The Best Way to Study for the Private Pilot Written Exam

This is one question I hear echoed throughout flight schools, internet message boards, and anywhere else student pilots can be found, “how do I pass the private pilot written exam?” Here’s the deal: the written exam is a game. Plain and simple. Much like the ACT or SAT, it is a measurement of one thing: how well you can take the FAA Written Exam. On the one hand, the test is fairly easy. It’s a bunch of multiple choice questions, many of which can be solved by the process of elimination. Other questions are downright tricky and you really ought to be ready for those trick questions.

Gleim's Private Pilot FAA Knowledge Test Prep

This is why I suggest you study for the test with Gleim’s study guide. It’s a cheap book that presents the material on the test and only the material on the test in a quick-to-study outline format. As you study, you are presented with every known question in the FAA test question databank, followed by a few random practice tests. Once you get through this book (which shouldn’t take much more than one month), you will be ready to pass – period. It just takes discipline.

Here’s the problem with Gleim’s. They prepare you for the written exam – no more, no less. You really need to use other sources to build the understanding necessary to become a good pilot, not to mention passing the oral exam. But as far as passing the FAA written, I have never seen a more efficient and effective study guide.


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About the author
Pat Flannigan is a professional pilot and aviation blogger. He has been flying for fifteen years and is currently working as an airline pilot in the United States.

13 Replies to The Best Way to Study for the Private Pilot Written Exam

  1. Tom says:

    I agree, but the FAA exam doesn’t always take the same number of question types from each category. I hated the ‘how long does it take, wind is so and so, and its the last day of the month” sort of questions. Yet I got six of those straight off. I rehearsed the Gleim questions so often that I could pass the exam just by reading the answers and not the questions. I did pass it, but I didn’t know that the long sting of letters you get when you pass, and give to the flight examiner, is the topics that you failed on. So I had to verbally answer what I didn’t know in the first place.

    • You just hit on one of my biggest complaints about the FAA written: they give you broad subject codes to identify areas in which you were deficient. It’d be a lot more useful to know exactly what question a student missed so as to focus study in exactly the right area. I’ve heard rumors that the FAA is working to change this.

  2. For my instrument rating, I learned the written exam this way: repeatedly watching the King interactive videos and taking mock tests on each section then repeatedly doing mock tests until I could consistently get a reasonable pass mark.

    As you say, Patrick, the main drawback to this method is that it doesn’t prepare you very well for the oral exam. Also, if you don’t get a very high score on the written you’re signalling the examiner to give you a harder time during the oral.

    When I did my commercial, I repeated the king method but I also tried very hard to learn stuff in a more methodical (i.e. flash cards) way for the oral. I scored in the high 90s on the written (98%, I think) and I felt much more confident in the oral exam. It helps that the CPL is perhaps a bit easier on the brain than the IR and I had an excellent examiner who gave me a hard time in a friendly sort of way.

    I also used the Dauntless Software CPL oral exam prep software which is much more interactive and thought-provoking that trying to memorise the little orange book. (If you’ve done it, you’ll know what I mean!) I don’t know what my hotel neighbours thought of me speaking to myself every evening about aviation for hours. I’m surprised they didn’t call the TSA or something! :)

    I guess my point is the same as yours: don’t skim on the homework.

    • Windtee™ says:

      I did very well on all of my knowledge tests including a 100% on the FOI. Did it all through ASA’s written test book series. Studied intensively in a methodically-structured way which worked best for me. Anyway, the runway’s threshold is behind me now.

      When studying in my hotel room for the multi-engine ride, noise abatement procedures were developed by, and enforced by me… as the pages of aviation knowledge turned.

      I do have to report, your… “I don’t know what my hotel neighbors thought of me speaking to myself every evening about aviation for hours. I’m surprised they didn’t call the TSA or something!” …made me laugh! Good job!

      Keep rockin’ those wings!

    • John Smith says:

      how long can you stretch the course out to if i need to do it for a class. would i be able to get about 100 hours out of it?

  3. John Smith says:

    how many hours does the course take up? could u stretch it into about 100?

    • Can you clarify that? This post is about a book that will help you study for the written exam, so you can spend as much or as little time on it as you need.

      Getting a private pilot’s license requires a minimum of 40 hours of flight time plus the ground school time necessary to meet the aeronautical knowledge requirements. Those hours are not set in stone and most pilots require more depending on aptitude and training regimen.

      Does this answer your question?

  4. Lucas says:

    maybe you should look in the future of aviation and aviation training. The software I developed is highly interactive, easy to use and in 6-8 hours will guarantee you will pass the written and also give you all the knowledge you need to pass the Written Test.

  5. Nick says:

    Thanks for the tip on the book. Glad you pointed out that just reading this book wont help you become a pilot by itself. Many think that just because they know the book material that they know it all. It takes being able to pass the other portions, and also having the skills and ability to actually fly.

  6. Scott D. says:

    I’m currently in school but get a month off for summer and a month off for winter. Classes at the community college don’t seem to fit in my schedule. I looked up King private pilot kits and also came across sporty’s, gleim and some others. The ASA test prep book seems pretty cheap too. What do you think is the best way for me to learn the information? I care more about learning it rather than just passing trying to pass a test.

  7. Lucas Noia says:

    The best way by far is Pilot Training Solutions. With the new questions from the FAA not being published they are definitely number 1. When they said they had a 100% money back guarantee I was skeptical. I purchased their all-in-one and loved it. I still keep their software and once in a while refresh my knowledge with it. They said it would be a lifetime companion. I agree. I can’t wait to start my instrument and I will definitely be going back to them.
    Just the way they explain VORs is fantastic. I was browsing Youtube for some good training videos and stumbled upon their channel. Wow they made the difference for me.

    This video is what convinced me:

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