Top 10 tips for choosing your Pilot Ground School provider
For your Pilots Licence, you’ll need to study for, and pass, a total of 9 theoretical knowledge examinations.
In the UK, these examinations are provided by the CAA, and even though they are in an online format, you’ll have to sit them at an approved training organisation. This is usually the same organisation that you will be undertaking your flying lessons with.
As a student pilot, it’s important that you not only choose a good flight training organisation but also a good ground school training organisation as well! The learning material you use, and the support you get for ground school (from your flight training organisation) may not match the support you get for the flying training. And yet the theoretical knowledge aspect is equally important as the flying!
This is especially so in the UK where the CAA online exams are refreshed at least every 12 months with new questions being added all of the time. And those questions (believe us!) delve into every nook and cranny and dark corner of the syllabus for each of those 9 subjects.
So, gone are the days when you could just “grab an app” and look at the typical questions you’d find in the exams, and “memorise them” or “just learn those bits of the syllabus”.
That’s why it’s now vital to find a ground school provider that can help you pass all of the 9 exams!
Our top 10 list below should point you in the right direction to help you find the best options available.
Of course, right here on this site, you'll find that we meet all of the requirements mentioned below!
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1. Use a “Guiding” Provider
There are 9 exams. Don’t just take pot luck and study for a subject that takes your fancy. Use a provider that will guide you through the process; one that knows the best order in which to take the subjects based on years of experience; one that understands how to “teach” you, and not just one that pushes material at you. Choose carefully and choose wisely in this area. Doing things in the wrong order will not only lead to frustration on your part but will also lead to “wasted effort” in double-learning.
2. Use easy-going material
Your learning needs to be pleasurable. Reading from a book with small print in black and white with no images is not going to be the best way for you to learn. You need colour, graphics, and a variety of styles, usually brief and to the point, in order for you to be able to remember the information effectively. If your learning experience is not pleasurable, then you’ll not look forward to going back to the material to carry on. Learning should be FUN. Colour and graphics surrounding an item will help embed that learning – you don’t need a photographic memory – you just need supporting reference images that will be stored in your brain and help retrieval of the information!
3. Ensure the material is relevant
What we mean here is to ensure that the material you use doesn’t just teach you the basics. Find a provider that puts the learning into context in how you will use that knowledge in your day to day flying. That way, you’ll realise the importance of learning – and that helps it “stick” in your head. For example, we teach Air Law by taking you on a “Flight”. We start with the legislation requirements prior to flight (what makes the flight legal such as pilot and aircraft documentation), and then we move on to aerodrome rules, taxiing, rights of way on the ground, taking off, and so on. It's also important that your provider offers you some good practical tips as well as theoretical knowledge!
4. Use up to date (and correct!) material
Your ground school provider must teach you with up-to-date and current material. This might sound straight forwards, but recently, legislation, procedures and best practices that affect the pilot have been changing almost on a daily basis. If you use books, then you’re probably going to be at a disadvantage here because of the long lead-times between changes and print runs by publishers. Equally, if you’re using an online resource, then you’ll need to ensure that the provider regularly updates their course (and question) content to match the changes as soon as they happen. Sometimes, when you purchase a course from an online provider, the content is fixed (like a book) and you don’t get any dynamic updates. So make sure you find a provider that clearly states they have their ear to the ground with changes, implement those changes as soon as they become published by the authorities, and also gives you access to that updated material while you are studying. A good provider will also make available additional resources for you to use for background reading (if you desire) around a subject to get different learning angles or further detailed information (for use out of interest). Incidentally, there are some providers out there who are teaching blatantly incorrect information. Beware!
5. Practice Questions
We’ve mentioned above that just finding a provider that offers “questions only” is a bad idea. You need a provider that offers full course material and some form of self-testing or practice examinations. If the provider can mimic the process and mechanism you’ll use in the official online exams – all the better! Similarly, if the provider can mimic the style of questioning used, and the content areas (which, let's face it these days, could be anything) then that is even more beneficial. Don’t underestimate the power of progress tests during your study. A good provider will prompt you to take tests periodically throughout your studies. This helps to reinforce your learning – and it makes the remembering process easier and more inclined to be transferred to long-term memory. Similarly, a good provider will have a multitude of questions available so you don’t see “repeat questions” all of the time. Choose a provider that understands progress tests and end of course questions are part of the learning process. Check that you can use these questions as a learning tool, and not just as a “check tool”. That means explanations should be available to you. You should also be able to go back and review your past tests and exams as part of your study.
6. Personal Support
With any method of learning you choose, it’s important you have someone to “go-to” for the bits that you need some help with, advice or further explanations. Be very wary of who you ask though! It’s no good going into the “Flying Club” and asking for help from other pilots (usually). What you’ll get are several different answers and opinions which will only confuse you further (and probably won’t resemble anything like what is considered a “correct” answer from the exam for the subject). Similarly (and unfortunately) instructors can sometimes fall into the same bracket too, since many of them do not teach the theoretical knowledge subjects often enough, or keep up to speed enough with changes in the theoretical knowledge areas (especially with the new depth of questioning in the new CAA exams). You’re better off finding someone that does this as a day job (not a weekend hobby), or a provider that specialises in ground school instruction. Equally, if you are using an online provider, ensure they will support you on a one-to-one basis and answer your personally specific questions. Make sure you have a real person to talk to and ensure they are willing to invest time and resources for you. For example, if an initial query is not satisfactorily answered by email, then they should pick up the phone and talk to you, and then (even better) offer a video conference call (Zoom or Teams) and share material on-screen to ensure you reach a satisfactory explanation and answer.
7. Exam Readiness
An often overlooked requirement by many training organisations is that there is an onus on that organisation to ensure the candidate for a given subject exam has a reasonable chance of passing it before they sit it! For EASA and UK CAA examinations, the training organisation is required to provide some sort of proof that the candidate is ready for the examination. Some organisations implement this requirement in the form of an “Exam Readiness Certificate”, given to the candidate when the organisation is satisfied the student has reached a suitable level of knowledge. But how do they determine this? Some organisations insist on some form of “instructor session” where an instructor can chat around the subject and get a feel for the students' depth of knowledge. That’s a bit hit and miss though. A better solution is to find a provider that gives the student an “Exam Readiness Certificate” as part of their “process”. For example, if a student successfully passes 3 end of course examinations in a period of 3 months (and having seen different questions on each occasion), then that could be the criteria for the issue of a system generated exam readiness certificate. Find a ground school provider that does this, and your training organisation will be really pleased that someone else has “approved your depth of knowledge”!
8. Statistics, statistics and more statistics
Sounds boring? It shouldn’t do. Your provider should have a handle on your performance both from a study perspective and from a progress perspective. In fact, an ideal provider will ensure you have access to this information in an easily digestible form for yourself. How long have you been studying a given subject? How are you improving in your progress tests or end of course exams? All of this is an important motivator for you the student, and also for the provider – it gives them not only insight into how you are doing, but also how effective their material is for you personally. A good provider will be keeping an eye on this for you. In fact, as a provider they should also be obtaining statistics on the performance of their “questions” and “tests”. For example, each question should have statistics available to the provider on how many times it has been used, and the percentages of students who got it right and wrong. That gives an indication of the effectiveness of the question. In the same way, the provider should have statistics available for the performance of the “tests and exams”, including average pass marks for each test. Again this ensures the effectiveness of the test and exam (if every student passes a given test or exam with 100%, then the test is not effective – it’s too easy!).
9. Crash Courses
Not literally! But some training organisations offer “zero to hero” courses. For example “Pass all 9 theoretical knowledge examinations in 7 days”. Well, trust us when we say that’s going to be unlikely with the current online testing system employed by the CAA unless you have already performed a significant amount of study before attending the “7-day course”. Since the CAA exam questions are updated regularly, and because they can (and do) ask questions in any part of the syllabus for a given subject, it's impossible to guarantee that if you only study certain parts of the syllabus that you’ll get questions limited to those areas you’ve studied. Additionally, the whole purpose of the theoretical subjects (and examinations) is that the pilot is expected (indeed must) know the subject matter – and not just “parts of it” or “answers to certain questions”.
10. Don’t use “the internet”
“Google is your friend” they say. But certainly not for ground school studies! Whilst it's good to search for reputable ground school providers, don’t (for example) go asking google a specific question on air law, or principles of flight! You’ll come up with different answers each time, and that will only lead to confusion. It’s also worth pointing out that some answers will be different depending on the country the material was written in (and often that’s not clear – there is a lot of USA content for example that differs from European or UK regulations and practices). Similarly, beware of “vloggers” and video content unless it comes from a reliable, well known or trusted source or provider!
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