which might have otherwise gone unnoticed. In addition, be aware of what you tell the examiner. If for example, after requesting a short field landing, you tell the examiner it is one of your worst maneuvers, you have set up a situation where the examiner is likely to evaluate your performance even more critically than would be the case if you had said nothing. Don’t give the examiner the opportunity to expect poor performance even before you do it.
13. Know the Airplane
The checkride requires the applicant to determine if the airplane is airworthy enough to conduct the test. You will need to be able to show the examiner the appropriate inspections, documents, and requirements for flight. In addition, know the airplane well enough that you can easily find all switches, knobs and dials without fumbling for them. This is a dead giveaway that you are unfamiliar and shows poor planning and decision making, which again is part of the evaluation process.
Reprinted and edited from an article by Jason Blair in NAFI magazine, June 2008