This one has been on my mind for quite some time, largely because I have spoken to a large number of (very capable) students desperately trying to pass this seemingly horrendous exam in order to obtain their IF-rated Commercial licences. Afterall, the amount of aviation companies out there seeking VFR pilots for their operations is virtually non-existent. Similarly, we also have a  number of private pilots, many of whom are very experienced, who are keen to both challenge themselves and improve the safety of general aviation by obtaining an instrument rating.

The introduction of a single theoretical exam for the IF rating seemed like a good idea, especially for those who did not have the time to study for, and pass virtually all of the CPL subjects. However, as it turns out, you will probably end up studying all the CPL material (and even that is not enough), just to write one exam – not exactly a win.

The problem is that this exam is a mash of all different subjects, with no specific breakdown of the weight in questions of each subject, so, as it is computer generated, you could in your first attempt receive twenty questions relating to human performance, and on another day you will get twenty relating to procedures with only one human performance. Thus, attempting to improve your score after a first failure could be completely futile as the next exam could have a completely different breakdown. Even more depressing, is that the SA CAA themselves cannot provide an indication of suitable material resources which will cover all aspects of the exam. Sure, aviation is a field where one has to study alot, but usually there is set material, like a POH, or a checklist, and rarely requires the development of in-depth research skills which perhaps certain university degrees require. What I am suggesting is that if you want to pass this exam, firstly you are going to have to allocate a significant amount of time, and secondly, you are going to need to put in alot of individual research beyond what is ‘recommended’.

While the statistics are not available to me, I can conclude from the input of many students, that the pass rate is more than grim. I have not spoken to human who has passed the exam first time, or anyone who knows of someone. I am sure that there must be at least one such person, but most likely someone who has had many years flying experience, and significant instrument flying knowledge. In general, the shortest amount of attempts to pass seems to be in the region of three, while fourteen tries is not unheard of. Let’s also not forget the two month waiting period and you can determine just how detrimental to new careers this can all be!

So, if you are one of those on suicide watch as a result of the IF Rating exam, here’s what I think you should do:

Firstly, all the complaining to the CAA is unlikely to have any impact for the immediate future, so we have to find ways of raising the standard. By this, I mean that students who usually sail through other subjects using question banks with little research and book time, are going to have to put in ten times the effort – there is no short cut on this one! You will have to find new resources, try EVERYTHING before you even attempt to write this exam. When looking at the syllabus (an absolute must!), the common question is always ‘How much detail do they want me to know on this particular aspect?’. My theory, is to go even more detailed on that topic than if you wrote that individual subject. Do not rely on the material that you used for the individual subject. As the elements derived from each subject are listed on the syllabus, I suggest that you go into even greater detail on these, in short, do extra research!

Next, I strongly suggest doing some IF training / demonstration, at least in a SIM to get a practical understanding of IF flying. Once again look at the syllabus, especially when it comes to procedures, and even ask an instructor to demonstrate these for you. Personally, reading about procedures never really made sense to me until I started flying them.

Study material – the biggest question of them all! I have done some interrogations of students who have actually passed, and alot of these materials are not on the CAA recommended list, so take heed! The key is to take the items I am going to list, and apply them to the elements of the syllabus you are working on. Once you have finished a subject ‘section’ of the syllabus, then you should try practice questions from various source banks, not just one (yes, I know this going to heat up the credit card!).

So here goes:

Books and documents:

  • CAA recommended list click here
  • ICAO 8168 Vol.1
  • Understanding CATS and CARS
  • Understanding Jeppesen
  • AIC 005-2016
  • Pilot Exams – FAA IF study material
  • Jeppeson / Avex Manuals
  • Documents on GNSS | RAIM Approaches

Question Banks:

  • Question Bank
  • Pilot Exams
  • Exam 11
  • BSG Online

My feeling is, it CAN be done, just as man built aircraft, but you are going to have to give it all you have got! For those struggling, just keep up the determination, it may be frustrating, but nothing is impossible. Please take the time to comment below on your experiences, and let’s make an effort to help each other 🙂

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