Balked landings and Exam tips - Teodora Grama

Balked landings and Exam tips

Hello world!

I am out of this world with happiness! I’ve successfully finished my first 3 ATPL Exams at the Hungarian Aviation Authority in Budapest. Was it hard? Yes. Could I have done better? Of course, you can always do better at anything in life. But I now have a better idea of what to expect during the exam day and will go in even more confident and perform even better!


For those of you who are not familiar with the term ATPL, an Air Transport Pilot License (ATPL), or in the United States of America, an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate is the highest level of aircraft pilot licence. The theoretical subjects included in the examination of ATPL applicants are Air law, Aircraft general knowledge, Flight planning and monitoring, Human performance and limitations, Meteorology, Operational procedures, Principles of flight, Communications (IFR & VFR), Performance, General navigation, Radio navigation, Instrumentation and Mass and balance.  Every student is required to pass all these subjects within 18 months of the day of the first exam and you are allocated only 6 attempts. You decide which subjects and how many of them you will take during one attempt. The Hungarian Aviation Authority even lets you change this how many times you want up to one week prior to the exam day, free of charge, provided you have already booked a certain date.

For my first exam session I took Principles of flight, Mass and balance and Performance. And I want to take some time and tell you about my exam experience and give some tips on that. I know that I will go into my second exam day more relaxed and better prepared having this knowledge.


Tip 1: Try (I’m saying “try” because I know how difficult it is) to stay relaxed. The first thing that I’ve noticed as I walked inside of the Hungarian Authority building is dozens of people going through notes doing last minute revision and I started feeling very nervous. Maybe I should be going through my notes, what if I am not prepared, etc. I was thinking to myself. A pilot cannot be nervous. A pilot has to stay calm in high stress situations and have the confidence that whatever situation arises, he or she will be able to handle it. You know your stuff. You have been preparing for this for weeks (sometimes months). Your instructors have cleared you to take that exam. They have seen dozens of students like you and they can tell if you are going to pass it. Close your eyes for one second, inhale, exhale, you are in control.


Tip 2: It’s going to be a long day, prepare for it in advance! Make sure you know the address of your Authority. Put all the stuff that you are going to take with you in your bag the night before. It reduces the chances of forgetting something when you are rushing in the morning. Set off a bit earlier. You never know what happens on the way there, leave a safety margin. I was there at 0830. Exam started at 0900. You get assigned a desk. The examiners will give a presentation about how the exam day will go. All the materials (graphs, charts, further instructions on how to use the testing software) that you need for the subjects you have to take will be on your desk. You can keep your phone on you provided you turn it off. I also threw mine in my bag just to be on the safe side. Make sure you bring a pen to make notes with, a sharp pencil to use on the graphs and charts, an eraser, a ruler, your flight computer (also known as your “whiz wheel”) and a calculator. Don’t forget to take your passport! J You will be provided with two sheets of paper to make calculations and notes on.


Those were enough for me but I am sure that the examiners can provide you with more should you require it. You log in and you can start with whichever subject that you want out of the ones you requested to take that day. Depending on the subject, you will have one or two hours to do that given subject. After you submit your answers, you will be told your result for that subject. An ATPL subject is considered to be passed if you score 75% or more. After you are given your result, you can take a 15 minutes break. You can get up and go out to get some air. Make sure you come back in due time or the remainder of your subjects will be considered failed.  When you finish taking all the subjects for that exam day, inform your examiners. They will give you a paper with your results. Regardless of your results, you can also challenge them, which brings me to tip no 3.


Tip 3: Make a note as you’re going through each question, of whether you think that answer is absolutely correct. Try and estimate what result you will get. Sometimes a question will be worded in an ambiguous way. One of my colleagues encountered a question which was incorrectly phrased and he simply couldn’t give a correct answer to it. You have the right to challenge this kind of questions and might win one or two points back if you do. It might even make the difference between a fail and a pass.

Tip 4: Go to bed early the night before the exam! I finished my exams at around noon and I felt exhausted although I was just sitting down for a couple of hours. Your brain will be under a lot of stress. Help it by making sure you go in there rested.


Tip 5: Make use of all the tools that your Aviation Training Organisation (ATO) provides you with. CEFA works with the Oxford ATPL manuals, CAE Oxford Aviation Academy Computer Based Training (CBT) DVDs and Aviation Exam. Aviation Exam is a great tool to prepare for your ATPL exams and I will talk about it in more depth in a different post. I also like to go through the Jeppesen manuals; you can find them online in .pdf form.  And always, always ask your instructors to go again through any concepts that you are finding difficult or that you do not understand completely. That is their job, to help you.


Tip 6: The learning process for a pilot never ends. Not even after you get all your licences, regardless of how many flying hours you have under your belt. Aviation is constantly evolving and new things come up each day. During my Performance exam I have encountered certain terms and graphs that I have not previously seen before. And that is ok as long as, at the end of the day, you go back home and look it up. It is close to impossible to learn everything that is to do with 3 ATPL subjects in only two months, which was my case. During my Performance exam I had to calculate, with the use of a graph, a balked landing distance. Not only that I have never seen that graph before, but I didn’t even hear of the term. Embarrassing, yes. But at the end of the day I got my books out and made sure I read everything there was about that specific topic and all other concepts related to it. I also looked up all the questions that I thought I didn’t do so well on until I was confident that, if I had to retake that test, I would score 100%. Knowledge is power.


Tip 7: Some of the training material that I had said that you are allowed to take certain documents with you into the exam room and use them (i.e.: CAP 696, 698). This would be a great thing because these contain worked examples of going through graphs, coefficients, definitions etc. Make sure you check with your examining Aviation Authority about this prior to your exam because, for example, the Hungarian Aviation Authority does not allow this.


That’s about it after my first exam. Have you taken your ATPL exams already? Do you have any tips to share? If not, how are you preparing for your exams? I’d like to know!


Never stop chasing your dreams, fellow aviators! Good luck with your exams!