"Important news regarding changes to FAA written tests â€“ especially the Fundamentals of Instruction (FOI), and, to a lesser degree, the Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) and Flight Engineer (FE) tests."
Beginning in approximately winter of 2010-2011, the FAA has begun administering certain written (knowledge) tests (via CATS™ and LaserGrade™ centers) with content that differs
somewhat considerably from FAA written test handbooks, common practice, and other official or unofficial guidance material. The result have been an unusually high number of failures,
especially in the Fundamentals of Instruction (FOI) exam.
These changes have been done by the FAA without guidance to pilot organizations such as AOPA and NAFI, without input to training providers such as ourselves and our competitors, and even without relevant changes to
FAA guidebooks and handbooks. In short, the changes were implemented like "a bolt of lightning out of the clear blue sky." We have been fortunate that as far as we can determine
none of our users as of this writing have reported actually failing a test as a result of these changes, we have had a few reports of users scoring somewhat less than they had done on practice exams as a result of these changes.
We are not alone in this situation. To quote AOPA:
AOPA is not opposed to changes in the knowledge test bank; however, those changes must be coordinated with those providing training for applicants, said AOPA and the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI) in a March 3 letter to the FAA. "Unannounced changes in evaluation standards accomplish nothing for learning; it only results in increased student failures, lost time, travel expense and an extra [fees] paid by the students to retake the exam."
We at Dauntless join AOPA and our competitors / fellow training providers in the following views on this matter:
We fully agree with the FAA that knowledge test content should be updated periodically to reflect changes in technology, regulation, doctrine, and other factors.
However, simply dumping completely new content into test banks without making this information known to test prep and training providers is counterproductive. Students can only learn what they are directed to study and test prep providers from individual CFIs on up can only teach what they have been directed to teach. It is unfair to students and generally wrongheaded to have FAA publications state that the tests will cover topics A, B, C, and D and then have the test be on A, B, Y and Z. All this will do is generate more failures without increasing either aviation safety or aviation knowledge one iota.
AOPA (together with NAFI) has come out strongly on the issue:
AOPA and NAFI request that the test bank be reverted back to the questions in place prior to the recent update, that students who failed the exam since the changeover be allowed to retest and have the initial failure expunged from their record. We believe that prior to any further changes to knowledge test banks, the FAA should coordinate with industry. Changes in focus areas and methods of instruction need time to be implemented before significant changes to the evaluation takes place.
We fully support AOPA and NAFI in this position. We look forward to new and updated questions and content, but not in the way that the FAA has done it thus far!
What does this mean for you as a test taker and potential and/or current user of our test prep products?
- First of all, DON'T PANIC. As of this writing, most exams are either completely or mostly unaffected. Even the changes to the ATP and FE tests have been somewhat minor. Only changes to the FOI in particular have been somewhat more pronounced. Chances are very high that if you are taking an FAA knowledge test and study and really learn the material as we have it presented, you will do exceptionally well as have tens of thousands of our users before you. The main determinant in your score and learning effectiveness is still BY FAR the amount of time you spend studying and learning the material as we have it presented – and not worrying about marginal FAA changes!
- Second, be aware that our users are in essentially the BEST possible position to continue to learn the material and score very highly on their tests. Why?
- We have a full-time staff, led by an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner and longtime A&P instructor, who are working to keep atop this issue.
- Unlike our competitors and their "static" DVDs / Books, and the like, our software and app-based products have built-in FREE lifetime updates. This means that the moment that we learn about changes we can pass them along to our users who can retrieve them via straightforward ‘update’ mechanisms in the software. We have already added dozens and dozens of questions since the new year alone while our competitors have been unable to do so effectively.
- Websites that provide "free" FAA test prep have always been lousy ways to study (the most popular one hasn’t appreciably updated its content since 2004 and is effectively obsolete – many, many users come to us after having studied from only such an amateur, advertising-driven web effort and then failed their test and realized that they need to do it right), but given the recent changes, such sites already poor usefulness will get even worse.
- IMPORTANT! We take pride in having the BEST EXPLANATIONS AND ASSOCIATED LEARNING CONTENT of any test prep provider, PERIOD. Our FAA test prep apps and software are intended to be used by reading and understanding the detailed, often illustrated explanations that we provide to FAA questions. This is consistent with the thoughts of a recent New YorkTimes article on "learning by (simulated) testing", which has been proven to be pedagogically ("learningwise") much more effective in terms of both time effectiveness and long-term retention than "passive" learning of classroom, book, or DVD learning. However, the recent changes suggest that now, more than ever, candidate users should redouble their efforts to take advantage of our explanations to really learn the material and not just the questions themselves (we have always discouraged learning just the questions).
- Third, we’d like to know about any new test material that test takers may see on their actual exams. We believe that it is very possible (and, for the sake of promoting safe and enjoyable aviation, necessary) for test takers to let us know of this without violating any test center regulations. Please let our editorial team know, WITH AS MUCH DETAIL AS YOU ARE COMFORTABLE WITH SHARING, about new questions, subject matter, and so forth that you might have seen. Please do this via our online helpdesk. You can do this anonymously if you wish, though if you choose not to do this anonymously, we can express our thanks to particularly helpful givers of feedback with a small "bounty reward" of thanks.
We hope this clarifies the situation. It isn't ideal, but there's no need to panic. In case we haven’t made it clear, this is not a case where if you simply spend more (from a competitor) you will get more. In fact, one of our very expensive competitors recently contacted us by email insinuating that we have a secret pipeline to the FAA because we had managed to get certain new questions that they didn’t know about! We don’t, but we continue to work hard on this issue and we hope to do this In conjunction with the FAA and our fellow aviation learning providers (while continuing to provide a better product at lesser cost than any of them!).
Thank you for reading, thank you for your understanding, and good luck in your aviation goals!
The FAA Knowledge Test Team