Whew!  Passed the FAA written test this afternoon--after having it somewhere at the back of my mind for some 38 years, just sitting there like a small cold stone, or something.

I can think of a few times when I felt more relieved.  One was when I got accepted to go teach in West Africa--saved from the corporate life that I dreaded having to go into.  Another was on reading the letter from UNC-G, accepting me into the MFA program, saving me from a Ph.D. program.  (They threw in the Randall Jarell fellowship, which made me food very good, but not relieved.)  And I suppose there have been other times, but I can't think of them right now.

Preparing for the test was quite an ordeal--and, I think, an unnecessary one, at least if the FAA wants to encourage people to enter civil aviation.

I spent three and a half months getting ready for the test.  The 33 hour ground school was about two-thirds wasted time, but it did help in two ways.  I learned several mnemonics--such as "from high to low, look out below"--that helped me remember a few things.  And I flunked the practice test at the end, which showed me that I needed to study hard to pass the real test.  Almost all of the preparation I had to do on my own--and I think that's something the FAA may need to improve.  But I probably won't have a good perspective on that for a while yet.

Two of the knowledge questions on the test I got right because of a demo audio tape that came in the mail.  Here's one of the questions, straight from the test:

Did you get it right?  Yes?  This is an especially interesting question because it gives some insight into how the other knowledge questions are constructed.. If you haven't studied, you see a question like this and you might think, Thunderstorm--it's rain--but maybe the real danger is hail, you sure wouldn't want to fly into hail.  So maybe you'd say hail.  But as the audiotape demo pointed out, some thunderstorms might not produce hail, and some might not produce rain because they're producing hail, or something else.  So what's left that's associated with ALL thunderstorms?  Lightning, of course.  "Duh," you say?  Well, the point here is that in this type of question, the correct answer can be deduced logically--if you're thinking clearly.

I'd probably have been better off buying the rest of the tapes than attending the ground school.

Unfortunately, most of the questions aren't quite so logical.  A more typical one asks how much fuel you'd have to drain from in order to get an airplane within the maximum weight and center of gravity limits, given an empty weight of 2015 pounds, 340 pounds of pilot and front seat passenger, 310 pounds of rear seat passengers, 47 pounds of baggage, and 44 gallons of fuel in the main tanks.  There are charts giving the arms and moments for all but the airplane, for which only the moment is given.  There's also a graph showing the CG limits for various weights.  So ;you have to know how to work out weights and balances, and then you have to do the arithmetic right.

Fortunately, some are easier:

The interesting thing about the test is that all of the questions in the FAA test bank--about a thousand of them, I think--are published by several companies, including the one that sent me that demo tape, and Jeppesen Sandersen, Inc.,  the company that produced the written and computer materials I used.   Naturally, they also publish the answers and explanations.

But the most interesting thing is that the FAA knows and probably cooperates with these companies.  At first I thought that was  very strange, but by now I've begun to understand that by the time a student pilot learns how to get the right answers to these questions, he or she will probably know most of the things the FAA thinks is important to know.  So the test is really a way to organize and control the student's self-study.  The pass mark for the test--70% of the 60 questions--is relatively easy to achieve.  But the FAA checkpilot who will eventually examine you will grill you on any types of questions you miss, so (I'm told) you really need to get 90% or better on the written test, or the examiner may not even get into a plane with you.

Well, anyway, I managed to get all but one of the questions right, for a score of 98.  The one I missed is the only one I changed in reviewing my answers before clicking on the Finish button.

I was amused by myself--by the test anxiety I experienced.  It wasn't panic, but I certainly was preoccupied by the damned thing--for weeks!

Woke up late on Wednesday--out of dread, I suppose--but early on Thursday, after the ordeal was over.

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