Saturday, August 01, 2009

Passed my Flight Instructor written test

Today I took the last of the written tests I need, the Flight Instructor - Glider. It's 100 multiple-choice questions. They give you 2.5 hours, and I think I used about an hour and a quarter. (One of my test-taking strategies is to not be in a rush to finish - go back and recheck every question.) I knew I would pass - you only need a 65% score to pass, and my practice test scores were in the 87-91% range. I got 85%, lower than I expected. I got 95% on my Commercial, and 100% on my Fundamentals of Instructing.

You might ask, "Why do you care about your score, as long as you passed?" Well, you have to spend time with an instructor to cover any areas of knowledge that you missed. So I'd prefer to self-study and get a high score, and not have to use instructor time for reviewing it afterward.

They don't tell you what questions you missed, they just give you "learning statement codes" that indicate the general topic area. By going back to the practice test software, you can pretty much figure out which ones you missed.

Of the 15 I missed:
  • 6 were totally irrelevant to glider flight.
  • 4 were about documents and regulations, the kind of things I can look up when needed
  • 3 were real misses on things I should know (mostly weather)
  • 1 I don't know why I missed - maybe hit the wrong letter, but my double-check should have caught that.
  • 1 I disagree with their answer and will have to do some research
Only two misses were directly related to soaring or gliders.

There are many questions that I think are totally irrelevant to the FI-Glider test, in that they relate only to powered flight. Things like VOR and ADF navigation (which gliders don't have), flight into Class B airspace (which we don't do nor do we have avionics for), and magnetic compass and wind correction angles (which glider pilots rarely use because of our circling flight and meandering paths). I guess the reason they are on the FI-Glider test is that an instructor could get an initial certificate for gliders and then later go on to get a power rating and instruct in that realm, so they want you to know that stuff. But as I understand it, you have to take another set of tests for the power rating, so why not cover the power-only stuff in that later learning track? Maybe someone can explain the logic to me someday. Meanwhile, I just figure I'm going to miss a certain percentage of those questions, and I just make sure I'm really solid on the stuff that does apply.

I've figured out why I can't learn some of the irrelevant stuff and have it "stick". Maybe others can relate to this as well. It's that some of these ideas are what I call initially arbitrary. There's nothing for me to "hook into" to resolve the arbitrary questions, so I remain uncertain of the correct answer regardless of how many times I study it. Until I have some direct experience with the topic, there's no way to be sure which of the possible arbitrary answers is correct. Let me give you an example:

A VOR receiver is used for radio-based navigation. It's used in power planes, but not in gliders, so I've never seen one. The dial shows you a left or right indication with a needle, depending on... what someone arbitrarily decided to show. Way back when, the designers could have decided that a left indication means "the VOR transmitter is off to the left". Or it could mean "the airplane is to the left of the VOR transmitter". Either one would be useful, but the way you use it would be totally opposite. And I'm sure they chose one or the other and have stuck with it forever. That's why I call it initially arbitrary. And I'm sure that after one or two flights, with the feedback that comes from seeing the effect of correct and incorrect usage, it'd make sense, it'd be locked in my mind and would no longer be arbitrary. But until I see a VOR and how it works, it's all theoretical to me... and arbitrary, because either indication could be equally valid, and so it's hard to remember with certainty.

That's the same reason I don't even try to memorize seldom-used phone numbers. They're arbitrary, and hard to remember without frequent use. 532-6398 is just as valid as 523-3689... so how can I be sure?

Similarly, "west variation" and "east variation" for magnetic compasses are arbitrary designations. Does variation mean "which way magnetic north is from true north" or the other way around? Either would be a valid basis for a system of navigation. Get off on the wrong foot, and all your calculations will be reversed, yet self-consistent. So until I actually use a magnetic compass to get somewhere, it's not going to stick.

So, I'm happy with an 85% score. If the test didn't include lots of questions about power flight, I'd be a lot happier.

All of the questions were about aerodynamics, navigation, weather, regulations, procedures, and documentation, just more detailed than on the Private and Commercial tests. None of the questions were about instructing.

1 comment:

smiss said...

Congratulations Roger, you're on the final leg. I'm still enjoying your blog. I'm back in the air after a 14-month work and new baby-enforced layoff. Rusty as hell, but a weekend of circuits got the rust off. Keep on posting and good luck keeping the field open.