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Checkride Failures: The Oral Exam

Checkride Failures: The Oral Exam

Failing a checkride sucks. I’ve been there. Once. It was the oral exam for my instrument checkride. I thought I was ready. The Examiner thought otherwise.

After that, I never busted another one. Why? Because I made damn sure I was ready for each one after that. I hate failing at anything and that one failure still haunts me to this day. I know, I know, I need to learn to let things go…

Since becoming a Flight Instructor, I’ve seen a lot of checkrides go well and a few go REALLY bad. I’ve also had the opportunity to get to know a few of the Designated Pilot Examiners in my area. And because of this, I’ve learned a few things about why most checkride failures happen.

But before we get to those reasons, you need to know that the DPE isn’t a horrible person, who’s only goal in life is to fail you. He or She actually wants you to pass! Their job is to make sure that you are a safe and proficient pilot.

That’s what the checkride is all about!

So here are some of the most common reasons for busting the oral exam:

The Oral Examination

Look, you either know your stuff or you don’t. Hopefully your CFI has prepared you well and you’ve done your homework. But here’s a few points to keep in mind.

  • A good oral examination usually sets the stage for a good flight examination. That’s usually the case, but not always. If the examiner sees that you know your stuff on the ground, he or she is sometimes a little more lenient during the flight part.

  • NERVES. Everyone has them, including you. If this is your first oral exam, it’s understandable because you don’t know what to expect. Usually after meeting your examiner, He or She will do their best to make you feel comfortable and hopefully you’ll settle down a bit. Point being: Calm the hell down.

  • If you don’t know the answer to a question, never say “I don’t know.” Don’t be afraid to look something up if you need to. Just don’t be sitting there looking like an idiot, as you frantically look through 3 different books for the answer. Know your books inside and out and know exactly where to find the information you need.

  • Current charts, AF/D, Weather, etc… You would be amazed at how many people show up for their checkride and have their cross-country flight plan ready to show the examiner and it’s based on expired charts or weather that is 3 days old. Nothing says “I’m an idiot” like doing this.

  • There are some things that just have to be memorized like-Airspace, V-speeds, etc.. Just do your best to memorize as much as you can.

  • And finally, NEVER, EVER try to BS your way through the Oral exam. I guarantee you that the examiner has seen it all and will call you out on your bullshit. So don’t do it.

As you may have noticed, this list is made up of mostly simple things. Yet, they are the most common things I’ve noticed when observing the oral part of checkrides and talking with Examiners. My best advice is to study, study and then study some more.

Your CFI should give you a mock oral exam before your checkride. Preferably, it should be given by another CFI whom you’ve never done any training with. It should also be treated just like the real thing and it will give you a good understanding of your readiness.

– Shawn Hardin CFI/CFII

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