ATPL Theory & Ground School
14 theory subjects... however you train to become a commercial pilot, and whether you are an ATPL or MPL cadet; or Integrated or Modular cadet, they're unavoidable. Studying for these subjects will consume your life for months and months, but there is truly no greater feeling than opening the email that says you have passed.
Here you will find all the information you need about the EASA ATPL theory subjects, exams and some accounts of ground school from past cadets.
What do I study?
The theory exams for ATPL are split into 14 subjects, each requiring a 75% or greater pass in an exam to complete. They are:
Principles of Flight
Aircraft General Knowledge (AGK) - Airframes/Engines/Electrics
Radio Navigation & Performance Based Navigation (PBN)
Air Law & ATC
Flight Planning & Monitoring
Mass & Balance
Human Performance & Limitations
How am I assessed?
EASA exams are now all completed online in one of the approved test centres. The questions have recently been changed from an all multiple choice exam, to a system called Quadrant. The modernized system has 4 different formats for answers, and will prompt you as to how to answer each question:
Multiple Choice - Most questions will remain as a multiple choice option. You must simply select A,B,C or D to submit your answer.
Box answer - These questions will present an empty box underneath the question, where you will be expected to type a numbered answer to an appropriate degree of accuracy. For example, it may ask you to calculate the ISA deviation to the nearest whole number, or ask for an altutude to the nearest 1000ft.
Multi Select - Here you will be presented with a list of answers, from which there are multiple correct answers. It will, for example, ask you to select 3 or 7 correct symptoms of hypoxia. You will only gain the mark for correctly selecting all of the right answers.
Drop Down - Here, a paragraph will appear with drop down boxes in place of missing words. You will be asked to select the correct word to complete the correct statement.
What is it like studying the theory?
...Hard! Whether you have a degree in mechanical engineering or are a complete novice to aviation, there is nothing easy about ATPL theory subjects. Although people liken the difficulty of the subjects to GCSE/A Level, the hardest part of the syllabus is the shear quantity of information that needs to be processed and memorized. Whether you are studying as a modular cadet, balancing a job and your study; or you are an integrated cadet and are sitting up to 6 of these subjects at once - each and every cadet will find the theory study challenging in one way or another.
What advise would you give to anyone about to embark on ATPL theory?
An article by Charlie Barclay
Break the ice
It's your first day, you're in a room full of strangers and this marks your first day of that winding road in training to become a Commercial Pilot. The aviation field prides itself on encompassing teamwork and harmonising friendships. Moving around the room, take the time in getting to know the guys & girls around you, after all, you're in it together and frankly, you're going to need each other from the outset and throughout. Whether it may be that you're stuck on a question in class, unable to comprehend why rain falls so much in the summer or simply something on a more personal level.
Making and forming friendships from the beginning will make it a damn sight easier in getting to that end goal. Take advantage of your colleague's stronger areas, their highs may be your pitfalls. The time will come when it will be your turn to eradicate a weakness they may have. Bounce off of one another because as you will come to know; a problem shared is a problem halved.
Utilise the Resources
Making use of what is around you is critical in order to help you succeed through not only Ground School, but onwards once flying for an airline. You are given a number of different resources in order to make learning through Ground School that much easier. Take vital use of the instructors around you. They are subject experts, a number being former pilots themselves. They will be able to provide you with the vital information needed to get you through the exams, not least to mention where it plays a part in your role as a pilot.
As I mentioned earlier, use at your will the course mates around you and for that matter, speak to cadets from other courses and see if they can offer you any advice or a different perspective on tackling a problem.
Can I have a break?
Being scheduled in for lessons Monday to Friday between the hours of 8:30am through till 16:30pm is certainly a long day and it is quite staggering the rate at which the content is taught. Getting towards the end of the week, you're nearing the weekend and can finally see the sight of some well-deserved rest. Rightly so, taking time away from the bombardment of learning 14 ATPL subjects is also of utmost importance. Your mind needs that time to refresh and recharge.
Continual bouts of revision will take its toll and sometimes it is best to take a step back and come back after having some time away. A walk, a run, visit to the shops, even a change of where you're revising can all go a long way in revitalising your mental mood. Breaking your revision into manageable chunks makes it significantly easier to prioritise your weaker areas. Trying to stick to a routine I have found makes it easier for me to focus on what I am studying, rather than worrying about what I need to cover next.
What resources do I need to complete ATPL theory? Where is the best place to purchase the resources I need?
As with anything in aviation, the resources you will need for your ATPL theory are not cheap. If you are training with a flight school, some of these will be provided to you; however many cadets will need to source and purchase their own equipment. Thankfully, a lot of the resources you invest in now will prove useful when it comes to flying and ultimately your career. Here is a list of the essentials for your EASA theory study:
CRP-5 Flight Computer
Jeppesen Student Pilot's Route Manual
Scale 1:500,000 and 1:1,000,000 Ruler
360 Degree protractor
ATPL theory Study Books (click to see what products are available)
How can I prepare for the EASA exams?
Once you have learnt and mastered the content of the EASA subjects, you will need to spend some time preparing for the exams. Question banks and exam feedback can be quite a controversial topic among cadets and instructors, and so everything here is a personal view and how I got through my ATPL theory.
It is important to remember that each and every exam is generated randomly from a EASA central question bank of 10,000+ questions. Online companies have always tried to gain feedback from cadets who have just sat exams in order to replicate questions in order to build up an online question bank which matches the EASA central bank. Historically, these online question banks have been very successful in predicting the questions in these exams; and such cadets have been able to pass exams purely by "banking" (or repeatedly completing the online banks and learning the answers to the questions, rather than learning the content of the subjects).
EASA started to crack down on this - as it is in nobodys interest to create a generation of pilots with no technical knowledge, that can merely answer ABCD to a question. They released thousands of new questions into the central bank and changed existing questions so that passing was only possible if you knew the content of the subjects.
That being said, question banks are still a valuable revision resource when studying for your exams. Questions in the banks are still fairly accurate to the EASA questions, and they allow you to prepare for the strange questions that EASA can ask. If I gave one piece of advise to anyone, it would be to learn the content, not the answers... as tempting as it may be. If you get a question wrong online, go back to your books and re-learn the topic. Ultimately, if you are in the cockpit of an A320 and an emergency situation arises, this knowledge could come into play and save the lives of hundreds of people.
Another very useful resource is the feedback from people who have sat exams in the preceding weeks and months. Although questions are randomized, often there is overlap of questions appearing in multiple peoples exams within similar time periods. Again with these questions, they are very useful but you have to remember that they are written from memory after exams. Quite often, the question, answers or given correct answer can be wrong and so it's always worth checking the given "correct" answer before committing it to memory.
To conclude, my advice would be to learn the content in as much depth as possible. Once you are satisfied that you have done this, then go through questions on the bank as a test to yourself that you know the topics. Anything that you answer incorrectly, go back and relearn the topic. A week or so before your EASA exam, look at the feedback questions and answer the recently added questions on the question banks.