Updated: Jul 19, 2021
The FAA knowledge test is a challenge, but let’s face it, some questions are just plain evil. Let’s dissect some of the toughest questions you’re likely to see to give your scores a boost!
After having graded countless practice exams both in ground school and online, I’ve come to realize that there are a handful of questions that give all of us trouble. I knew what these questions were as a student pilot too, and found myself so confused by them that I would just “surrender” that wrong answer on my test. Not surprisingly, my scores took a hit as a result.
What if we took a deep dive on those questions that stand out as the most challenging? If you went into your test not with the mindset I had which was that I was just going to get certain questions wrong, but instead knowing that you had a shot at every question on the test. What would that do to your score? It could make the difference between pass and fail, or giving you the boost you want so you can go into your checkride with a solid score under your arm.
Here's my short list of the toughest questions on the FAA exam, with some in-depth explanations of how to nail them. Think you're ready for the real thing? Take a timed, 60-question practice test!
The radius of the procedural outer area of Class C airspace is normally
· 10 NM
· 20 NM
· 30 NM
It looks deceptively easy, but this one is almost a trick question. You may know that Class C is divided into an inner, core area of 5 NM and an outer shelf area of 10 NM. These are depicted as two magenta circles around the Class C airport Since 10 NM is an answer choice, it seems natural to choose that one.
However, the procedural area, is not drawn on the chart but is noted in a box near Class C airspace. The procedure for entering Class C airspace typically is to contact the approach controller within, so the procedural area is 20 NM around the airport.
The VOR receiver has the indications shown. What radial is the aircraft crossing?
Quick review of VOR basics: VOR stations send radio signals out in all directions. Aircraft receivers determine from the signal what the bearing is to the station. The VOR receiver in the cockpit shows the aircraft position relative to a “radial” that can be selected by the pilot.
Radials are straight lines that radiate out from the station in all 360 degrees. The radial that radiates out from the station toward due magnetic north is the 360 radial, and so forth.
The pilot can select a radial by turning a knob (omni bearing selector or OBS) and moving the card to the desired radial. The needle (course deviation indicator) will indicate aircraft position relative to the station, and the TO/FROM indicator will show whether flying the selected radial heading will take the aircraft closer to or further from the station.
In this question, the needle is centered and the TO/FROM flag shows TO. This means that from where the aircraft is, a heading of 210° would take it directly to the station.
It’s tempting to pick 210° as the answer here because that’s the heading that takes the aircraft to the station. The aircraft is on the radial shown on the dashed line. Remember, radials “radiate” out from the station. This line is radiating out from the station at 030°, so the aircraft is on the 030 radial.
Note that if the VOR receiver showed the same indication, but the FROM flag was displayed instead of the TO flag, the aircraft would be on the 210 radial.
Refer to the Figure. Determine the approximate ground roll distance required for takeoff.
OAT = 38°C
Pressure Altitude = 2,000 feet
Takeoff Weight = 2,750 lb
Headwind Component = Calm
· 1,150 feet
· 1,300 feet
· 1,800 feet
This one is probably everyone’s worst nightmare. The performance chart in the figures requires you to make precise measurements along different lines to come up with the takeoff distance. It’s best to take this step by step:
1) Start at 38°C and draw a vertical line straight up until it intersects the 2,000 foot pressure altitude curve.
2) Draw a horizontal line to move to the first reference line.
3) Draw a line that parallels the closest guideline, until it reaches 2,750 lbs.
4) Draw a horizontal line to move to the second reference line.
5) Since the wind is calm and we’re only looking for ground roll and not distance to clear an obstacle, move the line horizontally to the right margin of the chart, and read the distance figure off the side, 1,150 feet. If we were looking for wind component and obstacle clearance, we would move the line parallel to the closest guidelines like with weight, and move the line horizontally from there.
When the course deviation indicator (CDI) needle is centered using a VOR test signal (VOT), the omnibearing selector (OBS) and the TO/FROM indicator should read
· 180° FROM, only if the pilot is due north of the VOT.
· 0° TO or 180° FROM, regardless of the pilot`s position from the VOT
· 0° FROM or 180° TO, regardless of the pilot`s position from the VOT
There are a number of ways to test the accuracy of your VOR receiver. One way is to use a VOR test signal. Where these signals are and what frequency to receive them on is published in the Chart Supplement like the one below for Portland, Maine (111.0 is the frequency).
VOT signals broadcast out the 360 radial omnidirectionally, so no matter where you are in relation to the signal, your receiver will indicate that you are on the 360 radial. What this looks like is if the OBS is set to 0° or due North, the needle will be centered with a FROM indication (radials “radiate” from the station). Alternatively, if 180° is the OBS setting, the needle will center with a TO indication.
During operations outside controlled airspace at altitudes of more than 1,200 feet AGL, but less than 10,000 feet MSL, the minimum flight visibility for day VFR flight is
· 1 mile
· 3 miles
· 5 miles
This, like all the other VFR weather minimum questions, is tough because you have to know that above 1200 AGL in Class G, the visibility requirement is 1 mile in day and 3 miles at night. Class G is uncontrolled airspace, as it’s called in the question. What this means is that IFR aircraft have no requirement to be in contact with air traffic control, so VFR aircraft can observe relaxed weather minimums, not having to be separated from IFR planes which may be inside the clouds.
However, this doesn’t allow aircraft to fly VFR in Class G in any conditions. They still need to maintain certain visibility an cloud clearance, and those requirements change depending on the altitude flown and the time of day.
The question asks about minimums above 1,200 AGL. You won’t find too much Class G airspace above 1,200 AGL these days, most of the time Class G goes from the surface up to either 700 or 1,200 AGL, but in rare cases where G can go up to 14,500 MSL, visibility minimums are 1 statute mile in the daytime.
This is no different than the visibility requirements for Class G below 1,200 AGL. The visibility requirements are relaxed from the typical 3SM in much of controlled airspace, so it’s helpful to remember that minimums will typically decrease going from Class E to Class G.
What do you think? What are your hardest Private Pilot Exam questions?
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