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Difficulty of ATPL exams

Old 10th Mar 2015, 15:38
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Difficulty of ATPL exams

Greetings all aviators,

I have a question regarding the difficulty of ATPL ground school exams.
I am currently studying a degree in physics at university, and intend to commence ATPL integrated training after I graduate, and I was wondering how does the content of ground school exams compare to the workload at graduate level?
I would be pleased to hear from anyone that has had experience in either uni/ground school, and how the difficulties compare. Personally, looking at the subjects I think I would be competent at the maths/physics elements, but I am wondering how difficult the other subject areas such as meteorology or IFR comms for example.

Apologies if this question has already been posted, please redirect me if it has!
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Old 10th Mar 2015, 15:41
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They are not difficult per se, just a lot to stuff into your head.

Not much different from somewhere between O and A level (that shows you how old I am!)
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Old 10th Mar 2015, 16:34
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I did an integrated ATPL, and worked from 0600 to 1800 weekdays, for about 18 months on and off - but that included the commute between Oxford and Aylesbury every weekday. Then I did 2-4 hours work or revision at home most weekday evenings. My overall exam average was over 90%, so I might have overdone it a bit.....

As paco says, the exams are not difficult as such, there's just so much of it to cram and then reproduce, and so many different subjects.

By the way, I would save your money, and NOT get into aviation. It is a mug's game these days, honestly. As well as working on zero hours contracts etc and terrible terms and conditions, you will basically have to decide between getting an aviation job (if you're extremely lucky), or buying a house. I don't want to sound cynical, but you have been warned. You are looking at the wrong end of about 120k.

Last edited by Uplinker; 13th Mar 2015 at 09:55.
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Old 10th Mar 2015, 16:44
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Assuming you pass your physics degree then the ATPLs will be easier academic wise. Met and Gen Nav seem to cause the biggest amount of trouble but the comms exams are little short of a joke. Your degree will certainly be of benefit in certain areas. As Phil says lies somewhere between old O & A levels (not GCSE).

Over many years I have taught several hundred graduate level students on ATPL integrated courses. The biggest problems they tend to face is the volume of material (some highly questionable as to its relevance) in the amount of time (7-8 months) and of turning up on time in uniform everyday!.

So it's full on day time ground school and most students will be doing another 3 hours per night and work at weekends, though I would advise taking a least a day off. You'll have to accept the 'system' whatever your thoughts might be about it and just crack on with your goal and put your social life on hold. If you do this then all passed in 8 months then on to the fun bit. Ignore this advise then you'll be still doing ground school in 12 months with failed exams, re-sits & possible re-course or termination (though this is vary rare).

Uplinker has a valid point. Some students do very well (many now captains after 7-8 years) while others struggle or find nothing doing, if you can get accepted on a scheme this would really improve your chances - note NO GUARANTEES in this business despite what the sales people will spin you.

Last edited by RichardH; 10th Mar 2015 at 16:54.
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Old 16th Mar 2015, 13:39
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Thanks for all the replies!

I think the general consensus is that if I get my head down then there shouldn't be too much problem with the exams. If the volume of the content is the main obstacle in this, then I'll bear that in mind when starting groundschool.

Uplinker, I appreciate the warning regarding the training cost, but thats the risk most of us are having to take nowadays. I don't mind being a bit late on the property ladder if it means landing my dream job!

Richard, I suppose the biggest difference from university is turning up in an actual smart uniform! I will be applying for all of the part-sponsored schemes (BA, easyJet, etc.) next year when I graduate, so if I could get accepted onto one of those that would be very ideal!

I appreciate all the advice and useful info
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Old 16th Mar 2015, 15:32
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Hi tommowg,

I am currently half way through my ATPLs (8 down) and would have to say that I haven't had too much difficulty with any one thing in particular. As everyone else says, its the volume that really overwhelms you. If you are used to knuckling down with university work/dissertation then you should be quite capable of managing it though ; )
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Old 17th Mar 2015, 09:05
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Hi tommowg,

I am currently half way through my ATPLs (8 down) and would have to say that I haven't had too much difficulty with any one thing in particular. As everyone else says, its the volume that really overwhelms you. If you are used to knuckling down with university work/dissertation then you should be quite capable of managing it though ; )
Exactly this!

You'll be fine with the content, it's just the volume that can cause a little stress. Nothing is a specialty, it's just all very broad.
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Old 17th Mar 2015, 10:57
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Thumbs up

Hey tommowg,

I finished full time education 8 years prior to starting my ATPLs and I didn't find the material too difficult, broken record time but it is very much the quantity of information you need to absorb here rather than overly difficult concepts.

The thing I found hardest was to get back into the intense study mindset, and as you will find having just finished a degree it shouldn't be too tough for you. My coursemates who had just finished Uni seemed to be able to hit the ground running but it took a valuable 3 weeks or so for my cogs to get up to speed (especially as we started with POF!)

If you're used to studying from 8am to 9pm on weekdays and at least 4 hours per day at a weekend then you should be grand, that was my regime and I managed mid 90's % average. Hope that helps!
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Old 20th Mar 2015, 22:19
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ATPL theory is not too difficult, not as much as some people say it is. If you are doing the Integrated course, it'll be quicker than the Modular. When starting subjects like Human Performance and Air Law, there is not much to them at all...in fact it's nothing but a memory game. But when you hit General Navigation and Meteorology, they can take a few days to settle in to and get focused on what's happening. What ever you do, do not panic. You will ALWAYS get your head around the topics, especially with a degree in Physics!

I'm just coming up to finishing my second of three ATPL Theory modules, all the tough subjects in this one �� But certainly doable! Can't wait to start flying

Last edited by TheSkiingPilot; 3rd May 2015 at 08:38.
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Old 23rd Mar 2015, 20:13
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Are the mocks, for example at FTE Jerez, harder than the actual EASAs? Been getting god results in them but want to be sure they are a good indicator.
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Old 24th Mar 2015, 05:50
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Mock exams are supposed to be an indicator to the school that you are ready for the real ones, so they should be harder.
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Old 24th Mar 2015, 22:28
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Are the mocks, for example at FTE Jerez, harder than the actual EASAs? Been getting god results in them but want to be sure they are a good indicator.
As mentioned above, the mock exams are more difficult than the real exams, since the school wants to make sure that you are really ready before they sign you off for the real exams. I can confirm this since I'm currently in the final stages of preparation for the ATP exams.

Regarding the difficulty level of the exams, from an academic standpoint and as previously mentioned, it's not that difficult and one certainly don't need a degree to get your head around the stuff! What's rather more of a challenge is the sheer volume of all the subjects, it's overwhelming! My advise would be to get an overview and brake it into small pieces, work mainly with the Question Bank, make your notes accordingly (for later review -very important) and at the final stages focus on your weak areas/subject(s).

Another thing which I found quite helpful, the list which shows the distribution of questions per subject for the final exams, your flight school should be able to provide such a list.
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Old 24th Mar 2015, 23:16
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Thanks for the replies guys-really useful. Passed 5 but got 2 retakes week after next. Mocks this week. Fluffed PoF by one mark in the EASA and had a bad day with Gnav (68% ) but this weeks mocks gone SO much better. Managed 95% with PoF yesterday. Gnav tomorrow so fingers crossed. Certainly been easier giving my focus to the two rather than seven!
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Old 25th Mar 2015, 13:49
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i had full time to study for atpl exams, it took me 4 months and 3 sessions. it is possible if you study hard. it is the best feeling after it is done
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Old 27th Mar 2015, 20:02
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Everything else going well but sadly Gnav proving to be a bit of a barsteward at the moment. Annoying because trig was always a strength at school!!
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Old 28th Mar 2015, 04:19
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In what respect? It isn't that hard.
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Old 28th Mar 2015, 13:30
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A long time since I did mine, but what I remember about GNAV, is it was quite tight time-wise, the only exam where I didn't get time to go back and recheck the answers three times over.

BWS,

Did you manage to answer all the questions in the time or did you find you ran out of time on GNAV?

Better to answer 85% of the paper accurately that rush 100% of the paper.
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Old 29th Mar 2015, 17:53
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I think you're right Ports. I think I'm probably rushing to get everything answered and consequently losing accuracy because of that. It's the one subject, for some reason, I'm finding a real slog.
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Old 29th Mar 2015, 18:23
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Again I don't know if they have changed the format since I did mine. But I do recall that four questions could be linked ie: the ground speed from the first question is needed to calculated the time for the following. So one mistake can actually lead to you getting two to 4 more questions wrong.

So I believe you can't really afford to get anything wrong, put it this way if you take 98 % of the exam time to accurately answer 80% of the paper and you then just put guesses for the remaining 20% in the last 2 minutes, in theory by probability you should still get 5% for guessing 20% (1 in 4 correctly guessed).

Small margin for error the 80 % answered accurately then you should still come out with an 80% mark.

That's is my logic. I didn't have to do a single resit. GNAV as said is the only exam which had me working to the last moment.

I also recall that ridiculous accuracy was needed when using the CRP, something you will never use in actual IFR flying. So I always used a 0.5 mm lead engineering pencil with a small tri square to mark and measure the position on the CRP (so better to have one without the wind-arm).
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Old 29th Mar 2015, 19:48
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Just for the record the exams no longer have cascading questions/marks as questions pulled randomly from QB. Also note you can only take material listed as valid for the exam into the examination room.

In GN it is CRITICAL that you can use a CRP5 without having to think too much.
Can't use a CRP5 equals exam failure it's that simple, however, when learning it's more important to get the answer correct FIRST then build up speed with practice.

You also need to think of the profit to effort ratio in answering a question. For example if a question is worth 2 or 3 marks then it is worth the time & effort. However if there is a 1 mark question say on departure and it is going to take you 3 minutes to answer this is not good PE ratio and you would be better coming back to it later (if time allows after the 2/3 markers). Definition questions should be done in seconds.

At the end of the day you are after getting 75% by the easiest means possible.

If you know what you are doing it is not difficult to get 90%+ with time to spare.

Freelance ATPL GNav instructor.
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