Advice for Examination Candidates


Understanding the exam process

Just about everyone that has to learn a subject and pass an exam on it tends to think in a similar way.

"Why would I need to know all of this, I'll never use it all in practice?"

This might be true in some cases but there is a greater purpose behind what may first appear to be 'overkill'.
Like muscle, knowledge will shrink over time, especially if its not used for a while. Your brain is quite elastic in some ways. It will gather a huge amount of information and skill only to lose it as time moves on if that new skill is not exercised regularly. One of the purposes of examination is to make you 'stretch' your mind further than is actually necessary so that it will retain an acceptable amount of required knowledge when it later shrinks back. Do not make the mistake of thinking that it's OK to cram in a load of facts learned by 'rote' and just forget them all afterward. Learn the subject WELL, so it will stay with you. Many of the things you need to learn are relevant to everyday flying and being able to put them into practice will show in your flying style and could get you out of a 'scrape' one day.

Learn questioning techniques. If you can get sample papers go through them a much as possible. If the exam is 'multiple choice', finding the answer can be as much about knowing what is wrong as what is right. This can hone your skills of elimination, important in everyday flying (and life itself!) If you don't know how to work out the answer then eliminate some choices if you can.

NEVER leave a question unanswered! If there are 4 choices and you have no clue at all then guess. You have a 1 in 4 chance of getting it right and you don't get any less marks for an answer that might fluke it for you. If there are two silly choices, they can be ruled out and you are up to a 1 in 2 probability rightaway. Of course, if you do 'fluke' a guess then it is not suggested that you leave it at that. Find out what you didn't know later, never treat the exam process as ending when you get a pass mark but use questions you fail to answer as a stepping stone to more complete knowledge.

If you become short of time toward the end of the exam, beware of 'baited', apparently suitable multi choice answers that might entice you. They might seem to be good at first glance but could lose you a point that you could have scored if you properly applied your knowledge. Check all choices and as you go through them put a line through those that cannot be true to whittle down the list. Every time you eliminate a potential choice your chances of arriving at the correct answer improve exponentially.


Preparation is the key

Apply the 6 P's rule. (Good for flying too!)

P rior
P lanning
P revents
P retty
P oor
P erformance
(There are other versions!)

Preparing for your exam

Know your subject and the equipment you'll be using:

But don't think that knowing your subject very well is enough. You must be ready to apply your knowledge backwards or sideways. For instance, if you know a P of F effect well, the question will probably not check you on the bare effect but make you apply it in a different way to the 'straight' fact you learned. It is unlikely that a question will be portrayed precisely as you learned the topic in a book. Remember there are many books on whatever subject you are taking, you may not have read all of them. They will invariably have different ways of putting things but you must have general knowledge that extends across an individual Author's style. To gain that sort of general knowledge you should be prepared to read as many different titles by different Authors as you possibly can.

When you've applied to take an exam and your confirmation slip arrives CHECK IT carefully. Many easily avoided problems occur time after time. Make a sign and put it somewhere prominent or write a big note of the date and time in your diary so it cannot be confused. Doing this might also help your family or partner to understand that you'll need a little support where it is needed, eg. allowing you time and the right conditions to study. However, do not isolate yourself from them by being shut away for weeks. They have needs too. Arrange 'time out' to spend with a partner, children or family with the books firmly on the shelf. If possible, involve your partner or family in your learning process by getting them to quiz you on things. They might even become interested in the subject! Another useful technique can be to 'link up' with another student. Learn one aspect of a subject very well and teach it to your fellow student, then receive his or her teaching on another topic. You'll be amazed how that wider spread of understanding (two heads, two views) can bring confidence for both involved.


Make sure your acceptance slip is for the correct exam, check that you know exactly where the venue is, to the extent of doing a recce. at a time when traffic is least if it is unknown to you. Remember that 'rush hour' (if you are unlucky enough to live in a place where it happens!) can add an hour or more to a twenty minute journey time. Trying to find a venue, especially in a strange town or Country can be harrowing when under pressure to 'make it' on time and things always seem to go wrong when it is most important that they don't!

Get up early enough to have breakfast and get ready in plenty of time. You need to arrive relaxed and unhurried. Leave home early and read any of the material you need to 'brush up' on when waiting at the venue in preference to rushing out at the last minute. You'll have NO margin for errors or 'hold ups' if you do that.

Remember that a lot of subject matter will overlap with an exam on a related topic, eg. a great amount of P of F will appear in Tech. papers (and vice versa) as both subjects are inherently interconnected. The best way to approach things in this case is to study BOTH subjects as a block so you will end up with a wide knowledge that prepares you for any eventuality. Indeed, to do this and then sit both papers close together (even on the same day if possible) can be very wise. It can be a good boost to your exam 'pass' score. Then you will be free to move on, encouraged by a good initial 'hit rate' and concentrate on the remaining subjects better.


Spend time getting really familiar with them, 'find' places, learn how to use coordinates really well. Learn all of the symbols. Be clear on scales and variation. Make sure you know how to apply variation using whatever rule suits you best. For visitors or recent migrants to any Country its a really good idea to have a good working knowledge of the geoographical layout. Sometimes you can asked to consider a journey from this place to that with no map or schematic to work from, it is a great help to know roughly where places are. Even when allowed to use maps (eg. Nav) it helps to know which map to unfold right away, more time saved.

Nav Computer

Buy the type that suits you, there are variations. Some are bigger and easier to read, some have instructions printed on them. Keep it in its cover. Become very familair with it. Use it instead of your calculator for everyday work – You'll be amazed what a clever little gadget it is. Work at wind calculations until you've had enough and then do them again! When doing ordinary (not wind) calculations, take out the sliding wind bar as the circular slide rule is easier to use without that being in the way.

Visual flight Guide/ Pooley's or similar

Read it regularly, set yourself questions or get someone else to set them. It is full of all sorts of interesting information and the more you know about it, the quicker you'll find what you want. Use sticky tags to flag things you will need to find. Time counts!


Rulers, protractors, plotters etc.

Keep then in a cover so they don't become scratched as they will also become opaque. Practice with them, don't just assume you can use them straight off. Make sure you are reading the right scale on whatever you are using. Protractors don't have to be placed directly over an airfield in a flight plan. When the lines are drawn you may measure track from any position along that straight line, allowing you to choose a spot where you can line up precisely with true North using a Meridian. in all things aim for accuracy as a degree or two difference in how any two people write a flight paln is invevitible and you do not want to comound errors through your calculations.


Again, make sure you can really USE it. You'll need to be completely conversant with its function. If it is battery operated fit a new one. If it is solar powered make sure it will work in lower light condtions as many venues will have at least some curtains drawn to cut out glare.

Writing equipment

It might sound silly but it's amazing how many sit an exam with one pen that runs out on question 2. Take THREE pens, use only propelling pencils and make sure they are full of lead. Make sure you have a decent eraser. If using Chinagraph pens/pencils check that they work on the night before. Remember that it is YOUR responsibility to make sure you have all of the coorect equipment.

Preparation of your materials

Get it all sorted and ready the night before. Don't be rummaging to find this and that on the morning of your exam .You need to be relaxed and well prepared. Don't forget to pack the other things you need, identification (if required) and the exam acceptance slip itself (these are often forgotten when focus on exam equipment has been strong). Read the list of things you are allowed to take into the exam and what the examiners will require from you to sit it (identification, acceptance slip, etc.) and check you have it all packed before you leave. The you can relax on your journey.


Buy your own. Do not rely on a promise of a loan, do not think you save money by using old and possibly out of date material. Anyone serious enough to succeed should be preparing properly and have full access to all of the right material. This is a key ingredient to success. Take pride in having your own books. Make notes that help you understand things in the margins. Keep your personal books so you may refer to them for the whole of your flying career. By the same token, don't lend your books out either. They may be out of date in some things by then, they may suffer damage or you may not even get them back.

If you are sitting an 'open book' exam then buy some of sticky tags, the ones you can write on and mark all of the pages or sections you expect to use. You'll just be able to flip it open at the correct page and get on with the job in hand. Much time can be saved over a whole exam in this way, leading to less stress.


Get plenty. Don't be tempted to go out the night before the exam. Avoid any stressful situations that may play on your mind.

Exam nerves

All of us mortals have suffered them at some time in life. If you are especially susceptible to them, DON'T rely on props of any kind. The best way for you to succeed in your aim (to pass!) is to be as well prepared as you possibly can be, and then some! You will find a new confidence in yourself will appear in a subtle but growing way, the learning process will speed up. Nerves will be put right at the back of your mind. When you feel that stage coming on, don't give 'nerves' another thought, it's a waste of precious thinking!


NEVER cheat!

You are only cheating yourself in the long run and the guilt it can bring will chisel away at your self-esteem. Nothing is more satisfying (well, few things are as satisfying!) as walking out of the exam room knowing you 'knew your stuff' and passed fair and square. The knowledge and fluency you gain will stand you in good stead in your actual flight tests, your application for work and in the way you fly when you have that prized job. You'll exercise your duties with knowledge and confidence in your own ability. It shows to an examiner, a prospective employer and not only helps you get where you want to be but helps to KEEP you there.

Having said that, make sure you take into the exam EVERY piece of information you are allowed to.


When at the venue:

Remember that the examiners or presiders are people as well. They have a job to do and politeness and compliance with their needs will stand you in good stead for anything you may want from them (within reason!)

Get to your seat as early as they'll let you. Get your stuff out and arrange it all to your best advantage. Fill in your details as soon as they will allow it to maximise reading time (if you get this).

Make sure you fully understand the answer marking system. All of the correct answers put in the wrong boxes will just get you a pointless fail.

ASK if you may separate clipped or stapled together sheets. If you may, DO IT ! You can spread the whole exam out, split it into questions and appendices etc. and waste no time in constantly flicking back and forth to refer to other pages during the allotted time.

It is very unlikely that your question paper will be re – used. Most examining bodies have a policy of shredding papers that have been used once only so that no clues are left as to the answer. This is important for you! It means that you can draw on graphs, put arrows into pictures, work out complex diagrams without relying on a mental picture that can easily get corrupted under stress. In P of F and Tech. (just for instance) DRAW yourself a simple diagram of the effect you have been questioned about in the margins or wherever. This can be really important in another way.

Always show your working out somewhere, either on the question paper or on separate sheet(s). If a review of the mark you are first awarded is later necessary it will help the reviewer to see your train of thought. In the case of an unsound question (a rare occurrence) it may help to illustrate any anomaly.


When the exam begins:

Read each question TWICE to make sure you have fully understood it. 'Flag' any that will need a lot of work or you have doubts about your ability to answer. You can go back to them later. Go for the points you know you can score first. If some questions score more highly than others, those are the ones to do first.

Don't rush, and don't leave the exam early unless you are positive you scored 100% already (and who is?). Some of your answers could be wrong due to a small error way back (especially with Nav and similar) so check and re check until they turf you out! An exam's duration may seem long but it is a whole lot shorter than revision and a resit.



Review of the exam

Some examining bodies include a 'review' sheet at the end of the paper for you to make comment on how the exam was constructed or presented. It is a useful process for the whole industry. However, DON'T use valuable remaining exam time on filling it in. You may ask for extra time to do that when you have used every second of the allotted examination time to make sure you have done the best you possibly can.

If you have comments to make, be sensible, don't waste either your own time or the examiners by making pointless remarks. Restrict your comment to good, useful and fair critique. This will give your view more credibility, allow your 'voice' to be heard. If you genuinely believe that a question is unsound then say so, you owe it to anyone who does the exam in the future. Things don't change overnight but if enough people point out the same apparent anomaly enough times then things will change. The examiners are reasonable people and want to do the best they can. The overall process of review is good for all of us, the examiner, the industry, the Candidates of the future.

If you are not successful first time…….

Treat the first sitting as a 'dry run'. Do not be discouraged. You learned a lot from sitting the paper, got a 'feel' for what the questioner is looking for and how the questions are pitched, even what the exam conditions are like at the venue you took it at. (If you find conditions suit you at one particular venue then stick with it and do all of your exams there). Be assured, it is rare that any Candidate sits all subjects resulting in a first time 'pass' in every one of them. We all have different strengths and weaknesses depending on personality and life experience. Some of us suit one subject and some suit another but there are always one or two subjects that don't suit the individual and you must be prepared to 'focus' on the ones that do not suit you. Go over the questions in which you know your knowledge was insufficient to answer with relative ease. If you get a 'deficiency' sheet with your mark, pay lots of attention to it and get right on and work at those areas.

Finally, you'll need motivation to acquire knowledge whilst removing yourself from other aspects of everyday life. To do this, put your goal (your licence) firmly on your horizon and develop a healthy attitude to getting it. Don't whinge and bemoan the fact that you have to 'learn all of this'. You want to be involved in Aviation but will remain an outsider until you 'knuckle down' and get on with it. Look on it as a challenge and come out of the other end of the process in the most efficient way. Then progress, use the confidence that having done something well will bring you and benefit by it further. Move on in life. You have my best wishes.

SPS 01/2001


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