Think about any famous pilot that you know. Take, for example, Chelsea Sullenberger or Chuck Yeager. What do you think their attitude to taking tests was? Cool and collected, right? Your mindset and the way you' psyche' yourself before taking your flight test will have a direct effect on your performance, so you'll need it to be on point. I want to help you. So, today I'm going to run through ways to mentally prepare for flight tests.
Taking Flight Tests. The Ideal Attitude
I'm going to let you into a little secret.
There is a difference between personality and behavior. While you can't control your personality, what you can adjust is your behavior.
What kind of person are you normally?
Someone cool and collected? Or someone who tends to get a little hot and bothered when placed under pressure? It's OK. Everyone gets stressed by tests, especially flight tests.
But here's the good news.
Your attitude and how you behave when approaching a test can be altered for the better.
If you've never seen Eysenck's personality inventory, it is well worth a look.
Generally, all people will fit somewhere into this scale, occupying a mix of being either introverted or extroverted and sitting somewhere on the line of being stable or neurotic (for that, read 'worriers').
Ideal candidates should be in the lower right of the graph. Stable extroverts. Another way to put this is 'quietly confident'. And this is exactly the attitude you'll need to have to get through your flight test with ease.
How you feel about a test can dramatically affect how you do on it. If it's a do-or-die test, your anxiety can get in the way of your thinking, fogging otherwise clear answers. So remember to emotionally as well as mentally prepare yourself for a successful test.
How do you do that? Well, here are some great points to help.
Developing Positive Attitudes Towards Tests
This might sound obvious, and you may consider it easier said than done. But, the first step to having a positive test-taking attitude is… To be positive.
Of course, what you're working toward is a positive result.
Fortunately, your instructor wants to help you pass the test.
So do the examiners.
So do I.
Everyone is rooting for you.
Keep a positive attitude and, combined with your knowledge and skills, you will succeed!
Look on the bright side. See the test not as a barrier but as a gateway that will allow you through to better things. By the time you take your test, you'll definitely have all the keys in your pocket to unlock the gate, so look forward to it.
Avoid the Negative
Self-doubt is a natural human emotion. There is practically no one who hasn't been a little uncertain about something at some point during their life.
Negativity can have a massive impact on your performance. Psychologists suggest that if you are emotionally prepared to accept either a positive or negative outcome, you can more easily focus on making it positive.
And I want you to do me a favor…
I want you to actively stop yourself whenever negative thoughts come creeping in.
It is often the case that people use phrases like "I can't" or think things like "I'll never get this". By allowing negative thoughts to take root and grow, they can become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Here's what being negative causes:
- Increased anxiety
- Reduced thinking power
- Decreased motivation
- Poor sleep
- Reduced confidence
Does any of the above contribute to doing well in a test?
Accept that You Will Make Mistakes
Everyone and I mean absolutely everyone, makes mistakes. It is an unavoidable fact of life.
So here is my advice.
Give yourself a break. You won't be able to control making mistakes. But an area you can alter is how you recover from them. And to do that, you are going to need the right attitude.
Before your test, accept that things at some point may not go according to plan. But be confident in your ability to deal with them.
That is what flying is all about.
Don't Worry About the Things You Can't Control
As the Baz Luhrmann song says:
"Worrying about the future is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum."
And do you know what? He was exactly right.
By all means, worry about the things you can control, along with taking steps to address them.
But the things that are outside of your control? Put them straight out of your mind. Whether you think of them or not will make no difference to the end result, except to create a negative attitude.
Here are some of the things that are definitely outside of your control and you can now disregard right up until the minute of your test:
- The weather on the day of your test
- How friendly or serious your flight examiner is
- The technical serviceability of your aircraft
- How busy the pattern will be
- Problems you might encounter on the day
- The route that you will be expected to fly
Don't Second Guess
Do you know what characterizes all great pilots?
Try not to second guess yourself, as your gut reaction is often the correct one. The reason you reached a decision will be based on instinct, which tends to come before convoluted thought.
Aside from the fact that your initial thoughts are more likely correct, it also gives the overall impression of confidence.
A pilot who is constantly hesitant doesn't inspire confidence. Which is what you want to be, right?
Play a Low Stakes Game
We are all guilty of blowing up small problems into big ones.
When taking a flight test, my thought process was always helped if I thought the following: -
"In a thousand years, who is going to care?"
Make your game a low-stakes one.
What's the worst thing that can happen? You can fail the test! Will that mean more work and another test? Maybe.
Will the world end? Definitely not.
Failing a test on the first attempt really isn't the end of the world. Learn what you can from experience and do better next time.
Remember how we talked about turning negatives into positives. Even if you did fail your test, the likely worst outcome is that you'll have to retake it. By which point, you'll have ironed out all those wrinkles and become an even better pilot. And there is no shame in that.
Educate Yourself on What the Test Involves
If you've read my article on undertaking your first solo, you'll already be familiar with how important preparation can be.
There is nothing more daunting than feeling like you are 'freestyling' during a test.
Be sure to read up on exactly what will happen during the course of your test, well before you take it. By studying and preparing, you can identify weak areas in your skillset and address any areas or concerns that might be troubling you.
However, what I would avoid doing is seeking other's opinions and asking them about their tests. Some will have had a good experience, and some not so good. That was down to them, and you are the master of your own destiny.
Make the Unknown 'Known' and Train Effectively
In any life skill, including flying, we all have weak areas.
You'll see guys at the gym are huge on top and skinny down below because their legs are weak. Why? Because they only work on the areas in which they've already grown strong.
Don't be those guys…
Instead, be honest with yourself. Being humble is part of being a good pilot. Identify the areas that you are not so hot at. And then work hard to get them up to an excellent standard.
As a result, you can approach your test with the right attitude, that being one of confidence, instead of being worried and fearful that the examiner will throw something your way that you are unsure of.
Utilize Your Instructor
Your flight instructor isn't your 'hype man'. They are there for a reason, to help you succeed as a pilot.
I have already talked about humility. And this is one area that, by being humble, you will actually benefit.
If there is something you are really not getting, or are unsure of, ask your instructor to clarify it. This is what they are paid for. In flying, there is no such thing as a stupid question.
There is a good chance that your flight instructor has faced a similar question before. What's more, they'll undoubtedly have an easy-to-understand answer as well!
What Makes Someone a Good Test Taker?
In short, having a good attitude towards test-taking is a great start.
Psychology Professor Sian Beilock of the University of Chicago gives some great advice: -
"When students are anxious about how they'll do on an exam, their worries use up some of their working memory capacity, leaving less of this cognitive horsepower to apply to the task in hand".
In non 'scientific' speak? Don't waste good brainpower worrying about the test. Instead, invest that mental energy in passing the test to the best of your ability.
Low test-taking anxiety is the key.
Every single qualified pilot you will meet will have had to take a test at some point. It won't take you long wandering around the flying club before you realize that they aren't all 'rocket scientists'. If they can do it, so can you. Approach your checks and exams with the right test-taking attitude, and you'll be through and flying before you know it.