What are check rides like?

This may sound like a dumb question, but to someone who has 0 flying/flight training experience - explain what check rides are. I understand that they are like exams for student pilots, and that it is very important to pass all of them or at least minimize failures. But what do they consist of?

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Dakota,

Great question. Obviously checkrides can and do vary depending on the licence and rating you’re testing for and of course the examiner. Overall the examiner wants to make certain the candidate is safe and proficient. They all start with an oral exam. While most ratings require a written knowledge test the examiner wants to know that you understand and can correlate the info, not just repeat it. They’ll then review your preflight preparation of the paperwork and the airplane and then you’ll go fly. The maneuvers are all preset for each exam so no surprises. Honestly the biggest issue for many is the anxiety.

Adam

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Dakota,

Not a dumb question at all. Checkrides are when a potential pilot (or a pilot getting ready to go to the next level) has their skills evaluated (or “checked”) by the FAA. Every checkride starts with an oral examination which is a series of questions and answers about topics that are relevant to that particular checkride and is followed by a flight portion where actual piloting skills are evaluated in the airplane.

For every checkride there is a guide put out by the FAA that tells both the student and the examiner what needs to be tested and what the tolerances are for that test.

Checkrides can be stressful, but after taking them every year they become familiar.

PS. Airline pilots still take an annual checkride in which their skills are evaluated.

Chris

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Dakota,

I only have a PPL at this point and thus can only comment on that specific checkride, but I will say I feel my instructor(s) prepared me quite well for it. He put me through a couple of “mock” checkrides and once he felt I was very proficient with those I took a final mock checkride with a different instructor from the flight school. When I passed that we scheduled the FAA examiner for my actual checkride and because of all the practice I don’t remember it being all that stressful. Like Adam and Chris said everything is all preset so there are no surprises. I recall my examiner being an aviation enthusiast as well so after we went through all the required items he introduced a few new things as an FYI to help get me started on the next rating/license. Doing a final mock checkride with a different instructor really helped me with the anxiety part. I think I was more anxious for that than the actual checkride. I’m not sure something like that will always be an option but if it is it really helped me, so you might want to take advantage of it if it’s offered.

Jason

Hi, a related question - how many hours does it take for each checkride? PPL, Instrument, Commercial, CFI, etc. Is there an average amount it takes for the oral portion and the flight portion? Are there breaks? Thanks

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Ravi,

Some by nature of the material will take longer than others but it really depends on the examiner and they’re given a great amount of latitude.

My CFI initial check was almost the entire day with a 4hr oral and a 2hr flight, while my CPL ride was just over an hour total. The CFI is usually a bare because they’re giving you a rating to go teach other pilots so EVERYTHING is fair game. Conversely something like the CPL is mainly regulatory with a few maneuvers. One of the things I liked alot about ATP was each location had examiners they’d use regularly and they got to know you well which could have alot to do with the length of your checkride. If an examiner gave you your PPL and you were a rockstar, they have no reason to review any of that info and they also recognize you’re not a slacker. This of course works both ways and if your first ride was rough they’re going to obviously dig deeper. This is also the reason I’m adamant about doing well on the writtens. The examiners know full well ALL the answers to ALL the questions are available and to ace any of the writtens it’s simply a matter of spending the time. Some will argue 70 is passing and that’s good enough. When an examiner sees that 72 you received they’re quickly going to either assume you a) didn’t really prepare or b) you really don’t understand. Either way that will surely trigger a long and painful oral.

Adam

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Ravi,

Great question and as Adam already answered it in great detail, no checkride is the same. For example, I watched a Commercial Multi-Engine Add-On checkride oral last 45 minutes for one student and the other it was over two (2) hours…same DPE, back-to-back days. Maybe the student that was over 2 hours dug themselves a hole, maybe they weren’t as prepared and had to look things up, maybe they where challenged with questions that the first student wasn’t.

Every checkride I was in, I always (and I mean always) dug myself a hole, whether I just started talking out loud digging into my brain and memory or I simply said something by accident. Each checkride I took was by the same DPE during my time at ATP, I got to know them really well, and we laugh every time we see each other to this day. Examiners tend to take notes during checkrides for reference later if something comes up and they’re questioned by the FAA, or future checkrides. If you struggle on a topic or something during a instrument checkride and you have the same DPE for your commercial, there is a good chance you may get asked a question such as how to stay current under IFR regulations.

The best advice for checkrides is being prepared, if you’re not nervous about the checkride, you should be…nervousness is normal and so is stress. As you progress through your aviation career you will conduct checkrides often, you’ll learn techniques to study and perform. Putting in the hardwork and determination early on will set the tone, remember it is your checkride. My current student who is taking their Instrument Checkride tomorrow (Monday) has been stressing all day (present, Sunday); my simple words to them: “It’s your checkride, you’re paying the DPE to test your knowledge and skills, it’s an open book test, you’ve studied the material and know where to find it - use it, in the plane if you feel you’re behind, ask for delayed vectors to get things set up or fly the plane slower than cruise speed to get back ahead.” Checkrides happen quickly, DPEs will throw material at you quick to see how you react, how you manage all the tasks. Remember the #1 rule in an ‘overloaded’ situation in an airplane, Aviate, Navigate, Communicate in that exact order.

Brady

Hi Adam and Brady, thanks for the quick replies! So are all of the checkrides’ oral exams conducted “open book” ?

Ravi,

Yes and no. There’s an old saying, no examiner expects you to know everything but you do need to know where to find it. That said there are certain items like limitations, V-speeds and the basic systems of the plane your flying you’re expected to know cold. Further the rules, regs, maneuvers or info that are pertinent to the particular license or rating you should have down. If the examiner starts digging deeper and you’re unsure of something, most will let you reference the books. While that seems like a nice umbrella, if you start digging into the wrong book (say the FAR/AIM for a systems question) things might get ugly.

Adam

Ravi,

As Adam clarified things a little better, items like v-speeds, aircraft systems and maneuvers should be memorized and able to recite on the spot. If you compare someone who studies to those that don’t, someone that can locate an exact line from a chapter specific to the question asked will be better off then the one that’s flipping through each page looking for that line. Having an understanding of where you can find the ‘answer’ is better suited in context.

Brady

Ravi,
Be prepared for completely closed book so that in a pinch if you need to look something up, it’s your one free pass. It’s typically allowed by most examiners because as pilots we can’t possibly know everything in every FAA textbook…. But if you have to look up every third question, the examiner will have some concerns about your knowledge and preparedness.

-Hannah

Ravi,

While technically, checkrides are open book, there is only so much that you want to have to look up in front of the examiner. After all, there is no opening a book in the middle of a flight to look something up. I would prepare for all checkride oral exams to be closed book.

Chris

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Ravi,

Straight from the ACS:

“During the ground and flight portion of the practical test, the FAA expects evaluators to assess the applicant’s mastery of the topic in accordance with the level of learning most appropriate for the specified Task. The oral questioning will continue throughout the entire practical test. For some topics, the evaluator will ask the applicant to describe or explain. For other items, the evaluator will assess the applicant’s understanding by providing a scenario that requires the applicant to appropriately apply and/or correlate knowledge, experience, and information to the circumstances of the given scenario. The flight portion of the practical test requires the applicant to demonstrate knowledge, risk management, flight proficiency, and operational skill in accordance with the ACS.”

The scenario-based questions make it harder to look up one specific thing since the scenario usually encompasses a variety of topics. The examiners like to ask scenario-based questions to see that the applicant can make links and connections to different subjects and hasn’t just memorized stuff.

Tory

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