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SF Blog: FAA Drone Pilot Certification Test, Part 2

Success! I’m proud to report that I passed the FAA Unmanned Aircraft – General Exam on Tuesday, August 29, 2016.  Here’s how it all went down.

Test Preparation

In the weeks leading up to my test date, I spent time studying some of the test topics. I found several websites offering online test-preparation classes; some cost as much or more than the test itself, which has a $150 fee. I decided to stick with test-prep that was free. One of the best free sources for information I found was Sarah Nilsson’s UAG Test Prep. This website and the FAA’s official Remote Pilot Study Guide, are what I used primarily. While large portions of the material are duplicated within these resources, I found each one very beneficial. Links to a few other resources are included at the end of this article.

FAA also publishes a sample test with 40 questions. (The actual test has 60.) The day before my test I went through this sample test and scored well, so I was fairly confident I’d studied the correct material and would score similarly on the real thing.

Since I was scheduled to test on the second day it was offered, I had the opportunity to read comments from people who took the test the first day. One recurring comment was that the test was harder than expected. This was cause for some concern. The areas that early test-takers said were more heavily represented in the real test included:

  • Reading and understanding aeronautical sectional charts
  • Interpreting the symbols contained in the charts
  • Airspace classification 

I had spent a little time on these areas, but not a significant amount, so I decided to spend much of my remaining study time focusing on these areas.

The Test

My test was scheduled for 1:00 p.m. at the Ankeny, Iowa, airport. As recommended in the testing company’s confirmation materials, I arrived about 15 minutes early for registration and final instructions. The same woman who helped finalize my registration also checked my identification, and proctored the test. She was very friendly and welcoming. This seems to be pretty universal across the testing sites: In those comments from test takers I mentioned before, many indicated that the people administering the test were very friendly. 

After she checked my ID and verified my name, address, date of birth, etc., she led me to the testing area. There were two computer terminals in the testing room; someone just finishing a different test was on the other one. The test proctor logged into the my machine, got the test software started, showed me the test supplement booklet, gave me some scratch paper and a couple pencils, wished me good luck and left with the other test taker, who had finished.  The only thing I was allowed to bring into the test room was a basic calculator (which I used just once).

The timer didn’t begin until I clicked the “Start Test” button, so I took a moment to collect my thoughts, take a couple deep breaths, and then clicked. The first few questions were about reading sectional charts; they required finding sample charts in the supplement booklet. I felt immediate and great relief that I’d spent the last few hours focusing on sectional charts and symbols.

Each question has three possible answers, and some of the wording can be a bit tricky, so make sure you read and understand the question and each of the answers before making your selection. You are allowed to go back and change answers before you finish, though.  As I proceeded through the test, I jotted down the numbers of the questions I was unsure of, but I did answer each question in order. 

Some questions took very little time, while others, particularly those requiring the use of the test supplement booklet, took more time. After I finished all the questions, I still had over an hour of my two-hour allotment, so I first went through the dozen or so questions I was unsure of, and changed my answers to some of them. Then, with just under an hour left, I chose to go through the entire test again, this time to make sure I hadn’t made any silly mistakes. Again, I may have changed only a couple of my original answers.

Satisfied at last that I’d done my best, and that nothing else I could do was likely to improve my score, I clicked the “Finish” button. Other test takers had stated that the score was immediately provided, so I expected only a short time anticipation waiting to know whether I’d passed. However, that was not the case. There were a few more clicks for questions like “Are you sure you are done?” and “Once you click, you can’t change your answers.”

“Just tell me my score,” I was thinking. Then I was asked to complete a brief survey about my test experience and the testing facilities. Still unsure of my fate, I gave the test, proctor, and facilities all high marks. Then I was presented with my score. I scored well above the minimum required to pass, but I didn’t get them all right. Many of the questions I had missed were the ones that I had changed after re-reading them. The testing program gives you the opportunity to see the questions you missed, but not the choices.

The proctor returned and printed the test report. We returned to the lobby where I had a couple more forms to sign. She gave me my printout, which she embossed with the testing company’s seal, along with instructions on how to complete the application.

The contents of the test held pretty close to the published test description:

UAS Topics                                 Percentage of Items on Test

I. Regulations                                 15% to 25%

II. Airspace & Requirements        15% to 25%

III. Weather                                     11% to 16%

IV. Loading and Performance        7% to 11%

V. Operations                                  35% to 45%

Total Number of Questions            60

The Final Step

About 48 hours after I passed the exam, I was able to log on to the FAA Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application (IACRA) system to apply for my actual license. After entering my personal information, the FAA then initiated a TSA security check. Once that was completed, I received an email with a link for printing my temporary certificate to use until the permanent document arrives in the mail.

My biggest suggestion to anyone taking the test to become certified is to study the FAA written study guide and take the practice exam, particularly the descriptions and definitions of the different classifications of airspace. Below are other resources that were very helpful.

Helpful Links:

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