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Best advice I ever received: Use the FAA’s own publications. Not only are they better than most and more complete than nearly all, but they’re 100% free AND they’re the same documents from which both your written and practical examinations are derived.
Before you begin looking for ground schools and/or flight schools, I wholeheartedly recommend all aspiring aviators first begin with the Airman Certification Standards. It contains a detailed list of all areas of study and specific Tasks that’s on both your written test as well as what you’ll be expected to know for your in-flight examination, along with detailed References citing the specific documentation you need to study to master them. Here’s the ACS TOC for the Private Pilot – Airplane Airman Certification Standards (FAA-S-ACS-6B) (Change 1):
One last pitch for starting with the FAA’s own study materials before doing anything else: They’re the gold standard against which all others are measured. How else are you going to know what to look for in a ground school or home study package without first reviewing the gold standard? Did you know some of the best full-time, accelerated ground and flight training schools standardize on the FAA Handbooks & Manuals? Perhaps you should, as well.
I began with a Gleim’s Private Pilot training guide in 2005. It’s only real value to me lay in identifying the FAR/AIM I needed to learn and the aerial training and maneuvers I needed to complete for my PPL. While the practice problems were decent, I wound up taking more current online practice exams for free, where I also discovered all the other resources I would need were also free, including a complete list of required reading, readily available from the FAA’s Aviation Handbooks & Manuals page.
Here’s a tip, direct from the FAA itself:
The current Flight Standards Service airman training and testing material and learning statements for all airman certificates and ratings can be obtained from www.faa.gov.Federal Aviation Administration
Armed with that information, I spent three days getting the lay of the land and mapping out my Private Pilots License ground and flying training requirements. Not only did the hard work I put into organizing the resources and requirements save me a ton of time, but it saved me several thousand dollars, as well.
These days, the FAA itself has the following page, which I highly recommend you use as the starting point in your journey:
Consider the following: Would you ever buy a business jet at MSRP if you were given a Gulfstream G650ER for free along with an unlimited aviation spending account covering all operating expenses for life?
Call me crazy, but I’d gratefully accept the offer and make the most of it!
I find the FAA Aviation Handbooks & Manuals to be the best in aviation education. They are the Gulfstream G650ER equivalent of training manuals. Yes, they’re free, in PDF direct from the source and complete with big, beautiful color graphics that look outstanding on any computer monitor or tablet. They’re top-quality documents, well worth you’re taking a minute or two to download one, such as the FAA-H-8083-3B – Airplane Flying Handbook, look it over, and decide for yourself just how outstandingly well-written and comprehensive they really are. In fact, you can obtain all the aviation textbooks you’ll ever need for your aviation career free from the FAA itself, the same organization who tests you and issues you your licenses and ratings based on the standards contained in these documents.
If you prefer hard copies, you can order them via a service like printMe1 or one of the others recommended by the FAA. The nice thing about printMe1 is they offer a variety of bindings, including plastic comb or spiral, three-hole punch and professional black wire binding. Prices for a printed and bound 8083-3B range from less than $30 for B&W with a color first page to more than $80 for full color throughout. The pdf documents remain free for you to read on your computer monitor or tablet.
While they are indeed free to you, the Handbooks & Manuals cost U.S. taxpayers literally millions of our tax dollars. Thousands of outstanding and highly professional aviation-specific technical writers and graphic artists have poured decades of time, money and effort into making these documents the absolute best out there. They did so because it’s in our nation’s best interests to ensure that all pilots flying our skies are indeed the best, most effective and as safe they can be. Our government considers this an investment, not only saving them hundreds of millions of dollars by avoiding accidents, but by getting pilot training right. It’s an investment in the future of all aviators throughout the world.
The FAA encourages students to take charge of their own training. While you can’t be your own flight instructor, you can make a complete list of everything you need to study on the ground, as well as all training tasks you need to accomplish in flight. You’ll find the ACS* to be particularly helpful in this task.
Striking a good balance between independent self-study and what your instructor is teaching you is critical. Instructors do play a vital role with respect to keeping you safe, guiding your studies and flying, and preparing you to successfully pass your check ride.
Your primary source of study, however, should be direct from the FAA Aviation Handbooks and Manuals, beginning with the following:
- FAA-H-8083-27A, Student Pilot Guide
- FAA-H-8083-3, Airplane Flying Handbook
- FAA-H-8083-25, Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge
- Private Pilot ? Airplane, Airman Certification Standards*
The Student Pilot Guide is where you should begin. It answers a lot of frequently asked questions, provides you with lists of additional study materials, including the ones referenced above, where to obtain both the materials and practice questions, discusses what you should expect with the instructor-student relationship, flight schools, and much more.
The next two, 8083-3 and 8083-25, will become your aviation Bibles. The Airplane Flying Handbook provides you with basic knowledge that is essential for pilots including skills essential for piloting airplanes. The Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge contains the broad spectrum of knowledge you will need as you progress throughout your training.
The FAR/AIM is a collection of the aviation regulations under which you will be flying, along with the FAA’s official guide to basic flight information and ATC procedures.
While you can certainly use various training publications and schools if you want to, your FAA flight examiner won’t hold you to their standards. He’ll hold you to the knowledge and information contained in the FAA publications. Ergo, it behooves all pilots to study the FAA materials.
*The ACS is specifically written for student pilots, instructors and examiners. It provides the self-motivated student with a complete list of task elements they’re required to learn throughout their training.
Yes, the ACS is for students, as well, as clearly stated by the FAA itself:
The applicant [for a license or rating] should use this ACS, its references, and the Practical Test Checklist in this Appendix in preparation to take the practical test.Private Pilot – Airplane Airman Certification Standards (FAA-S-ACS-6B) (Change 1). June, 2018 (6/6/2019 Change 1). Federal Aviation Administration. Retrieved from: https://www.faa.gov/training_testing/testing/acs/
So, by all means, use the ACS as a checklist of all the information you’re required to know and upon which you may be tested.
FYI, the ACS replaced the old Practical Test Standards back in 2016.
So! With all that in mind…
How to Study
After a couple of false starts, I found this to be the best way to study:
1. Read through everything once in order to get the lay of the land.
If you’re going through a flight school, use their curricula.
If you’re studying on your own, by far the best FAA-approved laundry list of study materials is found in Appendix 9: References section of FAA-S-ACS-6B – Change 1 – Private Pilot – Airplane – Arman Certification Standards, and best of all, they’re all free and available for download on the FAA’s website.
In fact, even if you are going through a flight school, I recommend you check the ACS just to make sure you have all the required materials upon which you’ll be tested, both during your written as well as during your practical.
Don’t read to memorize. I wouldn’t even takes notes. Just aim to understand what you’re reading. You’ll cover what you need to memorize multiple times in the next step. If you come across an unfamiliar term, look it up in the glossary/index, the AIM or one of the FAA handbooks.
2. Use the References in each section of the Airman Certification Standards (ACS) to look up and write down answers to the Revised Task Elements (see attached graphic for a sample, 1 of the roughly 50 tasks in the ACS).
3. Take multiple practice tests. In fact, a study was done in recent years showing practice tests to be more effective improving and cementing retention than more studying, provided you’d completed sufficient study in the first place.