To: (Separate email addresses with commas)
From: (Your email address)
Message: (Optional)
Send
Cancel

Thanks!

Close

FAA Exams Are Changing - Here's What You Need To Know About The Rumors

It's been mis-published by numerous sources that in just a few weeks, on June 15th this year, the online FAA knowledge tests will officially update, dramatically changing FAA testing. The new Airman Certification Standards (ACS) will go live at online testing centers, replacing the traditional Practical Test Standards (PTS) that you've been used to for years. Don't fall for the inaccurate hype that your knowledge test is about to get a lot harder, or that your study aids will suddenly become useless.

In reality, for the past two test cycles, all active test questions on the private pilot airplane (PAR) and instrument-airplane rating (IRA) knowledge tests have been aligned with the ACS. There are no significant changes to the PAR or IRA happening with the June test roll. We spoke to Kent Lovelace, who serves on the ACS Exam Review board and is the current Director of Aviation Industry Relations at the University of North Dakota's Department of Aviation.

Boldmethod

Why Is The FAA Switching Things Up?

It has been years since the FAA published test questions. However, it is true that until about a year ago, the FAA had not updated or revised many of the test questions that used to be published. That is no longer the case. The FAA has now revised every active PAR and IRA knowledge test question and aligned it to standards listed in the ACS. Study aids like Gleim, Sportys, and ASA, amongst others, used to contain many of the exact knowledge test questions you found on knowledge tests (years ago). For certain questions, you could essentially memorize test questions or answers. I remember taking my private pilot knowledge exam in 2014 and recognizing nearly every question from test prep books that I used beforehand. But for the past year, everyone taking a PAR or IRA test has had different questions, with no more exact matches. The FAA has not released test questions for more than a decade. The FAA does not, and will not, release ANY active test questions.

Jim Raeder

In the past, there were complaints that the old knowledge tests contained questions that were overly broad, overly complex, trivial, outdated, and sometimes irrelevant. It makes sense that the FAA is switching away from questions being openly available openly, to a testing system which contains more relevant questions designed to examine real-world operations. The ACS started in 2011 as an effort to fix the airman knowledge tests. Too many knowledge test questions were outdated or irrelevant to the knowledge and skill needed to operate in today's NAS.

Working with aviation training industry experts, the FAA concluded that we could not effectively fix the knowledge test without taking a systematic approach to the airman certification system. The ACS:

  • Offers a comprehensive and integrated presentation of the standards for what an applicant needs to know, consider, and do to pass both the knowledge and practical tests for a certificate or rating.
  • Connects specific, appropriate knowledge and risk management elements to specific skills. This linkage enhances the relevance of the testing/training process for adult learners by clearly answering the "why do I need to know that?!" question.
  • Enhances safety by using the risk management section in each ACS Area of Operation to translate special emphasis items and abstract terms like "aeronautical decision-making" into specific behaviors relevant to each task.
  • Eliminates "bloat" by consolidating duplicative or overlapping tasks in the existing Practical Test Standards (PTS).
  • Enables the FAA to create and maintain a clear link between the regulations, knowledge/risk management/skill performance standards, guidance, and test materials.

The ACS is basically an enhanced version of the Practical Test Standards (PTS). It adds task-specific knowledge and risk management elements to each PTS Area of Operation and Task. The result is a comprehensive presentation that integrates the standards for what an applicant needs to know, consider, and do in order to pass both the knowledge test and the practical test for a certificate or rating.

KamrenB Photography

How The Review Process Worked

For more than a year now, the FAA has been using the ACS to review and revise knowledge test questions. In the process of reviewing roughly 3,400 private pilot and instrument rating questions, a cross-functional FAA team, that includes one outside stakeholder (UND's Kent Lovelace), has eliminated approximately 20% of questions from the test bank. Those questions were either poorly written beyond repair or irrelevant. Some questions were extensively re-written, making them essentially new questions. And others were just re-worked and re-worded with new numbers. In short, every question on the knowledge tests had some form of re-freshening. No entirely new questions were created. That's something that will happen far in the future, once all of the existing knowledge exams have been updated to at least ACS standards.

Is This A Bad Thing?

Until new materials are released, it might take some time for test preparation companies to update their resources. On the bright side, you won't find any more fixed/moveable card ADF questions. Those NDBs are really starting to fall off the map, so all NDB and ADF questions are now gone. And remember those aircraft performance and weather questions with multiple interpolations across different charts? Yep, the ones that broke you into a sweat on the written. Those are gone too! You can find more removed questions here.

Boldmethod

Should You Take Your Tests Now?

What happens is that on June 15, the ACS for private pilot airplane (PAR) and instrument rating airplane (IRA) will replace the corresponding PTS. As indicated in the ACS FAQs on the FAA Airman Testing web page, the ACS is the single-source set of standards for both the knowledge test and the practical test. If you're prepared and endorsed for a knowledge test, the new ACS model won't affect how well you do. Be confident that you still know the required material. There's no real need to take the knowledge test before June 15th.

How To Prep For The New Exams

If you're training for a private pilot's certificate, the FAA has released a test sample here. The ACS does not change any of the performance metrics for the skill tasks, so there's no need to prepare any differently for the exam than beforehand. Continue training, as you would, by getting to know all of the knowledge you'll need for that next certificate. Existing test prep materials won't become irrelevant. In fact, they'll still be a great way to quiz yourself on the types of questions and topics you can expect. Read through the new ACS to see what hot spot areas you should focus on before you take a knowledge exam. And remember, we have some pretty awesome training courses that will help you with some of the hardest topics you'll find on the exams.

For commercial pilots and CFIs, the new ACS will roll out in later phases. No final dates have been established, but it's expected that the commercial ACS, which is already in a draft stage, should be complete this year. Eric Basile, an Aviation Department Professor and flight instructor at UND comments that, "For CFIs, they'll have to make sure their teaching is more thorough on the material vs a 'buy this book, take this test' mentality." Adding that, "If you're an instructor, you must to pay attention to what's going on in the world of new aviation developments. Changes like the ACS means that you'll need to stay up to date to make sure you have prepared your students to current standards."

Don't Get Scared By The Rumors

This isn't some drastic change. The basic knowledge and performance that's expected of you is the same with the new ACS program as compared to the PTS. In FAA trial groups through the Orlando and Seattle FSDOs, students saw comparable pass rates with the new exams. The FAA and Exam Review Board worked hard to make this new exam something that refines and improves the testing systems. When you miss questions, the ACS system will assign subject codes to the questions you missed in a very similar fashion to the old PTS. The best feature of ACS is the ability to get even more specific feedback of deficiencies on written results, so you'll better understand what areas of improvement you'll need to make before you head into your checkride. The FAA is contracting for test management services to help with delivery and data analysis. One note: the FAA is not outsourcing the development or revision of knowledge test questions; it'll all be done in-house.

Swayne Martin

The new ACS isn't just limited to the new knowledge exams. On June 15th, the ACS completely replaces the PTS for private pilot airplane and instrument airplane ratings. That means your oral and practical tests during your checkride are going to change slightly. There is no difference in the flight portion of the checkride. The oral portion should simply be more focused than today because the ACS provides specific standards for each task element. It also provides specifics for ADM and risk management. The practical maneuvers and oral areas haven't really changed; the vague emphasis areas have now been added as task elements. If you want to know more about the ACS, click here.

So what do you think? What's your reaction to the new ACS testing program? Tell us in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

Images Courtesy:

Recommended Stories

Latest Stories

    Load More
    Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via Email