Mairi Lewis is an ASP ambassador who is currently studying to become a commercial pilot. She recently took her ATPLs, the theoretical exams required to acquire an Air Transport Pilot's Licence. Below, she describes her experiences of preparing for, and taking, the exams.

You may find the ATPLs daunting, but don't worry, you're not the only one. From glorious highs to challenging lows, the ATPL exams can be an emotional rollercoaster. I hope that my experiences will let you know what to expect. To start with, here are a few FAQs:

How many are there?
Short and sweet, there are 14 exams.

How long are they?
They range from 30-minute exams up to a duration of 2 hours. Fortunately, you can complete all 14 tests during the course of 18 months. Keep in mind you can only attend the exam centre six times, or six sittings.

Are they difficult?
Simply put: yes, but it's nothing you can't handle.

The ATPLs aren’t like anything I have seen before. They truly test your ability to learn, your discipline, and your mental grit. I suppose it could be viewed as another selection process. The vast amount of content that you must retain for these exams is unfathomable, but it has to be done.

My experience was of distance learning. Distance learning essentially requires you to learn the entire syllabus by yourself, but has occasional mandatory brush-up courses. You are the teacher during distance learning so you must read the books cover to cover. During this you must make notes and sit the progress tests between chapters. Rinse and repeat. You will find the progress tests are useful tools to track your development. There is also an option to use question banks to brush up areas that you're unsure of.

If you have the discipline and patience, this may be the route for you. I found it extremely challenging at times. It's easy to get side-tracked, distracted and to procrastinate while distance learning. Who can blame you? But that's the point, distance learning clearly isn't for everyone. For me it worked, but, had it been an option, I would probably have fared better at a full-time ground school.

At times, you may find yourself questioning the relevance of the material. Most of the time, it provides you with a foundation of understanding that might help you later- perhaps in a sticky situation- who knows? Believe me or not though, some of the ATPLs are actually quite... Fun? Subjects like Aircraft General Knowledge and General Navigation were extremely interesting. What was fascinating for me, for example, was learning how things in aircraft work, like the Inertial Reference System, Internal Navigation System, etc. It opens your eyes and lets you further appreciate the amount of skill and dedication that goes into maintaining, building and flying these great machines. It definitely widens your fundamental understanding of the art that is aviation.

So, looking back on it, it was a love-hate relationship. At times, giving up did seem like the only rational option! However, having completed the ATPLs I can definitely say they have made me a more efficient learner and I have a new found love and appreciation for aviation. This appreciation is not only from my point of view as the pilot, but from all angles of the industry. You'll slowly appreciate more and more, the cohesion that is required between each end, from aircrew to air traffic control to the aircraft engineers to the local authorities, and more.


Mairi regularly blogs about her experiences in aviation over at:

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