Learning to learn (again)

Our flight school attracts individuals from all walks of life

Our flight school attracts students from all walks of life.  From the younger college-age students enrolled in the University of Cincinnati Clermont College Aviation Technology program to older (well, my age) students who are fulfilling a lifelong dream.

For many of the latter students, the biggest hurdle is not learning how to perform short and soft field takeoffs and landings, stalls, ground reference maneuvers or steep turns.  What is the strongest influence that hampers the completion of their flight certificate?   Test anxiety.

Many of these men and women have not taken a test since they left school some 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years ago.  Although confident in their flying skills, they delay taking that knowledge test for fear of failing it.  Are you one of those folks?  Are you putting off taking flight training because you know you may be judged either as a success or failure based on a 60 question multiple choice test?  Let’s take a few minutes and learn how to learn (again).

What is learning?

Learning is the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or being taught.  Typically, we “learn” as the result of either vividness or repetition.  For example, the loss of a loved one.  Your parent, spouse or child only has to die once for us to learn they are gone.  It is a vivid, life-changing experience that stays with us forever.  Most things, however, aren’t as vivid and are usually only learned by repeating this bit of knowledge until it become etched in your brain and retrievable at any time.

Repetition is how I learned to multiply – by repeating the multiplication tables one at a time from 1 X 1 = 1 to 10 X 10 = 100.  Unfortunately, most of the knowledge we need for our flight training (VFR minimums, required equipment, airspace etc.) aren’t vivid events to effect learning, but more like the mundane multiplication tables we learned in grade school.

Back to school

My first grade classroom provided inspiration for my learning

I remember Mrs. Zachary, my first grade teacher (we didn’t have kindergarten where I went to school in the sixties).  I realize now her classroom was a learning laboratory.  Before we arrived, she had neatly printed our names on a piece of poster board taped to our desk.

Over the chalkboard, (before smartboards and whiteboards, classrooms actually had these black or green slate boards where we used pieces of chalk to write on them) she placed the alphabet with each letter correctly printed both in capital and lower case form.  Beside the chalkboard, on the wall next to the pencil sharpener, all the numerals were displayed.  On the sidewall away from the windows, she had prepared a bulletin board with a rainbow of colors (remember Roy G Biv?) and on one end she always listed the week’s spelling words.

No matter where you looked, there was something to learn.  And if you couldn’t remember the difference between g and q, you could look above the board and find the right way to write each one.  She used flash cards in our math class.  She demanded that when we took a quiz we had to repeat the question in our answer such as:

What is the name of our state?  The name of our state is Kentucky.

My parents were very encouraging to me as a toddler.  They taught me how to count. I knew all the colors in my eight-pack of Crayolas and they read to me while I was sitting on their lap.  I must say, however, I learned a lot in Mrs. Zachary’s first grade class.

If it worked then, it will work again

Creating flashcards helped me memorize facts

Recently, in preparation for the Multiengine Flight Instructor practical test, I was faced with needing to learn a lot about the 1963 Piper Aztec in which I was going to take the test.  First, like my parents insisted when I was in grade school, I went to the kitchen table to study.  No TV or radio and I left my cell phone in the bedroom to eliminate distractions. To study, I brought out the tools Mrs. Zachary (and many teachers since then) used.

I made flash cards for such facts as the V-speeds, aircraft limitations, and checklist memory items.  The first time through the cards, I wrote out the answer in a notebook.  The next time through, I flipped through the cards and said the answer out loud.  If I got it right, I moved on.

I wrote answers in a notebook to reinforce

For an incorrect answer, I wrote the question and answer again.  I repeated this exercise until I could answer each card three times without a mistake.  Next, I practiced what I had learned.  I would sit in the airplane and hangar-fly each scenario I might encounter.  In this same manner, I rehearsed emergency checklists, go-arounds and other procedures.  First using the POH and then from memory until each became automatic to me.

There is no knowledge test for the MEI (Multiengine Instructor), but I took notes from the multiengine section of the FAA’s Airplane Flying Handbook and Part 61, Subpart H of the Federal Aviation Regulations in preparation for the oral.

I reviewed these notes from time to time until I could nearly recite them without looking.

Ready, Set, Go

So the next (or first) time you have to take a knowledge or practical test, help overcome your test anxiety by being proactive and methodical in your preparation.  The dread may be converted to confidence if you recreate a grade school classroom in your kitchen, take notes, make flash cards, and practice, practice, practice.

Sporty’s has developed many effective tools to help.  The Learn to Fly course provides all the information needed to pass the written and practical test.  The Study Buddy allows you to practice the written until you feel confident.

Talk to your instructor about what to expect on your examination.  Examiners each have their own areas of emphasis for which your instructor may be familiar.  DO NOT postpone your test out of fear of failing as those fears will probably intensify rather than diminish.  You have passed many examinations in your life, you can pass this one too.  Worked for me.