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Part 1: About Checkrides

by Darren Smith, CFII/MEI
Getting the Most from Your Flight Training, July 2004
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Checkide Series: About Checkrides | Are You Really Ready For the Checkride?
| Checkide Mindset | Single-Pilot Resource Management

When the topic of "the checkride" comes up with my students, it is usually met with some fear.  This is one of those topics that a little education will resolve most of the FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt).  People are trained in many different ways, but the result must always be the same.  The checkride is a practical test to measure the skills developed throughout training.  It is based on practical test standards published. 

The checkride is administered by an FAA Inspector, or a Designated (by the FAA) Pilot Examiner (for a fee).  A DPE is usually long time flight instructor who loves aviation and is not in it for the money.  They generally love learning and like to see applicants in the same mindset.  They are often FAA Aviation Safety Counselors as well because they care about and encourage aviation safety.  Sometimes they are retired FAA inspectors, airline captains, or other highly qualified aviation professionals.

The Designated Pilot Examiner system works because everyone does their job.  The student comes to the table capable, willing, and ready to learn.  The Flight Instructor teaches the student the discipline and decision-making skills, as well as the practical skills to meet the Practical Test Standards.  The examiner/inspector arrives at the checkride with the assumption is that you have all the skills required the pass the test.  You’re given a chance to prove the examiner wrong and if you do so, you fail the checkride.  No one wants that to happen... certainly you don't, the examiner doesn't (think of the extra paperwork he must do), and your instructor’s recommendation to take the checkride is a reflection on him.  So here's a moment in your life where everyone wants you to succeed.

In order to sit for the checkride you must have:

  • Pilot certificate, medical, picture identification.
  • FAA written test results, logged ground and flight instruction, and the recommendation & endorsement from instructor.
  • Your logbook.
  • Form 8710 form, completely, neatly filled out. Your signature and your instructor's recommendation (required).
  • Airplane, required documents (ARROW), maintenance logs indicated (AV1ATE).
  • Should have current charts, FAR/AIM, PTS.
It is your instructor’s job to brief you on these requirements and ensure you are compliant.  Save time, show your professionalism… have everything organized.  Do you care about what you’re doing?  Then it will show in your behavior, especially how you prepare for the checkride.  See Part 2: Are You Really Ready For the Checkride? for a complete list of things you need to obtain or put together.

As you know the checkride consists of two parts, the oral knowledge exam and the practical flying exam with associated briefings.  For the oral knowledge exam, you'll be expected to answer questions based upon these levels of learning:

Types of Questions
Rote Learning
The ability to repeat something back which was learned but not understood.
  • Basic numbers/facts
  • Who/what/when/where
To comprehend or grasp the nature or meaning of something.
  • Why do we....
The act of putting something to use that has been learned and understood.
  • Describe the sequence...
  • Explain how you...
    • (maneuvers, airspace entering)
Associating what has been learned, understood, and applied with previous or subsequent learning.
  • Under these circumstances...
  • What would happen...
  • What would you do...

How does the examiner measure success when satisfactory performance is subjective?  The short answer:  you will be held to the standards published in the PTS (see Checkride Resource Section below).  The long answer: in general, unless you do something unsafe, you’ll pass.  In addition, the examiner is looking to be sure there isn’t a pattern of failure.  He is ensuring there is a lack of  “serious holes” in your knowledge… i.e. what is lift?   The results for your oral exam should be the same pass/fail at 70% as the written/knowledge exam.  Keep in mind that one word answers are always wrong… does the applicant really understand what’s going on?  Does the applicant struggle with every question?  Momentary deviations from the standards don’t cause failed checkrides… gross unsafe conduct, attitudes do.   You won’t typically know what your DPE thinks about your performance until the end.

Overall Rules of the Checkride
  • You must be successful at the items tested from the Practical Test Standards. So... read the PTS for your checkride cover to cover.
  • If you will fail, the DPE will stop the flight test but you have the option to continue to finish as many tasks as possible. 
  • The airplane will be airworthy and you must prove it so.  Do a very very thorough preflight of the aircraft and have it ready prior to your scheduled appointment.  Be prepared to go over your preflight with your inspector/examiner.
  • You are the PIC, the DPE is only an observer.  If the DPE takes control of the aircraft, it typically means you’ve failed.  One exception, unusual attitude set-up.  Always ensure positive exchange of controls.
  • There is considerable debate on how to handle an error made during the practical exam.  My best advice is to identify it as an error, why it was an error, and ask to perform the maneuver again.  Most reasonable examiners will allow you to repeat a maneuver when the outcome cannot be determined.
  • Relationships are everything.  Start the checkride on a positive note, be respectful & humble, and your checkride will go smoothly.
  • Remember that the checkride is a learning experience to reinforce the things you already know. 
  • The DPE can help you scan for traffic.  It’s ok to ask.
Quick ways to fail a checkride:
  • Disregard of the AIM or FARs or violation of any FAR - (examiner has no discretion, applicant must fail)
  • Failure to have a safety conscious attitude towards the conduct of the flight, the operation of the aircraft, and the execution of the maneuvers.
  • Failure to follow the recommended basic operating techniques of aircraft.
  • Exceeding aircraft limitations - (examiner has no discretion, applicant must fail)
  • Examiner intervention - (examiner has no discretion, applicant must fail)
  • Inappropriate emergency procedures - (examiner has no discretion, applicant must fail)
  • Outcome of the task being seriously in doubt
  • Not within the approved limitations (PTS standards)
  • Failure to apply aeronautical knowledge
  • Not being the master of the aircraft
  • Consistently exceeding tolerances stated in the objective
  • Failure to take prompt corrective action when tolerances are exceeded
  • Failure to apply knowledge and skill to the special emphasis areas:
    • Failure to employ collision avoidance techniques.
    • Lack of runway safety/incursion awareness.
    • Lack of stall/spin awareness.
    • Failure to use checklists for every phase of flight.
There are only three possible outcomes to the checkride experience:
  • temporary airman certificate (pass), 
  • pink slip (failure), 
  • discontinuance notice (on hold)
    • ATC overload
    • Weather
    • Aircraft problems
    • You elect to discontinue the checkride (you can't have already failed).
    • Your written/knowledge exam exam must be valid when you continue the checkride.

Remember, the training to get to the checkride should have been the hardest part.  The checkride should be a breeze that you easily accomplish.  Get the most out of your instructor so that the checkride is the easiest part of the rating.  If you have any tips from your checkride experiences, I'd love to hear from you.  Please email me with your ideas and experiences.

Updates as of December 16, 2004, the new Designated Pilot Examiner Handbook (D Version) states:

  • Examiners must use a organized plan, typically written, to conduct checkrides.  Examiners must conduct pre-test, preflight,  and post-flight briefings.
  • Examiners are limited to two checkride actions per day (temp airman's cert issues, discontinuation issued, etc)
  • Oral examination must precede the flight test.
  • Checkrides must be conducted in English.
  • Examiners are discouraged from acting as PIC for a checkride.  Not much here changes because most Examiners do not wish to be PIC, particularly if a reg is broken, clearance is violated, etc.  Instrument rating checkrides conducted in IMC require the examiner to be PIC.
  • Standards for passing a checkride are much tighter:
    • If assistance must be given to an applicant during a checkride, the applicant will fail the checkride.
    • If an applicant's knowledge is unsatisfactory, the practical test is terminated.  In other words, if you miss more than a few questions during the oral exam, you fail.  It also means that if your answer is unrelated to the scenario presented, or not what the examiner was looking for
    • Failed areas on your written exam require the examiner to explore those failed areas and test them further with the applicant.
  • Examiners may not test two applicants at the same time (oral examinations) unless the checkride is for an aircraft that requires more than one pilot and only covers the oral exam portion. 
NEXT - Part 2: Are You Really Ready For the Checkride?>>

Other Resources

My instructor will not sign me off for a checkride, what do I do?
What's the right amount of ground training?
Do accelerated training programs work?
Are You Really Ready For the Checkride?
Rating Application FAA Form 8710
Curious about the instrument airplane checkride?  See the Instrument Rating Checkride Plan of Action

See the Download section for a complete list of Practical Test Standards

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