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Rote Knowledge vs Correlative Evaluation…Applying What You Know!

Posted 3 years 194 days ago ago by Admin

After many years of administering FAA Instrument Rating examinations, a consistent trend remains the cause of Unsatisfactory check rides. Having seen this trend develop, we as Pilot Examiners will mentor and train flight instructors to ensure their students not only know the material, but more importantly know how to apply the material in given situations.


A few weeks ago, I had an applicant fall short of the required knowledge regarding IFR Primary and Alternate Airport planning. The regulatory basis for this discussion is found within 14 CFR 91.167 and 91.169.

During the oral phase of the exam, the applicant is provided a scenario that will include weather related to IFR flight planning. This weather scenario is designed so that most of the discussion points related to the Instrument Rating exam are crafted from the scenario. It is important to verify that an applicant knows the regulation and how to apply those regulations which supports aeronautical decision making (ADM).

One scenario has quite a high rate of unsatisfactory performance. In the scenario, I provide a Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF) to the applicant. Additionally, I will provide them with approach minima; that which would be found at the bottom portion of a Standard Instrument Approach Plate.

Included within the scenario are two (2) questions: 1) Does the forecast weather require an IFR Alternate? 2) Does the forecast weather meet IFR Alternate Airport requirements? 

The applicant provided an incorrect answer to the scenario. The correct answer based on the conditions I provided was that an IFR Alternate was required, and the weather provided did meet IFR Alternate Airport minima. However, the applicant stated that the weather did not meet either the IFR Primary or Alternate Airport minima. When reviewing the preflight planning, the reason for the applicant’s incorrect answer was apparent.

The Standard Instrument Approach Minima presents both Mean Sea Level (MSL) and Above Ground Level (AGL) values. It is imperative that the same values, MSL or AGL, are utilized when determining ceiling comparisons. In our scenario, the applicant was using the MSL minima from the approach plate in comparison to the AGL ceilings presented on the TAF. This will not work! 

Most applicants can recall Rote knowledge and recite the regulation directly. However, when presented with the challenge of applying the regulation to a specific scenario, they lack the ability to correlate the regulation to the scenario.

This is an instructional issue. As instructors, we must ensure that our students have the knowledge and the experience to make decisions to safely conduct the flight. In the situation I have described, the instructor did not require the student to practically engage the decision-making process on this topic. Having a student fail a check ride for subject matter you failed to teach is embarrassing, however the nugget of knowledge the student took away is priceless!

Remember the Examiners motto: If you test it, they will train it! 

About Randy: 
Randy Rowles has been a FAA pilot examiner for 20 years for all helicopter certificates and ratings. He holds a FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor Certificate, NAFI Master Flight Instructor designation, and was the 2013 recipient of the HAI Flight Instructor of the Year Award. Rowles is the owner/president of Helicopter Institute.

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