ATPL Exams are a nightmare and were genuinely one of the hardest things I ever had to do! Check out my best selling Pilot Training Guide on Amazon for all the best information to save you money and time during pilot training.
Guests on the blog are Aware Pilot Training who have kindly put this post together on ATPL exams.
ATPL questions are the cause of a lot of stress and are undoubtedly some of the toughest questions encountered during a pilot’s career. CAA ATPL exams and Austro control ATPL exams have to be completed within an 18 month period with the timer starting on the day of your first exam.
It can be said that what follows is shorter for some students than others with some students failing their exams, whilst others succeed. I wasted so much time writing too many notes and not preparing for the exam that I risked failing.
But let’s face it, there is a lot of new content to learn and a lot of this content, we struggle to find relevance for when we start our training.
To help you, Aware Pilot will answer 10 common questions that uncover 10 secrets to help you achieve awesome ATPL results, saving you time, money and to stop preparing you for an exam that doesn’t exist.
#1: Are EASA ATPL exams multiple choice?
There are a mix of type in questions, drop-down and multiple-choice questions. The format of the exam has changed over the years and seems to be something feared by a lot of student pilots.
When it comes to exams, if prepared thoroughly enough, the way that we arrive at the answer will always remain the same and should not be influenced by the answers available on your screen.
Sometimes we could be wrongly influenced by similar, yet incorrect answers on-screen causing us to drop marks when asked a multiple-choice question.
Not having multi-choice questions isn’t always bad. In fact, a type in question uses all the same information you’d normally be given but your answer isn’t reassured by an answer on-screen.
ATPL Secret 1: Read the learning objectives before sitting your exam to uncover what areas you may be asked during your exam. Did you know? The learning objectives sometimes even give you answers? Aware Pilot suggests downloading the learning objectives and reading them.
#2: What is the most difficult ATPL theory exam?
ATPL written exams all have a degree of difficulty and everyone struggles with different things. A CAA freedom of Information request returned the following results relating to the year 2017-2018 showing the average first-time pass rate. We have ranked the most challenging at the top for your viewing pleasure:
ATPL Exam Subjects:
- Principles of Flight – 76%
- Flight Planning – 76%
- Performance – 78%
- Meteorology – 79%
- Mass & Balance – 81%
- Operational Procedures – 83%
- Aircraft General Knowledge – Instrumentation – 83%
- Air Law – 83%
- Human Performance and Limitations – 85%
- Radio Navigation – 85%
- General Navigation – 86%
- Airframe/Systems/Power Plant/Electrics – 87%
- VFR Communications – 95% (96%)
- IFR Communications – 97% (98%)
Was it what you expected? It shows that POF, Flight Planning, Performance and Met suffered the largest failure rates that year. Nobody has submitted a request since this, or at least the information isn’t publicly available yet!
Analyse these statistics how you like but it offers something to think about when choosing your exam sittings. This leads us on to secret number 2!
ATPL secret 2: Be tactical with your exam bookings. By sitting the exams that you find easier, earlier in the day, you will allow more time to prepare for your next exam.
Maximising the time between exams allows vital time to study feedback and questions giving you a better chance of passing the exam first time.
#3: How long are ATPL exams valid for?
CAP 804 outlines the differing timescales for validity. The most common route to the flight deck sees students continue to the next step by obtaining an Instrument Rating (IR) and Commercial Pilot’s Licence (CPL).
If this is you, your ATPL exams are valid for a period of 36 months following the date of your final exam. This offers plenty of time to complete this stage of your training.
For those who need to work and to save money as I did, courses abroad can be completed in as little as 2-3 months (usually weather dependant).
There are many different flight schools around Europe and the United States that offer training, or you can undertake training in the U.K. This leads us on to secret number 3.
ATPL secret 3: You can book your CPL MEIR course prior to starting your final module but be sure to allow at least a few months between your final exam and the first day of your CPL/IR course. If you receive an unexpected failure in your exams, you have time to fix your results and get back on track!
#4: What is the difference between the EASA 2016 and EASA 2020 syllabus?
EASA 2020 sees a few changes to learning objectives; mostly a spring clean of the topics to ensure that they are placed under more appropriate subjects.
Examples include Compasses being moved from General Navigation to instruments and rate of descent calculations being moved to General Navigation from Radio Navigation.
Also, some of the topics themselves needed updating in line with the industry outside of the exam room. Since 2016, technology has advanced and you will see these changes being added into the EASA 2020 examinations.
Check out the EASA website where there is currently a document outlining the changes to see what is in store for you if you are sitting exams under the new syllabus and note secret number 4 if you are not!
ATPL secret 4: Just because there is a new syllabus, does not mean that new questions won’t arrive in the 2016 syllabus. 2020 questions that fit the 2016 syllabus may well appear in your exams. We suggest referring to secret number 1 to avoid disappointment!
#5: Which authority should I sit my exams with?
A question that is being asked a lot at the moment and something we would suggest you think about in the longer term, not just for the next 18 months.
Think about who you would like to fly for, your goals in life, and where you want to live. Do not only think about wanting to fly. Would you fly for a British carrier, a European carrier or further afield?
Since Brexit, students find themselves asking: will they have the right to live and work in the EU?? These are early days in the Brexit transition and an answer is not clear.
Be sure to monitor the appropriate authority’s website for updates regularly.
ATPL secret 5: Some say Austro exams are easier than the CAA exams, this is not backed up and is a common myth. The time to get the results is longer with the UK CAA, the exams are more expensive with the UK CAA, but is this the real reason to decide on exam and licence authority? If you are prepared, you can sit any exam!
#6: Which question bank should I use?
ATPLGS has been reviewed recently and is a great example of a question bank. You will find that there are similar question bank providers that essentially do the same in providing recent questions and answers.
Question Banks like BGS and AvExam have many questions from further back and really help you embed the basic knowledge.
We recommend that students have a few question banks, one to develop a core understanding and another to view recent questions.
With new questions coming out across the new syllabus, it could be the case that the question banks fall behind the new questions, particularly in 2020. Would you take this risk?
Don’t rely on question banks, use them to test your knowledge and nothing more. Utilise the time you would otherwise spend on a 3rd question bank to get one to one support with the more challenging topics – it’ll cost the same and prepare you quicker!
You could be asked questions on anything in the LOs during your exam!
ATPL secret 6: Capacity is key. It is possible to have too many question banks, so much that you become overly reliant on hoping that you will see these questions in your exam.
Keep the number of question banks small, the quality of the studies high.
#7: How should I prepare for my exams?
Preparing for an ATPL exam requires structure, planning and a positive mental attitude. Reading the material is important and not making too many notes – only the bits you struggle to grasp.
It is important to find out how that information relates to exams, so be sure to hit the question bank once you’ve finished reading. Complete all of the questions on the bank and use the analysis tool to identify your areas of weakness.
Revisit your areas of struggle, watch a YouTube video or two, or visit us at Aware. You don’t need to spend a fortune to fix an error, simply allow time or a different approach. Then use mocks to check how you perform with a variety of questions and against the clock.
Continue mocks using a few different question banks before reading some recent exam feedback. Refer to secret number 1 again and read the learning objectives, highlighting any you don’t understand.
It can be said that those achieving 85%+ and know their answers will pass first time. This is not the reason for a student to pass, but the confidence that comes with passing comfortably before an exam helps massively and wider exposure to questions including things you’ve read before.
Memory works better once things are brought to the surface more regularly, right?
ATPL secret 7: Don’t rely on other people telling you a question is entirely question bank based. People remember different things and your exam won’t be the same as theirs. By understanding each learning objective and reviewing them, you can earn a safety net for your exam.
If interested in learning more about your flight training up to fATPL, check out the best-selling Pilot Training Guide on Amazon.
#8: How long does it take to pass ATPL exams?
There is no science to back up the time taken to pass ATPL exams. Someone can study 9 hours a day and hit 1000+ questions, whereas someone else may do less than a quarter of that, take regular breaks and spend 6 hours.
Breaks are incredibly important during ATPLs and they will make the difference.
ATPLs are passable in under a year. Whether you sit 2 exams a day or 3 per week ? it does not matter. With the right structure and a refined approach, you can save a lot of time during the long study and preparation periods.
ATPL secret 8: Shorter days of study can be better than longer days. If your brain is not mentally tired, it will allow you to take in more information. Find a scheme that works for you!
#9: How do I pass an ATPL exam?
We’ve talked a lot about the preparation, but very little about the exam itself.
Our tips to help your pass your exam:
- Preparing your exam bag the night before your exam.
- On the day of your exam, complete a single mock paper to get your head in the zone. Only one as any more will hit your capacity.
- Take your feedback and final exam notes with you to the exam centre, only a sheet or two so you don’t cram.
- When seated in the exam room, control your breathing rate and have your table set out so that you know where everything is and is organised for when you need it. A tidy table helps de-stress too!
- Don’t start the exam immediately, only start when you are ready.
- Use exam techniques to narrow down answers.
- Draw out diagrams to display the question and use the math and theory to support the diagram.
- Changing your answer isn’t always a bad thing providing you re-read the full question and are 150% sure it is wrong. If in doubt, leave it!
ATPL secret 9: Keep a tally of questions that you are unsure of during your exam – include any doubt and be honest! Sitting more than one exam a week, people often look back and allow performance on previous exams to affect how they do during the rest of the week.
This way you won’t allow thoughts on previous exams to affect you if you know you had fewer than 25% of questions marked down. A happier mind is a healthier mind!
#10: What advice would you give to someone sitting their first ATPL exam?
Capacity really is key. If you are not performing at your optimum, you are not getting the results you deserve. Less can be more – Take more breaks and improve your grades. Take this mental attitude with you to your exams and ensure that you don’t work too much. ATPL exams are as much about balance as they are about learning. An ATPL: Life balance is important.
ATPL secret 10: This article was written by someone who worked a full-time job 40 hours per week, worked 3 hours per night on weekdays and took 12 months to pass CAA ATPL exams achieving a first-time pass rate of 90%. Could this be you?
Other Items to consider:
ATPL Exams prerequisites
To start your ATPL exams, you must have an ICAO Private Pilot licence.
Maths and Physics
You need to make sure your maths and physics are at a good standard (GCSE level) before making a start on your ATPL theory. Weak maths and physics have often been the cause of people struggling with ATPL exams.
Knowledge, Skill and Attitudes (KSA)
KSA is a relatively new requirement for ATPL exams focussing on the non-technical pilot competencies. The none technical skills include problem-solving, situational awareness, workload management, leadership and teamwork.
Theory Course Length
Depending on the type of course you choose, ATPL exams can take from 6months (full time) to 18 months to complete. You are looking at approximately 9 – 18 months depending on how much study time you can allocate to ATPL theory on a distance learning course.
Class 1 medical and eye sight information
Once you have a solid idea that you want to progress professional pilot training (and before spending serious cash), make sure you have your Class 1 medical issued. Getting your EASA Class 1 medical before spending lots of money on pilot training is crucial if you have any issues that would preclude you from flying professionally.
If an international student, ensure you comply with local visa requirements. With Brexit, if planning to sit your ATPL exams in the UK or Europe (and not resident in the country you wish to sit your exams) check on the latest immigration requirements and make sure you comply.
ATPL distance learning course fees
Distance learning ATPL exams course cost around £6-£7k all in depending on your School. Items for consideration:
- Establish if there are additional costs for study materials and brush up classes
- Exam fees are not normally included in the advertised price
- Make sure you budget extra for your transport and accommodation for revision classes and the exams.
If you wish to learn more – make sure you check out Aware Pilot Training!
Kudzi Chikohora is a B737 captain with over 3,000 hours of flying in Europe. He holds a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering, is a chartered engineer, and is a member of the Royal Aeronautical Society.
Kudzi completed his pilot training via the self-funded modular pilot training route and created kcthepilot.com to share pilot training and aviation content.