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How to pass ATPL Flight Planning first time!

Becoming a pilot is tough. You’ve earned your private license and passed your commercial exams. You’re on your way to realising your dream of flying for an airline.

Then you come up against the ATPL Flight Planning exam. That’s right, the three-hour one with the 48% pass rate.

The one where around a quarter of entrants score less than the 50% mark required simply to earn a Knowledge Deficiency Report, meaning you won’t know which areas you failed in.

The one so notoriously arcane, outdated, and downright difficult that a petition once tried to get it changed.


You need this pass. And you want it the first time. You want to be one of the 48%.

You don’t want to be one of the 52% who needs to stump up another $184.20 for a retest. Or one of the 25% who needs to stump up for a retest without even knowing which areas they need to concentrate on. This exam gets expensive pretty quickly, and you just want to get on board with an airline as soon as possible.


We like to think we’ve done a pretty good job. In fact, 100% of our students in 2020 passed the Flight Planning exam on the first attempt! That’s over twice the national average!


Here are 5 of the best tips we can give you to help get through this exam the first time!


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1. Learn the correct method first time

Any instructor would know (or should know) that the law of primacy says learning something correctly the first time is super important! It is much easier to learn correctly at the start rather than trying to break bad habits. And this is something we see a lot of!


Unfortunately, the textbooks available for flight planning in Australia are quite limited, and in my opinion, none of them cover everything required for the exam completely. Sure they may cover enough to pass the exam with 70-80% but you want every mark you can get!


There are multiple ways to calculate different things like PNR's. I generally teach 3 easy methods that suit different scenarios. If you don't know all three you are giving away easy marks!


2. Practice, Practice, Practice!

You would have heard this before, and it is so true for this exam. When studying we like to say there are two components- learning the material and then practicing.


When I personally teach ATPL Flight Planning, we go through hundreds of questions in class, slowly building up the difficulty so no one is left behind. And at the end of the course, I give out an additional 14 practice exams! Practicing is so important that I make sure you'll never be short of a question to do.


You need to be able to do every one of these questions without stumbling before you sit the real thing, we're not even talking about speed yet. We're saying you need to know the next step in every question as this is an exam where you don't have time to stop and think.



3. Understand basic concepts before moving on to more complex ones

In this exam, nearly every question is a simple flight plan slightly adjusted. Whether you are planning a PNR, CP, or Gear Down ferry, you are doing a simple flight plan with a couple of changes.


It is very easy to get overwhelmed and confused studying ATPL Flight Planning, when I teach we perfect what I call a 'basic flight plan' before moving onto a 'real flight plan.' A basic flight plan is from A to B with no RSWT's and no charts. We practice the concepts of flight planning without overcomplicating it. This means when you move on to using charts and RSWT's for the first time you'll have the process perfected. Once that is perfected, we move onto abnormal operations.


It is not uncommon to hear in class "this is A LOT easier than I thought", because we move from the easy to hard at a deliberate pace to keep things simple.


I STRONGLY recommend you practice some 'basic flight plans' before moving to 'real' ones. If you don't have access to any, email me and I will send a couple through free of charge.



4. Be aware of the time restriction

I'm not saying rush, or that you have to go fast but just be aware this is generally a time-critical exam. I could talk for hours (and sometimes do) about the most efficient ways to tackle questions and the best time-saving methods but instead, I will just give you the top 5 time-saving tips I have come up with over my time teaching ATPL Flight Planning.


You can find these in my other post here.



5. Sit a course if possible

This is obviously a bit biased as I teach ATPL Flight Planning but I think the statistics speak for themselves. To date, every single person to have sat Flight Planning with me has passed. The national average pass rate the first time is less than half, the first-time pass rate for my courses is 90%+, which's almost twice the national average.


There is no doubt having an instructor with experience in the exam is incredibly helpful for learning the content efficiently but it also gives you motivation and accountability. We have a lot of fun in class- something not too common when self-studying.


It also cuts the study time from a few months to a few weeks with much better results. If you can't get to a course and have to self-study, look at options to do some tutoring with people that know the subject well. This might be friends, local flying schools, or online tutors like we offer.




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