Friday, April 22, 2005


FAA Knowledge Test

My FAA written exam was scheduled at 11:00 this morning. Highway traffic was stop-and-go, so for a while I was concerned that I'd be late, but eventually we started moving well. Then, about five minutes away from the airport, I suddenly realized that I didn't have my ground instructor's endorsement with me. It was still back at home, on the kitchen counter where I wouldn't forget it.

I didn't want to drive all the way back home to pick it up, but I couldn't take the FAA test without it. I swung by the flight school at 10:55, to ask whether my ground instructor happened to be there. Nope. So I sheeplishly went into the testing center to tell them I'd have to go back home to get the document. No problem, they said, I can take the test any time before 4:30 PM.

So I hopped back in my car. Ninety minutes later, I was back, with everything I needed.

The test format is 60 multiple-choice questions, provided on a computer. Many of the questions have an associated sectional chart, diagram, or table that could be seen on screen or in a supplemental booklet provided by the FAA. I got through all 60 questions, and had just started re-checking my answers when there was a loud crash of thunder and the computer went blank. So I had to wait a few minutes while the computer rebooted and the proctor restarted the exam software, but all my answers were still recorded. The same thing happened to me during one of the Microsoft Certified Professional tests.

I double-checked my answers, distracted a little by the lightning and thunder outside. I expected the computer to go dark again at any time, as the thunderstorm activity got worse. I caught two mistakes while double-checking: on one question, which asked for the magnetic course between two airports, I had forgotten to add the magnetic variation, and in another I has misread a course on my plotter by 90 degrees (I'd wondered why none of the three answers made sense). After I was satisfied, I clicked the Finish key, followed by three more "Are you sure you have finished?" confirmations. After that, there was a short questionnaire I had to fill out before I'd get my testing results, with questions like "Did the proctor check your identification," or "Was the testing environment satisfactory?"

Then I got the results. I missed four of the sixty questions, giving me a score of 93%. I was disappointed, as I really expected to miss no more than one or two questions. The average score on the test is 78%, so I guess I did well, but being merely above average isn't enough for me. I should have studied on Wednesday instead of playing golf.

The proctor printed out my certificate, stamped it with a special red stamp and embossed it with the testing service's seal. He made the point several times that this was the only copy; if I lost it I'd have to wait 6-8 weeks for a replacement, and I couldn't go crying to him if the day of my checkride I couldn't find it.

Now I'll have to try to figure out which questions I missed. The results sheet does not tell me which four questions I missed, but gives four "subject area codes" for my incorrect answers.

The really annoying thing is that I know my flight instructor is going to poke fun at me for missing that many questions. I had hoped I would be immune from that by tying or surpassing the score of 98% he got when he took the test. I don't like taking crap from a 23-year-old, but I'll just have to learn to live with it.

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