Checklist to Ace Your FAA Private Pilot Written Test

By Pilot Institute
Posted on October 1, 2020 - 9 minute read

Taking the private pilot written test can be a daunting task.

You’ve gone through ground training, studied hard, and dreaded the day for weeks.

Now it’s do or die.

Maybe you hear a voice in your head saying: “You shall not pass”.

Don’t listen to it, nearly 91% of test-takers pass the Private Pilot Airplane (PAR) knowledge test.

With an average score of 84, according to the latest FAA statistics.

How can you do it too?

Next, you’ll find out how to pass your FAA private pilot written test with flying colors.

But if you got a specific question in mind, skip to the FAQs near the end.

Otherwise, let’s start with the obvious.

1. Get Familiar with the FAA Private Pilot Written Test


Here’s a synopsis of the private pilot knowledge test:

  • Total number of questions is 60
  • Possible answers for each question are 3
  • Time limit is 2.5 hours
  • Passing score is 70%


FAA Private Pilot Written Test Blueprint

Knowledge Areas Number of Questions
Regulations 3 – 9
Accident Reporting 3 – 6
Performance Charts 3 – 6
Radio Communications 3 – 6
Weather 3 – 6
Safe and Efficient Operations 3 – 9
Density Altitude Performance 3 – 6
Weight and Balance 3 – 6
Aerodynamics, Powerplants, and Aircraft Systems 3 – 6
Stalls and Spins 3 – 6
Aeronautical Decision-Making (ADM) 3 – 6
Preflight actions 3 – 6
Total 60

The blueprint includes much of the knowledge areas you need to study for the test.

However, you also need to know how to use certain portions of the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), FAA advisory circulars, and aeronautical charts for VFR navigation.


The private pilot requirements include a few for the written test. Before taking it, you should:

  • Be at least 15 years of age
  • Demonstrate the ability to read, write, speak, and understand the English language throughout the application and testing process
  • Receive an endorsement from an authorized instructor certifying that you accomplished ground-training or a home-study course and are prepared for the knowledge test
  • Meet or will meet the age requirements for the private pilot certificate before the expiration date of the airman knowledge test report
  • Present a proper identification at the time of application containing your photograph, signature, date of birth, and physical, residential address


You may want to check the FAA Airman Testing Matrix for the detailed version.

But essentially, you must present the following documents before taking the test:

I. Valid, current, and acceptable form of identification:

  • S. Citizens & Resident Aliens: ID card (e.g. driver’s license), passport, or alien residency card
  • Non-U.S. Citizens: Passport (plus a U.S. driver permit or license, or an ID issued by a government any entity)

If you’re under the age of 18 and don’t have an acceptable form of identification, a parent or legal guardian is required to accompany you to attest to your identity.

II. Acceptable form of test authorization:

  • Certificate of graduation
  • Statement of accomplishment
  • Written statement
  • Logbook entries

The test authorization certifies that you’ve completed the required ground instruction or home-study course. You may obtain it from an FAA-approved pilot school, an FAA-certified ground or flight instructor, an agency with a ground training program, or an aeronautical study material provider.

III. Acceptable form of retest authorization:

Retaking the knowledge test?

You first need a passing, expired, or failed Airman Knowledge Test Report (AKTR).

If you’re retesting to achieve a higher passing score, you may retake the same test after 30 days.

If you fail the test, though, you must receive additional training. You also must get an endorsement from an authorized instructor, which can be one of the following:

  • Signed written statement
  • Signed logbook notation
  • By completing the Authorized Instructor’s Statement portion of the failed AKTR


Here’s how your register for your FAA private pilot written test:

  1. Get an FAA Tracking Number (FTN) by registering on the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) website
  2. Create an account on the FAA PSI Exam website, which requires filling out a form with information such as your FTN, email, and date of birth
  3. Schedule an exam through the PSI website or by calling a customer service representative, at (844) 704-1487


Where to take your knowledge test?

Test centers are primarily flight schools and fixed-base operators (FBOs). You can find test center locations, practice exams, and frequently asked questions on the PSI website.


The written test fees range from $140 to $165, depending on the location. Most testing centers charge $150, though.


The testing center produces an Airman Knowledge Test Report (AKTR) after each knowledge test.

The FAA implemented several changes to the AKTR in January 2020, the new private pilot knowledge test reports now:

  • Feature no embossment or raised seal
  • Show FTN instead of the Applicant ID number
  • Can be reprinted if lost or destroyed from the testing vendor’s website
  • List Airman Certification Standard (ACS) codes instead of Learning statement Codes (LSC)

The primary purpose of the AKTR is to communicate the areas of deficiency in your aeronautical knowledge. Your instructor must provide a logbook endorsement certifying that you’ve obtained instruction and demonstrated satisfactory knowledge in every area of deficiency.

Is it required for anything else?

You need to present the original AKTR to the evaluator before your private pilot checkride.

It’s also required for your FAA airman certificate application.

You know what the test is like, which is great, but how do you actually pass?

2. Determine Your Preferred Learning Style

Student pilots often skip this step.

But it’s crucial to know how you learn best to pass your private pilot written test.

Are you a visual learner? Then go for a video course.

Do you like learning through hearing? Then get an audiobook.

Are you a bookworm? Then buy or borrow a couple of test prep books.

65% of people are visual learners, but most benefit from combining two or more methods of learning.

You should experiment and see what works.

At the end of the day, you have to complete a formal ground school or home-study course to sit for the knowledge test.

Which brings us to the next point.

3. Invest in Quality Private Pilot Ground Training

Your aeronautical knowledge isn’t just about passing an exam.

It’s fundamental for your safety as a private pilot. Your examiner will also quiz you on your knowledge during the oral exam.

So, it’s paramount that you learn before you study for the private pilot knowledge test. You should find the best ground training you can get.

Many pilot schools offer good class-room type courses, but they tend to be expensive. A great alternative is to enroll in an online ground school, such as the one provided by Pilotinstitue.

In our Private Pilot Made Easy, you get lifetime access to 35 hours of short, easy to understand videos that you can even watch on your phone. It helped thousands of students pass the test on their first attempt.

What does it boil down to?

You should understand the basics of aerodynamics, weather, and navigation among other facets of aviation.

You still need to study for your FAA written test, though

4. Study Hard (Smart) for Your Written Test

Studying hard for your written test will probably get you a passing score. But why study hard if you can study smart and get the same, if not better results?


Here are a few study tips to help you ace your private pilot written test:

Plan your study

You can schedule your test several weeks in advance so you can organize your time effectively.

The following steps show you how to develop a study plan:

  • Determine how much time you have to study each day
  • Figure out how long it’s going to take you to be ready
  • Set a date for your test that gives you enough time
  • Create a schedule and add study time to your calendar
  • Stick to your study schedule and never miss a day

When to take your private pilot written test?

Many instructors advocate doing it before setting foot in an airplane, which makes sense. Why burden yourself with flight training on top of studying?

However, The FAA suggests that it’s better to take the knowledge test after you go on your first solo cross-country flight.


Your operational knowledge, as little as it may be, would be useful during the knowledge test.

It’s your choice at the end of the day so do what works for you.

Study Technique

Many test-takers memorize the private pilot questions and answers a few days before the written test.

Sure, rote memorization works, but why stress yourself?

User powerful techniques like spaced repetition to study less and retain more information. Active recall is another effective method of learning.

Create flashcards or even find ones for the private pilot written test online. Here are a few websites to do the trick:

Okay, you know the “how”, but what should you study exactly?

Private Pilot ACS

The private pilot Airman Certification Standards (ACS) provide the aeronautical knowledge, risk management, and flight proficiency standards for the private pilot written and practical tests.

How does it help you pass your private pilot written test?

It contains the test’s knowledge areas, requirements, and test-taking tips.

It’s a useful resource.

Use it in combination with an online ground school, test prep book, and practice tests.

Get Inspired

Do you know someone that passed their written test?

Ask them for study tips, especially if they did well on the exam.

You can even google “how to pass your private pilot written test” and you’ll find several success stories.

For example, Sara Nisler shares her journey to scoring 98 on her first try.

Motivate yourself knowing that others have not only passed but aced their written tests.

You can do it too.

5. Practice, Practice, Practice, and Practice Again

Science has shown that practice does make perfect.

In a research at Washington University, experiments have proven that repeated testing produces superior retention compared to repeated studying.

Start doing practice tests soon after you start your ground school. Testing yourself frequently will help you pass your private pilot written test.


Practice tests provide an assessment of your current knowledge so you can focus on problem areas. You also build your confidence after you start to score well on multiple tests.

Want another reason?

Practice tests ease anxiety come test day because you get used to the format, questions, and time limit.

A few private pilot test prep providers offer free practice tests.

Do one or two each day, more would just exhaust your mind.

6. Enjoy the Night Before Your Written Test

Cramming the night before the test might work for some, but it’s ineffective for most people.

Besides, staying up late makes you sluggish the next day. You’re also going to have test anxiety, which can only become worse if you don’t get enough sleep.

So, what to do?

You can do light revision, but don’t go overboard. More importantly, make sure you have the documents required to take the test.

Cook yourself a good meal.

Meditate, go bowling, or even watch a movie.

Find a way to relax and get a good night’s sleep.

You don’t want to go blank during a test.

7. Take the Written Test the Right Way

Here are a few tips to help you when you’re taking your private pilot written exam:

  • Read the instructions carefully
  • Read each question twice before your look at the possible answers
  • Never leave a question unanswered, always make an educated guess if you’re not sure
  • Avoid wasting too much time on any one question
  • Mark difficult questions and return to them after answering the easier ones
  • Save time to double-check all the questions, but know that your first instinct is usually correct

What else?

Don’t cheat!If you do, the FAA will prohibit you from taking any test for one year and may revoke any certificate or rating you hold at the time.

FAA Private Pilot Written Test FAQs

Is the private pilot written test hard?

It can be, but more than 90% of students pass it every year, so it’s not too hard.

What to bring to the private pilot written test?

You may bring test aids, such as a plotter, navigation computer, and calculator. You can find more details on the FAA website.

How many questions are on the private pilot written test?

60, each with 3 answer options.

What’s the time limit?

2 hours and 30 minutes.

What’s the passing score?


How long is the private pilot written test good for?

Two years, it expires 24 calendar months after the month of your test attempt.

When do you get the results?

Immediately after completion of the knowledge test.

Can you replace a lost or destroyed test report?

Yes, you can print a duplicate AKTR from your PSI account.

Final Thoughts

Few things are more stressful to a would-be privatepilot than the written test.

Don’t stress, you’re more likely to pass the test than fail it.

Statistically, at least.

It’s not a walk in the park, though, you need an action plan.

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”.

Pilots always think ahead, they prepare for the worst scenario but hope for the best.

Want to pass your private pilot written test?

Then follow the checklist.

Scored % on their FAA Exam