The day is coming. You worked hard to get there and the practical test has been scheduled. You will find here some advice about what to do and what to expect.

Oral Part

The first part will be the oral test. Unlike the written, which consists of multiple choice questions, the oral test is more of a discussion with the examiner, who asks open questions. The main goal is not so much to test you memorized all the answers, but that you understand all the required topics and can be a safe pilot. The examiner will not be using trick questions and will attempt to maintain a relaxed atmosphere. Remember that the examiner is not looking for perfection and one incorrect answer does not automatically disqualify an applicant.

Most examiners provide hints to guide the right answers and as long as the pilot follows the lead and demonstrates sufficient basic knowledge, the test continues. You are allowed to have with you reference documents and notes, but within reason. For example, you may look up FAR 91.205 to verify that you listed all instruments and equipment required by that regulation (I always found the atomatoflames mnemonics ridiculous), as long as you can find that regulation in a reasonable time and don’t spend 15 minutes reading through the FARs. However, you should reply quickly and from memory how to recover from a spin (remember PARE?), because you will not be able to search for references while the airplane is spinning.

Speaking of spins, if you fly a Cirrus, you may be tempted to reply that the only approved method of recovery is to pull the parachute. That is correct, but remember that a certificate gives you the right to fly any single-engine airplane, so you must be ready to answer how you recover in a Cessna.

The oral test will start with the review of documents, your instructor must make sure that your logbook has correct endorsements, flight, and ground log entries, and that the IACRA application was filled. Yes, there are cases of applicants showing up without a signed application. You need to have airplane logbooks with you and be ready to show the examiner that the airplane is airworthy. I recommend that you practice and know that part cold, not because it is so important, but because this is the beginning of the test. If you sail through it easily, it will give you confidence to continue, if you stumble it will make you nervous and therefore underperforming for the rest of the test.

If the oral test is satisfactory, you will continue to the practical part, but I highly recommend that you request a 15 to 20-minute break at this point. The oral part may take two to three hours and you are tired. Grab a power bar or a sandwich (you did remember to bring it with you, didn’t you?) and a drink, sit in a quiet place, relax, and think about your favorite movie.

If the weather or any factors other than unsatisfactory performance do not allow you to continue to the practical part, you will be issued a letter of discontinuance and have 60 days from the date of application to complete it. This is often a good thing, so don’t fret about it, because it will allow you to approach the practical part fully rested.

However, if the performance was unsatisfactory during the oral part, the examiner will issue a Notice of Disapproval and you will need to start again.

Practical Part

The practical test will consist of the examiner asking you to perform maneuvers described in the ACS. Keep in mind that you are the Pilot in Command during the test, and if you believe that you are being asked to do something unsafe, you should speak up. For example, an examiner asked me to perform a no-flaps landing at Palo Airport (2440′ runway) in a Cirrus SR22 airplane. I replied that I’d be happy to do it, but we would need to fly to Hayward or San Jose for a demonstration because the runway was too short in PAO. These were the early days of Cirrus, I don’t think this was a trick request, he simply didn’t know.

If any maneuver is performed in an unsatisfactory manner, the examiner should inform you about it and give you the option to continue the test or not. You will still be issued a Notice of Disapproval at the end, but during a re-test, you will only need to perform those tasks that you failed, not everything. It is an individual decision to continue or not. On one side, you may be rattled by the failure, which may have a negative impact on other tasks, on the other hand, your re-test will be limited if you continue.

If you are up to it, I recommend that you continue. I once had a case where an applicant was informed he failed a task, elected to continue and during the post-flight debrief it turned out it was a miscommunication and the applicant did pass. On another occasion, I failed a test, dealing with a simulated failure of landing gear extension. The re-test consisted of 0.3 hours of flight time, and one turn in the pattern.

If you pass, you will be issued a temporary pilot certificate on the spot. Congratulations, it is a great feeling and culmination of many months of hard work.


Here is a checklist for the test.

  1. Photo identification
  2. Pilot certificate
  3. Medical certificate
  4. Logbook with
    • Practical test endorsements
    • Ground and flight logs
    • Valid flight review (for other than PPL)
  5. IACRA online application
  6. Written test results
  7. Examiner fee
  8. Airplane logbooks
    • Annual and 100 hour inspection
    • ELT inspection
    • Pilot static and transponder inspection
    • ADs compliance
  9. Flight plan
    • Navigation log with time, distance and fuel calculations
    • Takeoff and landing distance, runways to use
    • Weather briefing from the morning before the test
  10. Equipment
    • E6B (electronic or app)
    • View limiting device (foggles or hood)
  11. Books and charts (electronic OK)
    • Charts
    • Chart supplement
    • ACS
    • FAR/AIM
    • Your notes
  12. Other
    • Personal minima