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Part 2, Changes to FAA Knowledge Tests Affecting Student Scores

We've learned that test bank that the FAA uses to compile airman knowledge tests have recently undergone some significant updates, which may have caused unusually high numbers of failures on some tests in recent weeks. These include the airline transport pilot, flight engineer, and fundamentals of instruction tests, and possibly more, and they involved significant revisions to these tests.

We fully support the FAA's efforts to improve the quality of knowledge tests. Likewise, we know that it's important that applicants not simply study "sample test" questions to the rote-memorization level in their efforts to pass knowledge tests. Students and instructors must focus on learning material and skills to the correlative level to ensure applicants become safe, knowledgeable pilots.

However, significant question-bank changes typically comprise questions that have been validated through a standardized process; a small number of proposed questions are introduced in each knowledge test, but they don't count toward applicants' scores until they're verified as being accurate. In this case, it seems that on some tests, a greater number of new questions were added at one time, and it's unclear if all the new test questions went through the validation process; furthermore, the new questions immediately affected some test results.

It's also unclear which FAA reference documents apply to the new questions. We're currently seeking clarification on this; some new subject areas don't have similar public sample questions, FAA test guides (FAA-H-8082 documents) weren't updated to reflect the new tests, and a current reference for the content of tests isn't available. We have some concern whether certain subject areas were also given greater weight, based on the number of questions on each test, than they've previously had.

While the actual test questions have not been public for nearly seven years now, the FAA and several commercial companies provide study material with historically accurate representations of test questions pilot applicants can use to review. A variety of these test-prep vendors also provide sample exams that allow pilot applicants to practice taking their knowledge exams, not only to reduce pre-test nervousness but also to gauge their actual knowledge-test scores.

We are not promoting a public knowledge test-question bank, but we do believe it's critical that FAA tests be referenced to documents that students and instructors can examine if they're to effectively study or make endorsements that verify subject knowledge. Until now, that information has been available in FAA publications or on websites dedicated to updating instructors and students on changes, such as the one maintained by ASA.

We'll continue to work with the FAA on this issue, and we'll attend upcoming meetings with the Airman Testing Branch to learn more about the direction the FAA is taking with these tests. We support improvements the process of pilot-applicant evaluations, but we ask that, as tests are updated, the agency collaborate with the training industry so that its industry partners can spread the message about upcoming changes.