Checkride Prep 101: The Ultimate Guide for Pilots

Checkride Prep 101: The Ultimate Guide for Pilots

By Leslie Caubble, CFI/IGI

The checkride is a momentous event for every pilot. For student pilots, the Private Pilot checkride can be very stressful. No one should arrive to their checkride “flying blind.” There are many ways you can prepare so you’re able to show up with your paperwork organized, knowledge refreshed, and with an extra dose of confidence.

The checkride event has three main phases that you’ll work through with a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE), someone appointed by the FAA to evaluate pilots.

The first phase is the qualification and paperwork process. During this time, your credentials, aeronautical experience, and endorsements will be verified. The DPE is making sure you’ve met all the criteria to proceed with the checkride. This stage of the checkride is very important and often overlooked as an important area to prepare for. 5-10% of checkrides have to reschedule just because of a paperwork or logbook error.

The second phase of the checkride is the ground portion, or the oral exam. You must “pass” the ground portion of the checkride to be able to move on to the third and final phase. During the oral exam you’ll sit with your DPE to answer questions on aviation knowledge and risk assessment. The last phase is the flight, or the practical exam. You’ll perform certain maneuvers, takeoffs and landings and emergency procedures. If flown within the ACS standards, you pass the checkride!

Here are some general ways you can prepare for your checkride:

Qualification Preparation

  • Use a “what to bring” checklist of documents, logbook and materials so you won’t forget anything.
  • Review the aeronautical requirements and check your hour totals to make sure everything is correct.
  • Ask another CFI, Chief CFI or flight school owner to review your logbook and endorsements.
  • Review the maintenance logs with your CFI or mechanic to verify airworthiness. It’s not unheard of for a mechanic to mistakenly omit an entry, such as deactivated inoperative equipment.
  • Organize your logbook and resources by tabbing endorsements and aeronautical experience in your logbook, required inspections in the maintenance logs, relevant chapters in your FAA handbooks, and commonly referenced regulations and information in your FAR/AIM.
  • Verify that all your publications and charts are the current versions. If you’re using an electronic flight bag, such as ForeFlight, verify it’s updated. Confirm that your GPS database is up to date.
  • Create a “checkride binder” with copies of your credentials, inspections, your cross country nav log, and weather information. It’s a great start to your checkide when you appear organized and professional!

Oral Exam Preparation

  • Make a study plan well in advance of your checkride. As soon as you pass your knowledge test, you should begin studying for the oral exam of your checkride.
  • Schedule blocks of study time that are consistent and distraction-free.
  • Study the Airman Certification Standards (ACS) line by line. If there’s any Knowledge or Risk Assessment standard that you’re unfamiliar with, add it to your list of subjects to study or ask your CFI.
  • Study the subjects from the missed question codes of your knowledge test.  Your CFI must endorse your logbook that this was done, but make it a priority to review these areas yourself.
  • Use a variety of study resources: mock oral checkride videos, cheat-sheets or review sheets, podcasts, and study groups in your flight school. ASA publishes a great Oral Exam Guide with common checkride questions and answers.
  • Know your books. It’s great to organize your books with tabs, flags or highlights. From there, know where to find the information you might need. Practice looking up regulations or subjects that you feel weaker in. If you need to look something up during the checkride, being able to quickly will impress the examiner.
  • When you feel confident with the knowledge, practice verbalizing your answers in front of others. This could be with a study group or have a family member ask you questions from the ASA Oral Exam Guide. The more you practice, the more polished your answers will become.
  • Schedule a mock oral exam. This is a simulation of the actual checkride. Your CFI will likely do this with you, but it’s a best practice to have at least one session with a neutral, non-biased instructor pretending to be the DPE.

Practical (Flight) Test Preparation

  • Chair fly! As silly as it might feel, sit and visualize the process of the checkride. From preflight to shutdown, review your checklists and procedures out loud. Work through your maneuvers step by step. Envision yourself as PIC, performing confidently and passing your checkride.
  • Throughout training, treat each lesson seriously. Aim to fly well beyond the ACS standards. If the tolerance is 100 feet, make your personal tolerance 50 or even 25 feet. 
  • Own up to your mistakes. DPEs are very experienced and will know a mistake is happening probably before you do. When something is off, call it out then act immediately to correct it.
  • Don’t get complacent with checklist use. Use a checklist for all phases of flight, not just the preflight and run up. Get in this habit early on in training.
  • Practice! Just like the oral exam, schedule several mock checkride flights with different CFIs and request their evaluation. Receive their feedback gracefully and use it as an opportunity to fine-tune your skills.
  • Communicate: Keep the lines of communication open between you and your CFI. Ask for a thorough debrief of your flights to discuss strengths and weaknesses. On the checkride, repeat everything that you’re asked to do. Ask clarifying questions if you don’t understand.
  • If you’re taking your checkride someplace other than your home airport, try to fly to that location and surrounding practice areas as much as possible. Become very familiar with local procedures, taxiways and airport information.

In addition to these tips, managing your stress is a big key to checkride preparation and success. Eat a healthy, brain-nourishing diet, get regular exercise, stay hydrated and practice stress-relieving techniques the week leading up to your checkride. Take regular study breaks and allow occasional down time to do something fun with family and friends. Don’t cram most of your studying and organization into the night before the checkride. Getting a good night’s rest is far more beneficial than staying up reading through your notes.

Passing your checkride is a huge achievement and something to be proud of. It’s the culmination of hard work, lots of time and money spent, triumphs and challenges. Take your checkride preparation seriously and strategically, and you’ll walk in looking like a pro. Good luck!

By Leslie Caubble, CFI/IGI

Northstar Aviation References brings you the Pre-Tabbed ASA FAR/AIMDIY tabs for your FAR/AIM and other pilot resources so that you can more easily study the regulations that form the foundation of your flying career or hobby. Have any questions? Check out our FAQs page or contact us. Check out other blog posts here