At the beginning of my Christmas Break, I committed to myself that I’d take the FAA Private Pilot Written Exam before I got back to school, or at least that I’d be 100% ready to do so. Being a Junior in High School, I knew this would be one of the last chances I’d have to really delve into the material before it’d be too late. My goal has been to pass my final pilot exams on, or as close to, my 17th Birthday in February (the minimum age for a PPL). If I hadn’t spent time reviewing over Christmas Break, I wouldn’t have had the time to study school work and aviation material.

The three exams that one takes to get the PPL include:

  • A written knowledge exam
  • An oral exam, based on flight planning, regulations, etc.
  • A practical flight test
In all honesty, here’s how it works… To pass your FAA Knowledge (Written) Exam, you have to score a minimum of 70%. I’ve never been one who just likes to “pass” things with the minimum score. Would you rather have a pilot who got C’s on their exams, or A’s? Similarly, would you rather have a doctor who got C’s or A’s on their medical school exams? That’s how I thought about it in my first preparations for the exam.
There’s another motivational factor for doing well on the written exam. When you have your oral and practical exams, the FAA inspector will see that you did well on the written exam; in most cases, the exams will be easier and take less time. Who are they going to drill more, someone who got a 90+ score, or someone who barely passed, with a score in the 70’s? Nearly every instructor I’ve gotten advice from has told me that they’ve seen this play out with their own students.

Preparing for the written exam can be stressful for a new pilot. I didn’t know where to begin. When I looked at how much information was covered, I felt overwhelmed. I didn’t have any formal ground school help with exam preparation, nor does anyone in my family fly, so if I can do well following these steps, anyone can.

So how do you pass the FAA Written Exam with a 90+%? After using the following study method, I passed the written exam with a 93% (-4/60). Here’s exactly how I studied, if you follow the same steps, you’re sure to do great:

Materials I Used:
-Gleim Private Pilot FAA Knowledge Test Book: Purchase Here
“The primary purpose of the Gleim Private Pilot FAA Knowledge Test book is to provide you with the easiest, fastest, and least-expensive means of passing the FAA knowledge test. Gleim Knowledge Transfer Outlines at the beginning of each study unit concisely present the relevant material needed to answer questions selected from previously released FAA test banks as well as questions that have been developed from current FAA reference materials.”
-Sporty’s Online Learn to Fly Course (Testing Capabilities): Purchase Here
“For the cost of a single flight lesson, Sporty’s Learn to Fly course will save you hours of time in the air and hundreds of dollars. This is not a weekend “cram course” or a boring ground school class on video. It is a comprehensive home study course that includes ground school, test prep and flight training. You’ll pass all your tests (we guarantee that), but you’ll also have more fun learning to fly and be a better pilot after you earn your license.”

Stage One: Test Yourself:The reason buying Sporty’s Online Course is so valuable is because you get unlimited practice knowledge exams. With just the Gleim textbook, there’s only one practice exam at the end.

Before I began my real review, I took a Sporty’s practice test, to see where I was. As you can see in the photo below, I scored a 67% on my first test without having reviewed. The subsequent tests scores (after following the study advice I’ll soon give) increase substantially over time:

Stage Two: Gleim Textbook Review:

I essentially spent the entire last week of Christmas Break studying 5+ hours a day towards the written exam. There are 11 total units in the Gleim textbook, each of which have questions that are deadly accurate to the actual exam. I’d say 90% of the questions on actual exam were ones that I had already done in the Gleim textbook. Treat every question in the book like an actual exam question, because it could very likely be one.

My Study Schedule:

  • Monday: Units 1-3
  • Tuesday: Units 4-6
  • Wednesday: Units 7-9
  • Thursday: Units 10-11 + Review of Difficult Sections
  • Friday: Practice Tests + Individual Question Review

Each unit contains a beginning portion dedicated to notes for that given section. As I went through those notes, I wrote down easy-to-remember tips for certain subjects, in addition to equations and notes about subjects that I had difficulty with. Here is what a page of my notes looked like:

After completing the notes section, there is a long question based section, in the format of the FAA Exam. Each question with options A, B, and C for answers are found on the left side/column of the page. The right column contains appropriate answers and explanations. As you go through this section, use a cover sheet for the “answers” portion of the page. Write on either the cover sheet or another sheet the answers, in order, for the given page.

After you’ve written letters for what you think are the answers, reveal the true answers and check your responses. For every question that you miss, highlight the number (not the correct answer) of every question that you missed. Circle each question that you had substantial difficulty with, or that you had to make a guess on. This will allow you to go back later on, and see questions with which you had difficulty.

Upon completion of a unit, write on a sheet (with each unit # & unit title) how many you missed for that given unit divided by the total questions available. This will give you a percentage score for that unit, and will let you know upon final review which units you had the most or least difficulty with. Here is how I did my sheet:

Stage Three: Question/Unit Review:

After completing all 11 units in the Gleim textbook, go back and review the most challenging sections and questions, using your sheets that you created above. Consider going though each question a number of times to really mark the correct response in your head. Make notes on questions that you frequently miss as an added method of review.

Stage Four: Gleim Practice Test:

It’s finally time to take your first practice test! I recommend taking the single Gleim practice test first, at the back of your textbook. Make an answer sheet with numbers 1-60, allowing space for response, and space to annotate missed questions.

On my first practice test, in the Gleim textbook, I scored an 88%. What an improvement over the first 67% test score! Create a column on your answer sheet to take notes on every question that you missed with a short explanation of the correct answer. Here is what my sheet looked like:

Stage Five: Sporty’s Practice Tests:

Now that you’ve completed your first practice test, it’s time to take more! With Sporty’s online, you can take an unlimited number of practice tests, which are in the exam same format as the actual exam. One major problem with Sporty’s is that the figures and diagrams for test questions can only be viewed on your computer screen, making it nearly impossible to do the flight planning problems. But since you have your Gleim textbook, this won’t be an issue! The figures which appear in your Sporty’s course are the exact same ones that appear in the Gleim textbook (even with the same figure numbers!).

After completing each test you take, have a sheet ready to record your score, with space below for explanations on missed questions. Here is what my sheet looked like:

Stage Six: Final Review:

Now that you’re scoring well above 90% on your practice tests, make sure to do some fine tuning on units and questions that you consistently miss. Go back to your Gleim textbook and answer all of the questions that you highlighted (and circled), when you missed them the first time. Read over your notes and equations, to nail down some final points.

Stage Seven: Take the Exam!:

By now, you should feel very confident about the material. I was still nervous going into my exam, but that’s normal. Take your time and know that there might be a few questions that you hadn’t seen before. As you begin, you’ll start to see many questions which you’ve done over and over before. If you have trouble with any question, mark it, and move on. Come back to it later once you’ve answered the easy questions.

As with every exam, there are always a few poorly worded and overly complex questions. People get into trouble on this exam by over thinking each question. When you’re flying, you need to think on your feet and make quick, clear decisions. Try to think of your exam like that and remember that you know what you’re doing.

I missed 4 out of 60 possible questions. Out of the 4, 2 of which I had never seen before, and 2 of which I had seen and done, but managed to get wrong on the exam. Because of the preparation I’ve shown you above, I managed to score a 93% on the exam, a score I was very happy with. If you take the advice that I’ve given, I’m sure you’ll receive a similarly great score, if not better!

Thanks for reading and good luck!
-Swayne Martin
Twitter: @MartinsAviation
Email me with Questions:


About The Author

If you want to become a pilot, I want to make your journey just a little easier. I'm a First Officer for Envoy Air, one of the largest regional airlines in the world, and have partnered with industry leaders like the U.S. Air Force to teach about various aviation careers. For a full bio, click the "About" tab above. Use the "Contact" tab to shoot me a message.

34 Responses

      • Fahmy

        Thank you so much i’m new pilot student i don’t know where to begin as you were, it’s like my life in this pilot training is full of stress but thanks mr Martin you show me out the way..
        and could you send me the website of sporty’s for the rendom tests plz?

  1. Anonymous

    That’s an excellent score, aviation need’s pilots like you. Go on & try making the same for your ATPL. But be sure: it realy wont be easy 🙂

  2. Caroline

    Did you need an instructor sign off to take the test? I’ve read about home study for the test but heard you need an instructor sign off?

  3. Chris

    Just wanted to thank you for the great study tips. I used a similar method of study, and just passed my FAA knowledge test with a 93%.

  4. MamaB

    Great article! Thank you! My son is preparing to take it soon, already using Sporty’s…so, give us an update! You must be in college by now? Where? What Re you studying? Best wishes!

  5. John

    Hey, I’m a old guy, and when I wanted to start my path to ppl, I found your tips for studying for my knowledge. Took your advice and added a little of my own. Passed with a 90. Good Stuff!

  6. Hezron Fernandes

    thanks for the artical dude …great help..i have my private check ride on the 29th on march ..and i need to go back to my home country by the 1st of may…is it possible to complete my instrument in 1 month flat…considering if i pass my check on the 29th of march, it would be taking me exactly only 1and a half month for my private from the day i started my training.

  7. Stephen

    Hey Swayne, thanks for the advices, i happen to stumble upon your page A DAY before i have my first exam which is on aerodynamics. in all honesty i’m having a hard time trying to grasp the info so i bought the sporty’s dvd program(kinda regret i didn’t get the online version) but based on your studying schedule, i’m not seeing where you mention when you watched the sporty’s videos… whats your take on that?

  8. Albert

    Awesome job! Your experience is really motivating me to try hard on the test. I’m going for my FAA Mechanics license. Think your guide is applicable?

  9. chris campbell

    thanks for posting this, i am about to take my test this thursday 11/3/16 and im scared as i have herd the test has all changed, and its harder, ect. i have been studing the ASA 2017 test prep book, and now i hear the questions on the real test are not the same as i have been studing. im making 85% and 92% on the practice test on any help or ideas am i worried for nothing?

  10. John

    Thanks for your study tips, love your website! I used the Gleim Private Pilot FAA Knowledge Test Book as well as the Sporty’s Online Learn to Fly Course. They helped tremendously. Took my exam this morning, got a 95%!!! 🙂

  11. Titanic Stclair

    Just purchased the full updated kit from Gleim for my PPL. You’re right, it is a lot of information to take it at first, but breaking up the units throughout the week as you advised, or whenever you do study helps out a lot. I have a lot of respect for you because you saw what you wanted and you went for it (and you’re so young!) haha. You’re an inspiration man. Keep it up.

  12. samadhi

    I was wondering if you knew how many questions the FAA PPL gives you? I am going to take mine in two weeks or so and I am starting to study for it now.. so I am just wondering how many total questions they have? Also is it done in the computer or is it paper written one? They are all MC right?

  13. Kashif Siddiqui

    Great inspiration for me, now preparing for my PPL.
    Thank you so much for your information. BTW, what light sports aircraft you have in this above picture ?!? Is it Cessna Skycatcher ?!?

  14. JB Wan Kenobi

    I just passed my FAA exam with a 93%. If I didn’t changed the answer to 2 questions, my score would have been 97%. Oh, well 🙂 I used the Gleim PPL FAA book and Sporty’s FAA exam online test (free version). The key is to study each unit (and sub-unit) and master the material. Then, supplement it with using Sporty’s online FAA test to test your knowledge. If you consistently score high 80’s and low-to-high 90’s, then you’ll do well with the actual FAA exam. Here’s the secret …. STUDY HARD and you’ll passed it with flying colors 🙂

  15. Matt Maxwell

    Thanks for the tips. Used Gleim for Knowledge/Written and past with a 82%. It’s been a while since I’ve been a full time student and a bit rusty on my study skills.
    I’m 53 living in Miami, FL and pursing a commercial pilot career. Very excited on this new adventure. Originally just wanted to start flying with PPL…Did some research and since the demand is so good for pilots for hire, I change my direction a bit.
    It’s been a fun experience so far. Five hours flight time now and moving along towards the PPL.

  16. erica

    hey congrats~~ i am trying to get back on my flying…. i actually did get the sporty’s DVD years ago, but i don’t know how i get them to endorse for taking the written exam. did u go to actual flying school for the ground school? or you are like me trying to self-study?
    can i just apply for the written test and will they allow me to? i used to fly in canada, however i was with flying school at that time. but they said i need a recommendation letter for taking written test. so i want to do that in US now. if you know anything about it, please let me know. thanks

  17. christon tshabalala

    hi there swayne martin,great job swayne,your article hava really helped me alot,very imformative article ever

  18. Abu Obaid

    Hi, I’m also doing my private pilot training here in LA, and the problem i’m having is the study part, like this is gonna sound like a stupid question but I wanna know how to PROPERLY study for aviation? The problem i’m facing is that I am just basically in my notes copying the information rather than understanding the actual information in addition rewriting my notes.. That is how I easily forget and fail..

    Can you tell me some tips on how you studied??

  19. Kevin Conklin

    I just happened across this website. Nice write up and excellent job on the tests. What I have found is that Sheppard Air is the go-to study guide of professional pilots for all advanced ratings. It does seem to be the best. Also the advice “study hard” is hard to quantify. Sheppard Air has a very specific, and proven, methodology to use when going through the material and questions. It works.


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