As of this morning I have completed all six of the required written tests prior to my start at ATP (0 hours). I just wanted to post my experience with each, how I prepared, and what the test was like in an effort to help anyone who may be looking to do the same. Once ready to take each test, I contacted the Training Support Specialist at my location to schedule (Thanks, Danyelle!).
This does not include the optional AGI/IGI tests for Gold Seal Instructor Status (and parking spot!). I will add those as I take them later in the program.
I have included my approximate study times and scores achieved on each, you may do better or worse with less or more time, but I thought it would be helpful to provide a ballpark.
1) Private Pilot (PAR) - Endorsement Required
This one took the longest to prepare for as I was coming in with basically no prior knowledge to the world of aviation. Your mileage may vary but I suspect this (or instrument) will be the most time consuming for most so if you are trying to schedule in advance, leave the most time for this. Compared with the rest of the tests (for reasons i’ll mention later) this one required the most computation and mental effort during the exam.
- Started with the King Schools Private Pilot Ground School & Test Prep Course (provided after deposit to ATP). This includes 3 required practice test at the end in order to receive your endorsement to take the PAR. Print this endorsement and take it with you when you go to test.
- Sporty’s Private Pilot Test Prep app. I believe this was $10 on iOS app store. Used this as additional practice after King. It’s great for when you are out and about or waiting for your car’s oil to be changed.
- Gleim Private Pilot FAA Knowledge Test prep book. Basically a workbook with questions identical or similar to what you’ll see on the test. Honestly didn’t need this but I would work through some before bed occasionally.
Total Study Time: 25-30 hours
2) Instrument (IRA) - Endorsement Required
If you asked me which one was the hardest, I’d pick the IRA. It was grueling to study for. The question bank is huge (1150 ish questions) and the concepts are completely alien. HOWEVER, you now have access to the ultimate weapon for slaying these tests. SHEPPARD AIR (not available for PAR). Prepare to set aside one solid week to prepare for this (at 4 hours a day).
- I can tell you now, this section is going to start looking very similar because, well, Sheppard Air works. Call up Sheppard, tell them you are an ATP student that needs their test prep software for the IRA, and they will set you up. I recommend choosing your iPad as the device you use to study. You only get to activate the software on one device so if you choose your PC/Mac you are married to it if you want to study. The software includes all questions known to be currently showing up on FAA tests. When new questions pop up, or old ones are changed, Sheppard updates the software very quickly. Use the software exactly as prescribed in the directions and you will succeed. Complete three practice tests with scores above 90, take your results with you to the airport and an ATP instructor will endorse you.
Total Study Time: 20 hours
3) Flight Instructor Instrument (FII) - No Endorsement Required
This one’s a piece of cake because you just studied for it! Take this one the same day as your IRA to maximize efficiency. The question bank is probably 95% the same despite what Sheppard Air says. No extra studying required. Seriously, just take it immediately after the IRA. You’ll even see many of the same questions.
Total Study Time: 0 hours
4) Commercial Pilot (CAX) - Endorsement Required
Things started to get easier for me from here. Each test now seemed to simply build upon what I had already learned. The study times got shorter, and the scores got better. DO NOT TAKE THAT STATEMENT AS AN ENDORSEMENT TO SLACK OFF. You still have to put in the work on Sheppard. Acquire endorsement via same process as for the IRA.
- Sheppard Air.
Total Study Time: 16 hours
5) Fundamentals of Instruction (FOI) - No Endorsement Required
Full disclosure: I left a career as a teacher to pursue the dream of being a pilot. This test and it’s material came very naturally to me, however, I do not think it would be very difficult for a complete layperson to pick up these concepts. I spent one solid day preparing.
- Sheppard Air
Total Study Time: 6 hours
6) Flight Instructor Airplane (FIA) - No Endorsement Required
I call this one the “Greatest Hits” exam because that’s how it felt. You’ll see questions from every bank you’ve studied to this point. It has a decent sized question bank at around 650 questions so set aside 3-4 days to prepare. Many recommend taking this after the CAX (not immediately, but after studying through Sheppard) I would recommend that also. I took it last due to time constraints around a vacation before my start date necessitating I take the FOI first.
- I think you know.
Total Study Time: 12 hours
That’s it. I hope it helps someone.