Sunday, January 12, 2014

How I Passed My FAA PPL Written Exam with a 93% - Steps on How to Pass the FAA PPL Knowledge Exam

At the beginning of my Christmas Break, I committed to myself that I'd take the FAA Private Pilot Written Exam before I got back to school, or at least that I'd be 100% ready to do so. Being a Junior in High School, I knew this would be one of the last chances I'd have to really delve into the material before it'd be too late. My goal has been to pass my final pilot exams on, or as close to, my 17th Birthday in February (the minimum age for a PPL). If I hadn't spent time reviewing over Christmas Break, I wouldn't have had the time to study school work and aviation material. 

The three exams that one takes to get the PPL include:

  • A written knowledge exam
  • An oral exam, based on flight planning, regulations, etc. 
  • A practical flight test

In all honesty, here's how it works... To pass your FAA Knowledge (Written) Exam, you have to score a minimum of 70%. I've never been one who just likes to "pass" things with the minimum score. Would you rather have a pilot who got C's on their exams, or A's? Similarly, would you rather have a doctor who got C's or A's on their medical school exams? That's how I thought about it in my first preparations for the exam. 

There's another motivational factor for doing well on the written exam. When you have your oral and practical exams, the FAA inspector will see that you did well on the written exam; in most cases, the exams will be easier and take less time. Who are they going to drill more, someone who got a 90+ score, or someone who barely passed, with a score in the 70's? Nearly every instructor I've gotten advice from has told me that they've seen this play out with their own students. 

Preparing for the written exam can be stressful for a new pilot. I didn't know where to begin. When I looked at how much information was covered, I felt overwhelmed. I didn't have any formal ground school help with exam preparation, nor does anyone in my family fly, so if I can do well following these steps, anyone can.

So how do you pass the FAA Written Exam with a 90+%? After using the following study method, I passed the written exam with a 93% (-4/60). Here's exactly how I studied, if you follow the same steps, you're sure to do great: 


Materials I Used:

-Gleim Private Pilot FAA Knowledge Test BookPurchase Here

"The primary purpose of the Gleim Private Pilot FAA Knowledge Test book is to provide you with the easiest, fastest, and least-expensive means of passing the FAA knowledge test. Gleim Knowledge Transfer Outlines at the beginning of each study unit concisely present the relevant material needed to answer questions selected from previously released FAA test banks as well as questions that have been developed from current FAA reference materials."

-Sporty's Online Learn to Fly Course (Testing Capabilities): Purchase Here

"For the cost of a single flight lesson, Sporty’s Learn to Fly course will save you hours of time in the air and hundreds of dollars. This is not a weekend “cram course” or a boring ground school class on video. It is a comprehensive home study course that includes ground school, test prep and flight training. You’ll pass all your tests (we guarantee that), but you’ll also have more fun learning to fly and be a better pilot after you earn your license."

Stage One: Test Yourself:

The reason buying Sporty's Online Course is so valuable is because you get unlimited practice knowledge exams. With just the Gleim textbook, there's only one practice exam at the end. 

Before I began my real review, I took a Sporty's practice test, to see where I was. As you can see in the photo below, I scored a 67% on my first test without having reviewed. The subsequent tests scores (after following the study advice I'll soon give) increase substantially over time: 

Stage Two: Gleim Textbook Review:

I essentially spent the entire last week of Christmas Break studying 5+ hours a day towards the written exam. There are 11 total units in the Gleim textbook, each of which have questions that are deadly accurate to the actual exam. I'd say 90% of the questions on actual exam were ones that I had already done in the Gleim textbook. Treat every question in the book like an actual exam question, because it could very likely be one. 

My Study Schedule: 
  • Monday: Units 1-3
  • Tuesday: Units 4-6
  • Wednesday: Units 7-9
  • Thursday: Units 10-11 + Review of Difficult Sections 
  • Friday: Practice Tests + Individual Question Review

Each unit contains a beginning portion dedicated to notes for that given section. As I went through those notes, I wrote down easy-to-remember tips for certain subjects, in addition to equations and notes about subjects that I had difficulty with. Here is what a page of my notes looked like: 

After completing the notes section, there is a long question based section, in the format of the FAA Exam. Each question with options A, B, and C for answers are found on the left side/column of the page. The right column contains appropriate answers and explanations. As you go through this section, use a cover sheet for the "answers" portion of the page. Write on either the cover sheet or another sheet the answers, in order, for the given page. 

After you've written letters for what you think are the answers, reveal the true answers and check your responses. For every question that you miss, highlight the number (not the correct answer) of every question that you missed. Circle each question that you had substantial difficulty with, or that you had to make a guess on. This will allow you to go back later on, and see questions with which you had difficulty. 

Upon completion of a unit, write on a sheet (with each unit # & unit title) how many you missed for that given unit divided by the total questions available. This will give you a percentage score for that unit, and will let you know upon final review which units you had the most or least difficulty with. Here is how I did my sheet: 

Stage Three: Question/Unit Review: 

After completing all 11 units in the Gleim textbook, go back and review the most challenging sections and questions, using your sheets that you created above. Consider going though each question a number of times to really mark the correct response in your head. Make notes on questions that you frequently miss as an added method of review. 

Stage Four: Gleim Practice Test: 

It's finally time to take your first practice test! I recommend taking the single Gleim practice test first, at the back of your textbook. Make an answer sheet with numbers 1-60, allowing space for response, and space to annotate missed questions. 

On my first practice test, in the Gleim textbook, I scored an 88%. What an improvement over the first 67% test score! Create a column on your answer sheet to take notes on every question that you missed with a short explanation of the correct answer. Here is what my sheet looked like: 

Stage Five: Sporty's Practice Tests: 

Now that you've completed your first practice test, it's time to take more! With Sporty's online, you can take an unlimited number of practice tests, which are in the exam same format as the actual exam. One major problem with Sporty's is that the figures and diagrams for test questions can only be viewed on your computer screen, making it nearly impossible to do the flight planning problems. But since you have your Gleim textbook, this won't be an issue! The figures which appear in your Sporty's course are the exact same ones that appear in the Gleim textbook (even with the same figure numbers!). 

After completing each test you take, have a sheet ready to record your score, with space below for explanations on missed questions. Here is what my sheet looked like: 

Stage Six: Final Review: 

Now that you're scoring well above 90% on your practice tests, make sure to do some fine tuning on units and questions that you consistently miss. Go back to your Gleim textbook and answer all of the questions that you highlighted (and circled), when you missed them the first time. Read over your notes and equations, to nail down some final points. 

Stage Seven: Take the Exam!: 

By now, you should feel very confident about the material. I was still nervous going into my exam, but that's normal. Take your time and know that there might be a few questions that you hadn't seen before. As you begin, you'll start to see many questions which you've done over and over before. If you have trouble with any question, mark it, and move on. Come back to it later once you've answered the easy questions. 

As with every exam, there are always a few poorly worded and overly complex questions. People get into trouble on this exam by over thinking each question. When you're flying, you need to think on your feet and make quick, clear decisions. Try to think of your exam like that and remember that you know what you're doing. 

I missed 4 out of 60 possible questions. Out of the 4, 2 of which I had never seen before, and 2 of which I had seen and done, but managed to get wrong on the exam. Because of the preparation I've shown you above, I managed to score a 93% on the exam, a score I was very happy with. If you take the advice that I've given, I'm sure you'll receive a similarly great score, if not better! 

Thanks for reading and good luck!
-Swayne Martin 

Twitter: @MartinsAviation
Email me with Questions:


  1. Congratulations Swayne! Excellent score. Only comes one studying hard. Good job!

    1. Thanks Karlene! Make sure to send any students that need help with the written to this article!


  2. you really do a great job. your articles really helps me!

  3. Great job on your score! Very informative article.

  4. That's an excellent score, aviation need's pilots like you. Go on & try making the same for your ATPL. But be sure: it realy wont be easy :)


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Many Thanks, Happy Flying,
Swayne Martin