Helpful Advice from an Examiner

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

Multi Engine Checkrides – DPE not required type specific LOA

Until recently, we used to have this one problem that was a nightmare to deal with. A student would show up with his/her own multi engine airplane and would ask us to train in their airplane for the CFI, CFII or MEI, or even a commercial/flight instructor combination course. In any case, the training had to be conducted in the applicant’s own multi engine airplane.
The training was never an issue. As a flight instructor with a multi engine rating, we are authorized to teach in any make/model if a light twin airplane, provided we have at least 5 hours PIC time in that make/model of airplane. With so many years of teaching in various airplanes, we usually have just about all the light twin airplanes in our logbooks, with 5 hours minimum under the PIC column. And every now and then, if a new one shows up anyways, nothing to worry. We are always so excited to learn and fly another “new” light twin anyways.
The problem that’d show up was, not being able to find a DPE who would have a Letter of Authorization (LOA) from the FAA to conduct a checkride in that make/model. Now, we’d just be stuck at the mercy of the local FSDO to schedule a ride with one of their inspectors (and with the current short staffed situation), which could be as long as a month or more in the future!
The DPEs had to obtain an LOA for each make/model; by demonstrating their skills to an FAA inspector in flight, in each make/model of light twin they wanted to conduct a checkride in. And then do an annual proficiency check in each make/model (on a rotating schedule) with the FAA. This process would discourage DPEs from having more than 2 or 3 makes/models on their LOA at any given time.
Now, their LOA allows then to conduct a checkride in ALL light twins! At last the issue is rest to peace, and the lawmakers have realized that they can look elsewhere to prevent accidents and increase safety.

12 Most Common Mistakes on FAA 8710 form

Now is the time to finally go for your check-ride and you, along with your CFI, go over the checklist in the PTS and one of the requirements is a completed 8710-1 form.  Although there is an explanation on what to put in each block, there is sometimes confusion and some how applications still get kicked back from the DPE, local FSDO, or Oklahoma.

Checking the wrong/incorrect Application Information Boxes

Check ALL the boxes that apply for your checkride. There is no limit to how many boxes you can check in this section, so do not hesitate and be as accurate as possible.

Not using “NMN” in block A, if there is no middle name

If you do not have a middle name, use NMN, i.e. no middle name. If you have more than one middle name, pick one – the one that you picked for your medical certificate.

Forgetting name suffixes such as Jr, II, III, etc

If you have a name suffix, use it. Hint: copy your name from your medical certificate exactly as it is.

Not entering eight digits for dates, i.e. July 9th, 1925 should be 07-09-1925 and not 7-9-1925 or 7-9-25

Dates on all FAA documents are now standardized to 8 digit format. Anything else would cause for your application to be rejected.

Not entering Height in inches, i.e. 5’8” should be 68” and weight in pounds, lbs

For this application, all the heights are in inches and the weights are in pounds. Again, you can simple copy it from your medical as is. No feet and no kilograms.

Not spelling out the color when describing hair and eyes

Can not abbreviate this area. Black is not BLK and Brown is not BRN. Use complete spelling.

Entering wrong grade of pilot certificate

Enter your current pilot certificate held – the one you are holding in your hands right now. And student pilot certificate IS a pilot certificate, at least on one side. The other side is the medical certificate. And for the CFI’s, be careful to check the expiration dates of the medical and the student pilot certificate separately.

Nationality should be the country name, i.e. India instead of Indian and China instead of Chinese

A very common mistake. Use the country name here.

Entering the wrong class of medical.  It should be the class shown on the medical certificate

And the correct way is 3rd and not third.

Your Social Security Number

There are only 2 correct choices here: NONE if you do not have one, DO NOT USE if you do not want to use it on this application.

And CFI signatures, name and number should be valid one

Sign your name, in blue ink preferably, like all other professionals do on legal original documents. Write your name as it appears on your pilot and CFI certificate. And make sure that your CFI number ends with CFI, and not with CFII or MEI.