Okay, so maybe there’s no getting rid of check ride anxiety altogether. In fact, a certain level of anxiety is helpful. It keeps you alert and ‘on your toes.’ But no matter how many check rides you take, it never seems to get any easier. Got a case of the check ride jitters? Here are a few ways to minimize your anxiety and maximize your chances of performing well on your check ride.
Take a mock check ride.
A successful mock check ride can be a great tool to help ease check ride anxiety. It’s often done with a more experienced instructor or a chief pilot at the flight school, preferably with someone who has been around for a while and has a successful pass rate of his own. You’ll probably find that the instructor evaluating you on your mock check ride will offer some constructive feedback, but in the end will tell you that you’re more than ready.
Get the gouge.
The actual content of check rides can vary wildly based on location and the check pilots themselves are different, as well. Don’t go in blind, without knowing anything about the examiner! Talk to other students and instructors in the local area before choosing an examiner, and you’ll often find that they charge different rates, have different philosophies and focus on different areas of the PTS. Asking students who have recently completed a check ride for tips is helpful, but always be prepared for anything!
Read through the PTS.
We can often ease anxiety by knowing what to expect, and failing to read through the FAA Practical Test Standards is a common mistake among students. The PTS provides information on how the check ride will be conducted, the examiner’s responsibilities, and the exact standards that you’ll be held to. If you know exactly what to expect, many of your fears may be alleviated.
Follow a checklist for what to bring to your check ride.
Your stress level will increase if you leave for your check ride without something important like, say, your logbook. Or your photo ID. Make a checklist and organize your materials beforehand, and then double-check and triple-check to make sure you have all of the required documents and materials.
Remind yourself that the worst that can happen isn’t really that bad.
So what if you fail? You’ll have to go up with an instructor and obtain a bit more instruction on the maneuver or maneuvers that you didn’t perform to standards during your check ride. Then, you’ll take a re-test and you’ll pass. I once heard an instructor say that your private pilot license just says "Private Pilot" and not "Private-Pilot-Who-Failed-His-First-Check-Ride."
Remind yourself that the examiner actually wants you to do well.
He really does. Most examiners know that by the time you’ve been endorsed by your instructor for a check ride, you’ve put in the hard work. You’ve spent at least 40 hours, maybe 140 hours, practicing maneuvers, and many of those hours were by yourself. The examiner knows that you’re perfectly capable of flying safely. By the time you get to your check ride, it’s just another flight to the practice area.
Remind yourself that your instructor wouldn’t endorse you if you weren’t ready.
If you fail, it’s not just you that fails - it’s your instructor, too. Your flight instructor won’t send you for a check ride if you aren’t ready. It’s that simple.
Your examiner isn’t looking for perfection, just consistency and a safe outcome. Every examiner will have safety in mind. Can you complete the flight safely? By the time you are signed off to take a check ride, you’ve soloed at least 10 hours - probably more - and you’ve demonstrated that you can safely fly to another airport at least 50 miles away and back safely. While on your check ride, always err on the side of safety, and you’ll be just fine.
Prepare, prepare, prepare…
Study, chair fly and spend some time with your instructor going over anything that you don’t clearly understand.
Then prepare some more.
The more prepared you are, the less anxious you’ll be.
Then stop preparing and get some sleep.
Fatigue causes missteps and mistakes. A good night’s sleep is necessary to ensure that you’re at the top of your game. Showing up for a check ride after only a few hours of sleep is always a bad idea.
Bring a lunch.
On the day of your check ride, be sure to eat a healthy breakfast and bring a lunch or at least a few snacks. Things often take longer than you think, whether it’s last-minute calculations on your flight plan or waiting for the maintenance guy to show up to hand over the maintenance logs, you might find that the day moves along slower than you anticipated. And the last thing you want to do is get in the airplane with an empty stomach, depleted of energy after hours of running around on the ground.
It’s normal and healthy to be a bit nervous - it keeps us on top of things. But there’s something to be said for positive thinking, and for knowing that failure is often just part of the process. After you’ve spent countless hours preparing for your check ride, the only thing left to do is to think positively and hope for the best!