How to Pass Your Private Pilot Checkride in 2024

Tips for passing your checkride on the first try, based on thousands of hours of instructing and checkride experience.

Preparing for a private pilot checkride can be daunting—but proper preparation can help you pass on your first try.

In this post, we offer practical checkride tips (based on thousands of hours of flight instructing experience) to calm your nerves and strategic insights on how to pass your checkride.

From mastering oral exam tips to navigating the practical test, we’re here with tips for each step.

We will help you walk into your checkride with confidence and a solid strategy to succeed.

PPL Checkride Tips

Mental Prep: How to Calm Your Nerves

Relax—and you’ll probably pass! When you’re confident and relaxed, you can more easily remember information and leave a positive impression on the examiner.

Why should you be relaxed? Here are a few reasons:

#1: You have practiced and prepared.

If you have already done practice exams with your instructor, there should be few surprises during the actual checkride.

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#2: The statistics are in your favor.

What’s the pass/fail rate for the private pilot checkride?

According to FAA data, in 2023 it was 79% for checkrides conducted by DPEs.

FAA checkride pass rate statistics

So, do you think you’re at least as good as 4 out of 5 of your fellow students?

Since you’re doing your homework reading these tips, you’re already a step ahead.

#3: It helps your CFI when you pass.

Your CFI has good reasons to not give you a checkride endorsement unless they feel you’re fully prepared.

Trust your CFI’s judgment. If they’re experienced, they’ll have a good sense of what it takes to pass the checkride with your local examiner.

And making sure that you’re more than prepared for the test is more than just good customer service. The CFI has some self-interest here!

Why?

The easiest way for the CFI to renew their instructor certificate is to go to the FAA and show that they have a high checkride pass rate! It avoids them needing to complete a lengthy Flight Instructor Refresher Clinic (FIRC) every 2 years. It might also give them a chance to apply for Gold Seal CFI status.

#4: Examiners don’t like to fail applicants.

The vast majority of examiners are really nice people who love flying. They just want to make sure you’re going to be a safe pilot, and they don’t want to disappoint you on your big day!

Most will try to do whatever they can to facilitate your passing the exam (within the rules), so don’t give them reasons to question that they should be on your side!

Private Pilot Checkride Questions: What to Study

There is no specific set of questions that will be asked on your checkride, and the examiner can use their discretion.

Your primary guide should be the ACS (Airman Certification Standards). You can find the ACS for each checkride at this link on the FAA’s website.

Some pilots and instructors also recommend using an oral exam prep guide. One of the most popular ones is published by ASA.

Be sure to review any weak areas from your FAA Knowledge Exam (“the written”) as the examiner may place extra emphasis on those.

You can also get an idea of typical questions by watching practice oral exams on YouTube, such as this one:

Example oral exam published by PilotEssentials

Private Pilot Checkride Checklist & Organization

To stay organized, flag parts of your logbook and use a checkride checklist.

This is your first chance to make a good impression on the examiner.

Checking paperwork and logbooks is an important initial part of the checkride. If they’re not in order, you won’t be flying!

So it’s best to ensure this part goes as smoothly as possible

Luckily, the old private pilot PTS (practical test standards) included a helpful checklist to verify you have all the critical items needed for the checkride. While it is not currently included in the ACS (which superseded the PTS), we have included a copy below.

checklist from old private pilot PTS

These are good tools to help identify weak areas, but keep in mind that the information may not be specific to your aircraft or airspace.

Pilot Logbooks

Double and triple-check that you meet all requirements to take the test (in terms of flight experience, signoffs, etc.).

Your CFI should be doing this as well, but if questions arise and your CFI is not there, you should ensure that you can point to where in your logbook you meet a particular requirement.

To help with this, consider putting “tabs” in your logbook, allowing the examiner to quickly jump to the important milestones and endorsements, including: Instructor signoffs, Long cross country, Night cross country, etc.

Aircraft Logbooks

Go through with your CFI. Until you’ve done it yourself, it can be confusing to know where to find stuff.

As with your pilot logbooks, consider putting tabs in the aircraft logbooks, to make it easy to jump to the logbook entries that prove the aircraft is airworthy.

Suggested tabs include the annual inspection; ELT battery replacement; AD compliance, which is one of the trickier things to check, etc.

Understanding the Checkride Process

Read the ACS (Airman Certification Standards)!

This is exactly how you will be tested. There should be no surprises about the general topics included on the checkride, because it’s all right here!

You can find the ACS for each checkride at this link on the FAA’s website.

Insider Insight

Learn from others’ mistakes, but don’t obsess over the horror stories. There are lots of places online to hear about people’s checkride experiences, such as:

Warning: If you read these long enough, you will probably find a few checkride horror stories.

But remember that in a set of 100 examiners/check rides, you might find one or two “bad apples.” The other 99% of examiners are just going to give you a fair, standard, and non-blog-worthy checkride. So probability-wise, it’s not worth worrying about.

It’s almost certainly not going to happen, especially if your CFI has used the examiner before.

Talk to students who recently took checkride with your particular examiner. See what things they felt that they weren’t prepared for, and specifically target those areas. Your CFI may be able to connect you with students they have previously signed off.

Should you try to find the “gouge”? What is a gouge anyway?

This is a Navy term for the inside scoop on something (like your examiner’s favorite questions). It can’t hurt to do a bit of Googling with your examiner’s name + the word “gouge” to see what pops up. You can think of it like a “cheat sheet.”

But don’t get lulled into complacency.

There’s no guarantee your checkride experience will be the same. So while you might want to pay extra attention to the areas that other pilots mentioned from their checkrides, that doesn’t mean you can ignore everything else.

The ACS should be the primary “gouge” and guidance as you prepare.

If possible, try to meet the examiner ahead of time. Your flight instructor might have another student taking a checkride when you are at the airport. It would be easy for your CFI to ask the examiner to chat with you for a few minutes to get introduced and put you at ease.

Consider a flight or mock exam with the examiner. Maybe students don’t know this is possible, but some examiners are more than happy to do this.

Examiners’ schedules may be quite busy and charge very high fees.

But if you can afford it, what better person is there to prepare you?

The Day Before the Checkride

Prioritize sleep when getting ready for checkride

Get sleep. No cramming! Assuming that you’ve prepared well prior to the night before the exam, the extra benefit from staying up late cramming, versus getting a good night’s sleep, is minimal.

Choose the sleep instead of reviewing random, unlikely-to-be-asked facts!

The time to prepare is weeks before the checkride, not the night before.

On the Checkride Day

What to wear to your private pilot checkride?

Dress for success.

Yeah, in theory examiners have no right to be affected by what you wear to the checkride. A pilot in shorts and T-shirt may be a way better pilot than the guy trying too hard in a suit.

But examiners are human, and are affected by appearances like any other person.

Do your best to look presentable to help convey your professional demeanor. I’d suggest something business casual.

But don’t overdo it. It’s not necessary and it’s important to be comfortable. Focusing on your skills and knowledge is far more important.

Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”

Nothing looks worse than someone who can’t admit they don’t know something.

Pilots get killed due to ego and lack of humility. It’s impossible to know everything, and it’s way better to know the limits of your knowledge than to make something up.

Always offer to look up the information, or indicate that you know who you would ask to find it.

For example, if a regulation appears to have a gray area, you could consult the FAA’s Letters of Interpretation, or call the FAA to get pointed in the right direction.

Be willing to learn

Put aside your ego. You’re going to be conversing and flying with a very experienced pilot, who has probably given many thousands of hours of flight instruction, many hundreds of check rides, etc.

While it’s not supposed to happen, many examiners find it difficult to avoid doing some teaching and imparting their experiences during the course of the checkride.

Put your ego aside and just be appreciative when the examiner says something, even if you disagree with it (assuming that it’s not safety-of-flight-related, of course!), or even if your instructor told you differently.

Avoid the phrase “but my instructor said so”!

You can debrief that kind of thing with your instructor after the test is over…ideally with a temporary certificate in hand.

PPL Oral Exam Tips

Different categories of knowledge to study for your checkrid

As you’re studying, put information into three categories:

  1. Things you need to memorize and “know cold”
  2. Things you should know and understand well
  3. Things you should look up

Things you need to memorize and “know cold”

While the oral exam is open book, there are things you may need to know while operating the airplane that under some circumstances you would not have time to safely look up.

These are the things that need to be memorized and recalled effortlessly, without hesitation.

This is particularly true in a single-pilot operation, versus in a flight crew environment, where it may be possible to have the other crew member refer to a reference book or checklist.

For example, if the examiner asks you the best glide speed of the aircraft you’re flying, if you hesitate or forget, this is going to look extremely bad.

After all, if you can’t recall something as important (in a single-engine airplane) as best glide speed from the comfort of your desk chair, how are you going to remember it when the adrenaline is pumping during a real, unexpected emergency?

Other similar examples include:

  • Performance speeds like VX, VY, VA. Why? There are circumstances where you may need to suddenly generate maximum climb or turning performance – and not have time to look them up.
  • Regulations that you wouldn’t always have time to look up while flying, like cloud clearance requirements, airspace rules, and speed limits
  • Emergency procedures. At a minimum, make sure you’ve memorized all “memory items” as indicated by the manufacturer. These often are indicated as bolded items in the POH. A good “flow pattern” can help you memorize and practice these items. It’s also important to be very familiar with what checklists exist in the POH, so you can quickly find the information you need when you’re given an unfamiliar emergency/failure scenario on the flight.
  • Fundamental aerodynamic principles. For example, what causes a stall/spin and how do you recover from a one? Flashcards are a good technique for studying information in this category.

Things you should know and understand well

These are the things that are so fundamental/basic, even though they might not pose an immediate safety or regulatory issue if you didn’t have them memorized, that you really should know by the time you get to a checkride.

If you had to look them up, wouldn’t look as bad as it would for those in Category (1), but you still should be able to answer on your own and understand well.

For example:

  • How to do a weight and balance
  • IAS vs. CAS vs. TAS for flight planning
  • Basics of the aircraft’s electrical system
  • How to deal with inoperative equipment

Things you should look up

These are the types of things you’re unlikely to need to know in the air. They’re not reasonable to have memorized or deeply understood.

The important thing here is to know how to find the information in your reference materials.

Here are some examples of this kind of information:

  • Reading unusual codes on the NOTAMs or METARs
  • Uncommon sectional chart symbols
  • Airport frequencies
  • Regulations for things you would never need to know in the air (e.g., what is the duration of a 2nd class medical?)

Be aware, though, that most examiners will want to see you pull the information directly from an FAA/government source (FAR/AIM, PHAK [Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge], etc.).

Be able to use your resources

EFB, flight planning, and nav log - tools to know well before your checkride

Do you have an iPad with Foreflight? You should have mastered this by now. Make sure you’re practicing for your checkride using the same resources you’ll use during the exam.

Answer only the question being asked

Example to avoid: Examiner: “What’s the best angle of climb speed in our plane?” , You: “VX is 62 knots, VY is 80 knots”.

But perhaps you forgot and VY is actually 74 knots… Do you see where we’re going with this?

Perhaps in a normal instructional situation, you might answer a question above and beyond what was asked, since it gives you an opportunity to get feedback on your broader understanding.

But during an exam, don’t give the examiner more things to possibly mark as “incorrect” or dig into.

Use your written exam results

Emphasize knowledge areas corresponding to incorrect questions on the written exam.

Each question you answered incorrectly on the written exam should have an associated code, indicated on your knowledge test report. The examiner may try to hone in on these areas, so make sure you’re confident that you’ve addressed any issues that you had during the written exam.

Personal Minimums

Think about your personal minimums ahead of time.

Try to have thought about these personal minimums ahead of time (things like clouds, wind, night flight, mountains, etc.).

Safe and legal are not always the same — and the examiner needs to make sure you know the difference.

Suppose the DPE asks you what the weather minimums are for class G airspace at night, you answer with the regulation, then asks “so, what are your minimums in that situation?,” hopefully you’re not responding with “3 miles of visibility”.

You’re a brand-new private pilot with almost no experience. Your “envelope” of what you’re able to safely handle will expand with time, but not just because you get your pilot certificate.

Consider that some examiners will ask themselves, “Would I let my wife or kids fly with this person?”.

Tips for the Practical Exam (Flight)

Again, relax! While we all want to pass, things happen, just like they will on every flight that you make. It’s not the end of the world if you do not pass!

Yes, the extra cost and time will be a bummer, but whatever mistake you made, you’re going to receive one of the strongest lessons possible, failure.

Retake it again, be thankful for the lessons you’ve learned (which might save your life someday), and move on.

If you’re worried about future airline interview prospects, as long as you can tell the interviewer why you failed and what you learned from it, and you don’t have a consistent record of failures, you should be fine.

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Expect mistakes, and bounce back from them.

Pilots of all skill levels make mistakes. Pilots who are nervous on a checkride especially are prone to mistakes, and examiners know this and account for it when they are evaluating you.

In my experience flying for an airline, mistakes happen even at this level all the time. In that environment, luckily there is another pilot to catch the mistake. But in the single pilot world, this is on you.

The important thing is to recognize and actively correct the mistake.

Also, do not dwell on a mistake that you may have made on a given checkride maneuver or task. Because the examiner is required to tell you as soon as you are disqualified on the test, “no news is good news.”

Keep pressing on and doing your best.

Watch for questions that are trying to test your knowledge (instead of your skill).

For example, if you’re flying with the examiner and perhaps the ceiling is low, and the examiner asks “how far are we below these clouds,” the “correct” answer is “at least 500 feet,” and perhaps add “reported ceilings were 3000 ft, and we are at 2300 ft.”

None of us can determine (only with our eyes) how far we actually are from the cloud. But you certainly wouldn’t want to say “I don’t know, maybe 300 feet?” and admit that you may be breaking a regulation.

Conclusion

Your private pilot checkride is more than just a test; it’s a pivotal step in your aviation journey.

By embracing a thorough preparation strategy, understanding what to expect, and approaching the checkride with confidence and organization, you set the stage for success.

Remember, this checkride not only tests your flying skills but also your ability to remain calm under pressure and handle unexpected situations.

Whether you’re navigating the oral exam or performing the in-air maneuvers, your preparation and mindset are key.

So, take this guidance, put in the effort, and soon you’ll be taking to the skies as a certified private pilot. Aim high, and good luck!

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