Passing the Written Exam by Michael E. Marotta

Having soloed three times, I now need to get the written out of the way. The “written” is what the FAA now calls the “Knowledge Examination.” Aerodynamics, weather, flight operations, instruments,… every academic, theoretical, or legal fact you should know second nature before you can be licensed to fly.

Like everything else I do, this has been a process, something I approach and repeat until I get it right. I took a ground school last year. Also, as a journalist, I reviewed the new King/Cessna computer based training for the 182 sales programs and that allowed me to take several lesson, see my scores, talk to instructors, and so on. I have been shopping for books for almost two years. In addition, I have some experience as an instructor, having taught technical writing for five years at Lansing Community College before moving into industry and teaching robotics to automotive workers. So, I give a lot of thought to how people learn.

I know that I learn isolated facts best from computer based drill and practice. (This does not help with the mastery of abstractions. CBI did nothing to help me with physics.) The FAA Knowledge Exam is a set of unrelated and often arbitrary items. While the physics of aerodynamics is in and of the fabric of the universe, the abbreviation systems for weather reporting are not. Neither is the rule that minimum Visual Flight Rules require 3 miles of visibility. Why not 2.71828 or 3.141459? Three is a round number, that’s why. Someone decided, that’s why. And it seems to work okay, that’s why. And if it did not work, no one could sue the FAA, that’s why. So, the answer to “Why?” is “Because.”

I have all kinds of books about flying. I just bought $140 worth of nice used manuals from 1940 and 1941. I have Gleim, and King, and the FAA, McGraw Hill and Aero Books. I have some instructor’s manuals and the FAA tests for Instructors, both Flight and Ground. I have Saint-Exupery and Lindbergh and Bach and Santos-Dumont and Wolfe. Nothing has changed in 100 years. Lindbergh speaks exactly the same words to his students as my flight instructors spoke to me, and like them, he was teaching only to build time until he could get a real job as a real pilot.

After weighing all the options. I chose the King Private Pilot Knowledge Test. It cost $89 from King. It comes on 4 diskettes for MS-Windows (3.11 thru 98). On my home 66 MHz 486 DX2 with 8 meg of RAM running 95, it is slow. At work on my Pentium 133 with 32 megs running 95, it goes much better.

I have installed this three times and I have taken one practice test twice and other once. Overall, the product meets my expectations — Now. Today. This moment. My years since 1977 in computering have taught me that nothing works as well as a program you never use. As a teacher and as a learner, I know that the best classroom experience is an invitation to disaster on the shop floor. The student says the professor knows the material but cannot teach. The teacher says the pupil passed the class but does not know anything. I will let you know how King stacks up.

Michael E. Marotta
Technical Writer