How to Prepare a Student for Their Private Pilot Checkride

How to Prepare a Student for Their Private Pilot Checkride

Ahh yes, the practical exam. The day that we equally look forward to and dread at the same time. We want that certificate just as much as we want the day to be over. There are a lot of emotions regarding this test such as stress, excitement, and maybe some insecurity.

Any student pilot I've prepped or talked to prior to their checkride had some degree of anxiety over the exam. Honestly, everyone should be at least a little stressed about it. It's your first taste of a practical exam in aviation, and it's a long one.

There's checklists all over the internet for students to utilize as they prep for their practical exam. They'll tell you what to bring such as forms, ID, books, notes, etc. There's not as many resources for CFIs, however, on how to prepare their students during the last few days prior to the Day.

I have taken six checkrides so far as a CFII and prepared two students for their Private Pilot checkride, one student for their Instrument Rating, and one for their Commercial Certificate. 

So, here's my two cents on what CFIs could do to help their students in the process, specifically for the Private Pilots.

The ACS is Your Bible

ACS: Airman Certification Standards

It's literally what the DPE has to use for the Oral and Flight, why wouldn't you study it word for word? 

For every maneuver throughout my students' training, I review the ACS standards for it and go over them during our briefing. I have the student look at it as well so that they are familiar with the formatting of the document as well as everything they should be aiming for.

By knowing the specific parameters they are tested on, there is no longer any doubt on whether that steep turn was "good" or not. Was it within standards? Awesome. Was it not? Okay, let's figure out what we need to clean up. Then, I set our goal for the day with them.

For example, the Steep Turn Skills parameters are as follows:

PA.V.A.S1 Clear the area.
PA.V.A.S2 Establish the manufacturer’s recommended airspeed; or if one is not available, an airspeed not to exceed VA.
PA.V.A.S3 Roll into a coordinated 360° steep turn with approximately a 45° bank.
PA.V.A.S4 Perform the Task in the opposite direction, as specified by evaluator.
PA.V.A.S5 Maintain the entry altitude ±100 feet, airspeed ±10 knots, bank ±5°, and roll out on the entry heading ±10°.


Go over each step with your student and chair fly the maneuver on the ground. Then, establish if you're going to start out using these standards or if you're going to adjust them based on your student's skill level. If this is their first time performing Steep Turns, maybe you have them aim to roll out within 200 feet of their starting altitude instead of 100. As they become more advanced, now you have them aim to remain within 50 feet instead of 100.

Also, have the student read over Appendix 5: Practical Test Roles, Responsibilities and Outcomes and Appendix 6: Safety of Flight. This will give them an overview of how the test will be conducted and what the Plan of Action will be structured around. The DPE will go over these elements with them as well. It'd be better if the student was already familiar with these materials so that they aren't hearing it for the first time from the examiner.

By the time your student is done with their training, they should know the ACS better than the examiner (this is a tall order, I know). 

Here is what is written about the Plan of Action (POA):

The required minimum elements to include in the POA, unless otherwise noted, from each applicable Task are as follows:
• at least one knowledge element;
• at least one risk management element;
• all skill elements; and 
• any Task elements in which the applicant was shown to be deficient on the knowledge test


^^This is the format of how the student will be tested per the ACS. There are no surprises!! DPE's legally cannot stray from the ACS during the Practical Exam. Therefore, it is your study buddy.

Checkride Gouges

"Gouge" is military slang for test answers or information you need to know to pass an exam.

Many students will provide a write up of their checkride. It's a debrief of sorts that lays out everything that they had to do and know during their exam.

I want to emphasize that a gouge is not, by any means, a stand alone resource for checkrides. It's a great insight to the test, but it should NOT be the only thing you refer to when prepping for a checkride.

Talk to your fellow CFIs and their students who have taken Practical Exams with these specific examiners. Get a good idea of how this DPE likes to conduct and organize their exams. Some DPEs have specific pet peeves or trick questions they like to employ during tests. Utilize your community to get a good debrief on the checkride!

You can also find checkride write ups on threads such as Reddit under r/flying.

DISCLAIMER: The gouge is not your bible like the ACS is. While gouges are a great help, examiners will usually change up how they conduct exams for this reason. They know that students are sharing these write ups with one another, so they have to update their style so they aren't so predictable.

It's definitely worth looking into grabbing one or two gouges from other students/CFIs as it'll help you, as an instructor, identify the areas that the DPE may emphasize. This way, you can tailor your training during the last few days or weeks for your student to ensure that they are not weak in those aforementioned areas.

As I said before, the ACS should be your ultimate guide. The gouges sure do help, though.

Mock Checkrides

I give my students a minimum of three mock checkrides with myself, and then at least one with another CFI. I'll use a combination of a checkride gouge and then the ACS. 

Typically, any DPE likes to start with the first XC leg that they had the student plan so that the student can demonstrate the accuracy of their performance calculations and showcase their ADM on the ground. Then, the DPE will divert the student for some reason, saying that they can no longer continue to their original destination and have them head over to a new airport. 

Most DPEs will expect the student to calculate the distance, time and fuel that will be needed to go to the alternate airport. From there, they may go into the landings or they'll start maneuvers.

If they go into the landings, they'll go through the soft field, short field, and maybe an "emergency" landing of some sort.

If they go into maneuvers, they typically start out with the higher altitude maneuvers such as steep turns, stalls, slow flight, etc. Then, they'll probably have the student conduct an emergency descent to begin the ground reference maneuvers.

As for the hood work, I feel like every DPE is different on when they conduct this part of the PPL ride. I've had a DPE do it during the first climb out while the student got a flight following, I've had one do this during the maneuvers portion.

ANOTHER DISCLAIMER: I'm not guaranteeing that what is written above will be relevant for your specific checkride. It's simply an observation of what I've seen done.

Fly mock checkrides with your student and include a ground session prior to mimic the oral. If your student isn't accustomed to a long ground session followed by a long flight, they may get too saturated during the actual exam to perform well. Think of it like sports conditioning. You have to prep your mind and body before a marathon; this is the same idea with mock checkrides. 

Lastly, have the student fly with a different CFI. Stage Checks are great opportunities for students to practice flying with a different pilot who may see things that you (their primary instructor) might have missed. Flying with another instructor can be intimidating, because now the student has to demonstrate that they're proficient with a different person. That's exactly what they're doing during their checkride, so have them fly with another instructor a few times throughout their training to get used to the feeling of being examined by someone new.

Paperwork, Paperwork, Paperwork

Everyone's least favorite part.

Make sure your student has their paperwork in order. It helps if they have a "checkride folder" to hold all their documents such as their Knowledge Test Report, online Endorsements, and a printed out 8710 form just in case the internet crashes.

I set aside a ground session for paperwork about 5-7 days prior to the checkride. That way, if I find any discrepancies in their logs or the airplane logs, we have some time to get it fixed.

I also have my students tab their logbooks for easier reading for the DPE, as well as the aircraft logbooks. Additionally, I create a summary of their aeronautical experience on a document that lists what page of their logbook everything is on. For example, I'll write something like:

Long Solo XC (Airport - Airport - Airport - Airport) 160nm. p. 10

For the aircraft, I'll do something similar by creating a table with the maintenance item (i.e. Annual, 100 Hour, Transponder test, etc.) and the date or tach it was completed.

As a CFI, your job is to make sure that your student is prepared AND that they look good in front of the examiner. Because if they look good, YOU LOOK GOOD.

And please, have your student TAB THEIR FAR/AIM!!


I hope this post helps CFIs help their students. I don't know about you guys, but I don't want my students to pass with just the bare minimum. I want them to pass with flying colors and impress their examiner. This isn't just a checkride, it's also a networking opportunity! If your students have career goals or YOU have career goals, you want to establish good rapport with the examiner. You want to make an impression as an extremely organized CFI who always properly prepared their students.

Happy flying!~


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