How to survive checkride day

It’s here! It’s finally here. Checkride day. The opportunity to shine. The end of a chapter in your aviation journey filled with triumphs, yet fraught with the challenges unique to flight training including the angst often associated with checkride day.

But on the other side a new adventure and the ticket to freedom await. The much-anticipated dividend from your significant investment of time and money made possible by your hard-work and determination – not to mention the many sacrifices you may have made along the way. Only the satisfaction of putting your knowledge, skill and decision-making ability you’ve accumulated into the checkride remain.

While it’s important to understand, by virtue of your instructor’s endorsement, you’ve met all of the requisite knowledge, experience, and skill elements to become a pilot, it doesn’t completely alleviate the inevitable checkride jitters. A good examiner will approach the checkride of the mindset that you’re a licensed pilot unless given reason to believe otherwise. This is an important distinction to the mindset that it’s up to you to prove your worth.

I’m convinced no one actually enjoys the checkride environment. The thought of an examiner, who may be someone unfamiliar, carefully analyzing your every response, decision and input can rattle you to the core unless properly managed. There are those who possess more confidence, either through preparedness or ignorance, and those who naturally excel in the high-stakes checkride setting, but given the option between evaluation and not, suffice it to day we’d all retreat to safety and comfort.

But no matter the side of the coin you find yourself on, the checkride is the necessary and required step for certification so let’s look at what to expect, how to prepare, and how to settle the nerves.

Don’t wait until checkride day to meet your examiner. While the onus should be on your CFI or flight school to ensure you’re property introduced and briefed as to what to expect from the examiner, do your part and insist on learning as much as you can about the individual and the exam profile. No, this isn’t cheating. Quite the contrary. This is a wise, prudent step in preparing for the big day. Nearly all examiners have their “thing” they may wish to emphasize or teach and if it’s important enough to test, it’s important enough to teach and learn.

Does the examiner have a typical cross-country and diversion scenario? Does the examiner prefer to combine maneuvers? Is there an airport the examiner enjoys visiting? Does the examiner have a preferred emergency scenario? Will the examiner insist on examining aircraft logs? Does the examiner prefer paper versus electronic charts? These are some questions you may consider answering in advance of the checkride.

Set the stage for success by ensuring the details are complete. This begins with a review of experience requirements for the certification itself. It behooves of all pilots to be versed in these requirements and know where the elements are documented in the logbook. Written test results should be in hand with an understanding of deficient knowledge areas. Be sure to have payment in an acceptable form at the ready.

Pre-flight inspectionCertification standards are the examiner’s guidebook. Have a thorough understanding and even a copy of the standards with you so it may be referenced if necessary. Don’t panic if you haven’t spent much time in the certification standards. Your instructor will have been teaching to these standards along the way, but it would still be a worthy investment of your checkride preparation time, to familiarize yourself with the guidance.

Many examiners will expect the pilot to demonstrate aircraft airworthiness with a review of the aircraft logbooks. While you may be able to recite, chapter and verse, the required aircraft inspections, you may be asked to take it a step further by locating those required checks in the aircraft and engine logs. Don’t make checkride day the first time for opening an aircraft log.

A basic expectation of any checkride is flight planning. You may be asked to prepare a cross-country flight plan. Suffice it to day, weight and balance and performance data should be a part of this preparation. Check and double check your work and be prepared to explain how the information was derived. Most examiners will use the flight plan as a means to exploring other areas of the certification standard typically contained in the oral phase. Even if you’ve transitioned to the flight phase of the checkride, oral questioning can and likely will continue.

Transitioning to the flight phase, consider that part of the examiner’s evaluation includes your ability to make safe, sound decisions and be the pilot-in-command. Take control (command) of the situation and make your own definitive go/no-go decision and carry this mantra all of the way though your flight. If you don’t like how a situation is unfolding, take action. Perfection is not a passing requirement, but good decisions are.

For your checkride, DO:

  • Learn the examiner ahead of your checkride and study the expected profile.
  • Complete the details – 8710 application, logbook, written exam results, flight plan, payment all in order.
  • Review all of the airspace and chart symbology along the cross-country route ahead of the check ride to ensure that it is understood.
  • Study your aircraft’s limitations and memory items. Examiners are fond of using these elements as starters for many of your oral questioning.
  • Relax in between maneuvers and don’t rush.
  • Be the pilot-in-command.
  • Fly as you’ve trained.
  • Review the appropriate ACS/PTS to ensure that you are comfortable and familiar with what is to be expected.

For your checkride, DON’T:

  • Study obscure regulatory or AIM entries searching for the needle in the haystack.
  • Memorize answers. Learn the material, not someone else’s summary of the material.
  • Cram up to checkride time. Once you’re within a few hours of the exam, put the books down and relax.
  • You can always be better and no one expects perfection. When your CFI says you’re ready, go for it.
  • If you make a mistake, own it and move on.
  • Depart from your routine. Begin and end your days as you ordinarily would.
  • Second guess. Your first instinct is usually correct.

Examiners have a job to do, but they are people and pilots just like you. If there is some question of what is being asked, ask for clarification. Communication is key to the examiner understanding your thought process and decision making. Checkrides have plenty of emotion and pressure that will hopefully allow you to excel. Don’t bring unnecessary pressure or emotion to the flight by overreaching or trying to do too much. Fly like you’ve trained and be the PIC.

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It was his first airplane trip at age seven that made Eric decide to become a pilot. "While boarding the airplane, a flight attendant noticed my interest in the flight deck and urged me to go talk to the pilot. I give a lot of credit to that pilot for my career choice." He earned a bachelor’s degree in finance and went on to an airline career. Eric now heads Sporty’s flight school and directs the University of Cincinnati’s Professional Pilot Training Program. In addition, Eric serves as a Captain in Sporty’s corporate flight department.