Students: as candidates, we are a nervous lot on the day we take our oral and practical pilot exam. This day, for #avgeeks, is like going before Saint Peter to learn where we will spend eternity. We are not sure if our training efforts were sufficient to pass our rating. But you are not the one that should be nervous. Maybe it should be the other way around. We are waiting all day to hear the ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ answer from our designated pilot examiner. On exam day pilot candidates usually develop a case of anxiety and fear of the DPE (Designated Pilot Examiner) as we seek his almighty approval. That pass/fail response from the examiner is akin to the heaven/hell response from St. Pete. We, as ‘examinees’ fail to look at the other side of the coin. Is the DPE seeking our almighty approval? … Wouldn’t that change your attitude about the checkride? You bet it would.
But why should the DPE develop anxiety and fear of the student, or Pilot Candidate? BECAUSE YOU ARE THE CUSTOMER!! Designated Pilot Examiners are hired test proctors. Pilot candidates choose their intended DPE and make the phone calls to schedule an appointment. Candidates are the ones who bring a check or a lot of cash for the examiner. Candidates are the ones who HIRE a designated examiner to administer the applicable pilot’s exam. There should be an element of customer service considered in this transaction, since you are the customer. And if everything goes right, there will be future recommendations - - future business for the DPE.
I have heard and experienced many horror stories of examiners inflating their fees and churning and burning out pilot candidates. It’s heart breaking from a CFI’s perspective when you prepare a candidate for a test; you really try to encourage the student to enjoy the experience. You want the student to remember the day they got their new rating for the rest of their life! But I remember one particular case when customer service provided by the examiner was so bad the student later told me (even after he passed the exam) “You’re right, I will remember this day for the rest of my life. It was terrible!” Okay, so that’s not the way we want the day to be remembered.
Pilot examining has become a lucrative business for some examiners. I am not saying examiners should not be paid, but it has been my experience that, when it comes to DPEs, you don’t necessarily get what you pay for. Top dollar does not always reflect a great exam. Sometimes, it seems as though the opposite results are obtained. So, how do we fix this?
Well for starters, we can be incredibly prepared. There are plenty of examiners who will tell you in advance what their tests are like. The truth of the matter, though, no examiner should have to expose their test to sell you on their examination skills. Everything you’ll be tested on is in the PTS (Practical Test Standards). If you have a good CFI putting every point the PTS requires into context for you, you would not have to worry about a particular examiner’s test method because you’ll be able to pass the test! At the end of the day, you don’t want to be able to pass just one examiners test. You want to know, deep down in the pit of your stomach, that you would pass any examiner’s test. Bring it on!
Second, you can interview your examiner. Remember, for your exam you are the paying customer and want to remember the day you passed your exam for the rest of your life! And you want to walk away from that exam knowing you will be proud - - not only of the fine job you did, but also proud of the job the examiner did. So, choose an examiner you think is good at knowing what pilots should and should not do; good with people; and, well-respected in the pilot community. Ask yourself this question when talking with your examiner “Do I want this examiner to be the person who gives me my reason to celebrate?!” Think about it. Passing a checkride is a special moment you want it to be a happy moment. You might even ask the examiner how he or she will help enhance your celebration and special day. This is a tricky question to answer, make sure you think about how you want it to go! Don’t just go with the flow, remember you are the customer! As the customer, you want your service provider to know what you expect the experience to include.
Don’t expect the DPE to walk away after the exam. A debrief for you AND the instructor is incredibly important. Ask your examiner how they will engage your CFI. Your CFI will be better for his or her next student, and that’s a good thing! Because flight training can always be better, more efficient, and higher quality. The precious moments right after the pilot exam is where maximum learning can happen for both the new pilot and their CFI. Remember how you hired an expert to get his or her opinion about how well you know the FAA regulations, flight operations, and how to handle your airplane? This debrief after the exam is when you get all those answers, and more.
During the exam, DPE’s cannot volunteer information to help a candidate through the test. The FAA is very strict in assuring the DPE is not acting as a flight instructor, and is truly testing what the candidate already knows. But the debrief after the exam is exactly the time when the examiner can interject the opinion and offer advice. Often, the information you will hear in the debrief will involve critical comments about where you could have done better in the exam and what the examiner really hoped to see. Those comments are not meant to be hurtful. If you really listen to the debrief, you can learn a lot. Who doesn’t like learning?
Think about how your checkride dynamic would change when you engage your training experience and your examiner with these simple little shifts in mentality. Days before the checkride, when you call your selected DPE to ask about scheduling the exam, you will set a first impression about you for your examiner. Now think about it. How awesome would it be if, instead of you trying to impress your DPE, your DPE was trying to impress you!?
Comment below about your favorite examiner stories! If you have an examiner horror-story we want to hear that too!