How to Ace Your Private Pilot Checkride

  • August 18, 2023

A Comprehensive Guide to Preparing for your First Checkride


The private pilot checkride is a pivotal moment in a pilot's career, testing both knowledge and skills. It has two parts, an oral examination and the practical flight test. For many pilots it won’t be the last checkride they do, but the PPL checkride is always the first.

The PPL checkride is the inflection point where you go from being a “student pilot” to being “a pilot”. For many people it can be stressful to fly with someone you don’t know, who is going to evaluate you. The single most important thing you can do is try to relax.

This article will tell you what to expect, how to prepare and what you can do to maximize your likelihood of success. Hopefully knowing that will help you relax.

First of all, you should know that approximately 90% of candidates pass their PPL checkride on their first attempt. Flight instructors must maintain an 80% pass rate, and your failure goes on their record. As a result, your CFI is unlikely to send you for your checkride unless they're highly confident in your skills and your ability to pass.

Planning Ahead, Scheduling Your DPE:

Before even diving into the checkride preparations, planning ahead is important. Scheduling your Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) can often be overlooked, but it's crucial for a few reasons:

  • Availability: DPEs have busy schedules. By planning ahead, you can find a suitable slot that aligns with your readiness and their availability.
  • Research: Different DPEs might have slightly different styles or areas of emphasis. By talking to other students or instructors, you can get insights about your chosen DPE which might help you prepare better.
  • Location: Ensure the location is convenient for both you and the DPE, but you’ll be most comfortable if you fly from an airport you are familiar with.
  • Details: Find out how your DPE would prefer to be paid. Ask how much he or she weighs, because you’ll need this for your weight and balance.

Doing a Mock Checkride:

Experiencing the pressure of a mock checkride will prepare you mentally for the real thing. Doing it well will confirm to you that you are in fact ready. Familiarize yourself with the entire Airman Certification Standards (ACS), including the introductory portion. Follow the checklist in the ACS to confirm you're equipped with all necessary documents and tools. Organize all necessary paperwork such as your logbook, medical certificate, and written test results in advance

Here are some tips on making the most of a mock checkride:

  • Mock Examiner: Ask your CFI to help you find a different CFI at your flight school, preferable one that you’ve never flown with, to act as the mock examiner. You shouldn’t use your primary CFI, because you’re already buddies, or at least comfortable with each other.
  • Simulation: Treat the mock checkride as the real deal. Treating your mock checkride like it is real will familiarize you with the flow and expectations of the actual checkride.
  • Feedback: Make sure to debrief with your mock examiner to identify any areas needing improvement.
  • Duration: Resist the urge to pinch pennies with a shorter mock oral, flight, or debrief. Set aside two hours for the mock oral, two hours for the flight, and 45 minutes for the debrief. Think this is too expensive? Try paying a recheck fee and having a failure permanently logged on your FAA record instead. Good preparation isn't cheap, you owe it to yourself.

Aircraft Logbook Check:

  • Collaborate with your instructor to thoroughly review the aircraft logbooks a day prior to the checkride.

Ensure all necessary checks such as the annual, transponder, ELT operations, and the 100-hour check are up to date. Your examiner is definitely going to check this, and if you are not current, the flight portion of your exam is not going to happen, but you are still going to pay.

This is not just a paperwork drill. You are being evaluated as a potential Pilot in Command (PIC). It's your responsibility to demonstrate that your aircraft is airworthy in every respect prior to your checkride.

Work out a sample Weight & Balance (W&B). This is why you asked for the DPEs weight when you scheduled the appointment.

Oral Examination:

You don’t have to know everything, but you do have to know where to find the answers!

  • Organize your knowledge into:
    1. Things that you need to memorize (like emergency procedures).
    2. Things you should have a clear understanding of (such as deciphering weather codes).
    3. Things that can be looked up when needed (like specific regulations).
  • Practice using the FAR/AIM to quickly locate answers to things you don’t know.
  • Be prepared for the examiner to ask you about any areas where you made mistakes during the knowledge test.


  • Treat your DPE like ATC. Be clear, complete and succinct in your answers. Answer what they asked but don’t veer off-topic.
  • Be careful about over-elaboration. This can lead to confusion or inadvertently providing incorrect information.

Understanding Examiner’s Intent:

  • Recognize that not every question is a test of your proficiency. Some are aimed solely at assessing your theoretical knowledge.
  • Think about the underlying objective of each question. If you are asked about your distance from the cloud deck, the examiner probably wants to confirm if you're aware it should be “at least 500 feet”, rather than evaluating your depth perception.

Maintain Forward Focus:

  • The checkride is a dynamic process. Don’t get hung up on previous maneuvers or responses.
  • If you've progressed to the next phase, it's a tacit approval of your prior performance. Focus your attention and energy on the task at hand.

Handling Mistakes:

  • You will probably make a mistake during your checkride. How you react to the mistake is usually more important than the mistake itself.
  • If you notice a minor mistake, even if the DPE hasn’t said anything, take appropriate corrective action.
  • If you anticipate a maneuver deviating from acceptable limits, communicate this to the examiner, stop, and start again.

The night before / the morning of:

  • Prioritize a good night’s sleep. If you’d want to review, block an hour well before bedtime and then refrain from last-minute cramming which can lead to unnecessary stress.
  • Double check you have all your paperwork using the Airman Certification Standards (ACS) as a checklist.
  • Pay the examiner's fee upfront and ensure you’re familiar with their preferred payment mode.


The private pilot license checkride is demanding, but with proper preparation, clear communication, and a good mindset, you can and should succeed. Remember, it's not about perfection, but proficiency and safety.