By: Steven Daun, National Chief Pilot
In over 35 years of flying, I have never met anyone who said they like taking a written test. There are two philosophies about how to prepare for the FAA Knowledge Exam. One group says you just need to memorize the answers and get the test over with. The other group says if you learn the information, you won’t have to worry about what question you are asked; you will be able to answer the questions based on your knowledge. The FAA agrees with this second group; therefore, they stopped publishing the questions many years ago.
I always marvel at students who tell me they aren’t going to take a written prep class because they are going to buy a service to memorize the answers. To which my normal response is, you are going to need to learn this information anyway; why not just learn it the correct way from the beginning? The usual response is that they want a high score, and they can learn the information later. Sounds a little absurd, doesn’t it? Can you imagine going to a surgeon who memorized the information rather than learning it? When did a test score become more important than an understanding of the material, especially if you don’t know anything and still get a high score?
The written test or Knowledge Exam preparation is an important and integral part of your aviation education. This makes up a portion of your knowledge foundation you need in order to become a safe and successful pilot. Some will argue many of the questions aren’t relevant or practical, but it needs to be understood that the questions are designed for critical thinking and to see if you can use your knowledge, skills and understanding to pick up the slight differences in information to derive the correct answer.
The role of a written preparation course is to provide you with a foundation of knowledge on which to build as you progress through your training. The information is taught correctly and completely the first time. The only difference in delivery is that your instructor will show you how some of the questions on the Knowledge Exam are structured based on the material you are learning. Yes, there are some hints and tools that are discussed due to the nature of the test, but you will never be told to just memorize something without learning it.
There are several schools out there that don’t believe in this. They may tell you to memorize the answers, but these are typically the same schools that sit you in front of a computer for minimal ground training because their instructors just want to fly and don’t like to do ground. Ultimately, they are doing the student a disservice, and by the time the student realizes they don’t know the information, it’s already too late.
So, the next time you are getting ready to prepare for a written test take a minute and ask yourself a question. “How much more time will it take me to learn this information than memorize it?” You may surprise yourself with the answer.