checkmark and question markslast updated: 1/22/19

Whether you’re pursuing a sport, recreational, or private pilot certificate, you’ll need to pass three tests: the pre-solo written test, FAA knowledge test, and FAA practical test.

1.) Pre-Solo Written Test

  • Required before your first solo flight
  • May be created by your flight school, instructor, a commercial vendor, or anyone else as long as it meets FAA requirements
  • Questions may be in any format (multiple-choice, fill-in-the blank, essay, etc.)
  • May be any number of questions
  • May be open- or closed-book
  • Must be corrected to 100%
  • Must include at least the following topics:
    • Applicable regulations from parts 61 and 91
    • Airspace rules and procedures for the airport where the solo flight will be performed
    • Flight characteristics and operational limitations for the make and model of aircraft to be flown

2.) FAA Knowledge Test

  • Often called “the written” because it used to be a written test (not anymore, it’s computerized!)
  • Questions are pulled from a large FAA database
  • Test is taken on a computer with supplementary information available on paper
  • Questions are multiple-choice
  • Minimum passing score: 70%
  • Instructor’s endorsement is required to take the test
  • As of 2019, PSI/CATS is the only vendor offering FAA approved testing
  • Cost: Approximately $150 (check for AOPA or EAA member discounts)
  • Number of questions and time limit depend on pilot certificate sought:
    • Sport: 40 questions, 2 hours
    • Recreational: 50 questions, 2 hours
    • Private: 60 questions, 2 hours 30 minutes

3.) FAA Practical Test

  • Often called a “checkride”
  • An instructor’s endorsement is required to take the test
  • Administered by an FAA inspector, designated pilot examiner (DPE), or sport pilot examiner
  • The applicant furnishes the airplane
  • Content and conduct of the test is strictly governed by the applicable FAA Airman Certification Standards (ACS) or Practical Test Standards (PTS)
  • Test is pass/fail (fail one item = fail the test)
  • Cost: free if administered by an FAA inspector, otherwise normally a fee applies (set by the examiner)
  • Divided into two parts:
    • The oral portion (ground) tests the applicant’s knowledge
    • The flight portion continues to test the applicant’s knowledge and also evaluates flying skills
  • If the practical test is failed, the applicant can re-test after receiving further training and another endorsement from an instructor
  • The practical test may be discontinued due to reasons such as weather, illness, or maintenance and finished at a later time
  • If the practical test is passed, the new pilot receives a temporary pilot certificate right away, with the permanent certificate arriving by mail later

Read More on the Web:

Recreational and Private Pilot Knowledge Test Guide (PDF)

Sport Pilot Knowledge Test Guide (PDF)

Airman Knowledge Testing Organization Designation Authorization Holders (PDF) – A list of FAA-approved test centers

Pilot Practical Test Standards – FAA site with the sport pilot and recreational pilot PTS documents

Airman Certification Standards – FAA site with the private pilot ACS documents

FAA Designee Locator – Search the FAA database to find an examiner for your practical test

Frequently Asked Questions:

  1. What are the Entry-Level Pilot Certificates?
  2. What are the Eligibility Requirements for a Pilot Certificate?
  3. What are the Medical Certification Requirements for Pilots?
  4. What is Ground Training Like?
  5. What is Flight Training Like?
  6. What Tests are Required to Become a Pilot?
  7. How Much Does it Cost to Become a Pilot?
  8. How Can I Find a Flight School or Flight Instructor?
  9. How Does a Pilot Stay Current and Proficient?
  10. What Additional Certificates and Ratings Can a Pilot Earn?
  11. How Do I Sign Up for an Introductory Flight Lesson?