PPOT’s “Ace It” series highlights various tips and advice for helping you succeed in interviews and on checkrides. The series covers everything from common suggestions to lesser-known ideas. If you have some advice you’d like to share with fellow pilots, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Appropriate credit is always given for submissions.
Take a second to imagine that you’re in a class in college, and your professor announces there will be an exam the next time the class meets. However, your professor doesn’t tell you what content will be on the exam, or what materials to study. All you know is the subject of the class, and what you’ve learned so far. That seems like a pretty tough situation, right? Well unfortunately, this is the situation many pilots find themselves in when preparing for a checkride. They know they have to take a checkride, and that it might be for an Instrument Rating or Commercial Certificate, but that’s it. They don’t know what exactly they’re expected to know, and where to find that information.
Luckily, there’s a simple solution to this problem, and the FAA provides it. Even better, the FAA publishes this information free of charge and keeps it readily accessible on their website. What exactly am I referring to? The Airman Certification Standards (ACS). Formerly known as the Practical Test Standards (PTS), the Airman Certification Standards lay out all of the standards for successfully completing a checkride. The ACS is the new golden book for knowing what to expect on the big day. (Astute fliers might know the ATP and Flight Instructor PTS, plus a few other non-airplane tests, haven’t converted to ACS yet. They’re currently being developed and are on the way.)
The ACS are a great improvement on the PTS, because now the document is written using more “plain-English” (less like reading the FARs), gives practical and attainable standards, and is constantly being updated and evaluated. Everything a pilot is expected to know, and every maneuver that must be performed, is all found in the ACS. Am I going to have to perform a Steep Turn on my Commercial checkride? If so, what are the standards? What do I need to know about weather for my instrument checkride? All of these questions can be answered by referencing the appropriate ACS.
As a flight student, make sure your flight instructor introduces the ACS early in your training for a certificate or rating. As a flight instructor, make sure to familiarize your students with the ACS, and constantly reference it during training. Doing so ensures that there are no surprises come checkride day. By the time a pilot is endorsed for their checkride, they should have all of the knowledge specified by the ACS and be able to complete all of the required maneuvers to the standards it specifies. If this is the case, the oral exam and checkride should be a breeze.
Lastly, in addition to supplying the standards for knowledge and performance, the ACS also gives references of where to find information. Listed by each standard is a reference to a FAA publication that contains a wealth of information on the subject. If you’re feeling deficient in an area, or just want to brush up on a subject, the reference will lead you to the right place. Note, the FAA uses alpha-numeric identifiers to reference their publications. For example, the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge goes by "FAA-H-8083-25B".
The Airman Certification Standards, along with the FAA textbooks and handbooks, can all be found on the FAA’s website at this link. That being said, if you haven’t already, go take a look at the ACS for the course you’re currently in. If you’re a flight instructor, now is an awesome time to review the ACS to make sure you’re keeping your students up to standards. Staying up to date with FAA publications is a responsibility we hold as certificated pilots, so even if you’re not currently training or instructing, it’s still a good idea to know what the ACS are all about.