My thoughts on the ATPL theory exams

Well, this post has been a long time coming, it is my thoughts on the ATPL theory exams. To be honest, I wasn’t even totally sure that I was even going to get to write this post due to having 1 exam to pass on my last sitting. However, things went well and I passed it (so happy).
For those who do not know, I did my exams distance learning over the course of about 2 years from the material arriving to having 14 passes in the bag. This was all done around a pretty demanding full-time job.

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1. Distance learning is hard – The ATPL exams are hard, the ATPL exams with a full-time job are intense. Quite frankly, in my opinion, the ATPL exams are not set up for distance learning. Obviously, it can be done, I mean I did it but things like 6 sittings make it very hard for a distance learner.
If you think you are going to do an hour a night and then sail through you are in for a huge shock. You will put in multiple hours every night then even more at the weekend. Sometimes after a long day at work, you just want to lie down and chill but you need to find a second wind and go again. It feels like having two full-time jobs.
Your social life will take a massive hit. Your friends, family etc will need to be understanding and relationships can be affected.
It takes a lot of determination, quite a few people start ATPL exams and never finish them.

2. The exams are a mess – Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT saying that everything in the ATPL exams is pointless and you will never need it.
What I am saying is that the way the exams are organised is basically a shambles. EASA pretty much releases new questions which are often faulty at will and from areas that are not covered in the material you have been given.
You will regularly go into an exam and sit there like what the hell, I’ve never seen this before, and chances are, you wouldn’t have.
On top of this, we have questions that make no sense, questions with more than one correct answer & questions that quite frankly are useless information.
Of course, a lot of the stuff in the exams is relevant and knowledge that you need to have and will need at some point in the future. However, one must question if knowing how long the ICAO president sits for will ever allow me to handle an emergency at 30,000 feet. For those of you wondering, yes, that is an actual question.
The exams vary so much not only from sitting to sitting but from exam to exam. 10 people could sit in the same room and get various exams of varying difficulty.
The exams cost £71, which for a computer-based exam is nothing more than a ripoff, however, should you fail and want them to look at it, you will have to cough up £141! Granted this is refundable IF you are successful but come on, the sum is ridiculous.

3 – The order you sit exams is fixed – This is one of the things that really annoyed me. Your chosen school will break the exams up into a certain order, but this order might not be good for you. I tried to move the communications exams forward but wasn’t allowed to until I had sat he revision week. Granted this is not the schools rule but why can I not sit an exam when I want?

4 – Forced revision week – Revision weeks are a good thing, for some people the classroom environment is where they learn best so it is good for a distance learner to have the option to go into school.
However for others being forced to pay for a hotel and travel to attend is something that is not desirable.

5 – 6 sittings, 4 shots at any exam, 18 months – Yes I get it, the sittings is to create pressure. This is all well and good when you are studying full time, but to be forced to study 3-4 exams while working a full-time job and still do it within 18 months makes the workload very high. As I have stated before you need to be dedicated to get through this.

Now, this is the advice I think might be useful to people just starting out.

1 – You have 6 sittings! – Most distance learning courses are broken down to be completed in 2 or 3 blocks. Personally, I think if you have 6 spread it out a bit. I would say aim to do it in 3 or 4 which still leaves you two or three sittings spare for any resits. I see no reason to pressure yourself into sitting so many exams at once when you don’t need to.

2 – Set a timetable – Set a timetable and stick to it. If you say you are going to study 6pm – 9pm Monday – Thursday and have Friday off then make sure you do that. The material is much easier to digest if you have regular exposure to it.
Remember to take time off though, you need a break also.

3 – Speak to others – EASA are killing the question bank and to be honest nobody can argue with that. It is super important to speak to people who have just sat exams to find out what you might be facing.
Do not take any feedback as gospel, chances are there will be errors in it. Make sure you go through it and look up the information yourself.
Join this facebook group, you will find loads of students sitting the exams also and it is the best resource at the time of writing. The Bristol ATP forum is worth a read also but people seem to be using it less and less now.
I wish the FB group was around when I started my ATPL exams.

4 – They are harder than you think – No matter how hard you think they are at the moment, they will turn out to be much harder than you think. It is just the sheer volume of material that you have to get through that is the problem.

5 – Go to whatever school is best for your circumstances – You will hear people say you have to go to this school or that school. What I have learned is that it is all about the work you put in so I think the school choice is less important.
Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean you should go to any school but the difference between the top schools is most likely minimal with each having their own unique selling points.
Obviously still do your research and get feedback from students but go to the school that is most convenient for you in regards to distance and services offered.

6 – You will not bank/feedback your way through exams – Yes there are videos online and students saying they just hit the banks and got a 97% average on their ATPLS. Well, that was then and this is now.
EASA is releasing something like 2000 new questions a year and tweaking 1500 others. You simply have to learn the subject. The latest feedback will help you see what type of questions people are getting however.
If you have this idea in your head now, you should probably forget it.
This is not saying you still can’t get a high average, of course you can.

7 – Don’t be afraid to ask for help – There are many schools and many private tutors out there so don’t be afraid to ask for some tutoring if needed. Some schools offer additional weekends for you to get the help you need as part of your course.

8 – Go full time if you can – The hardest thing about this was having work in the middle of it all. If I was going to do it again (which believe you me I have no intention of ever doing so) I would most likely leave my job to do so.
This does not mean that you have to go to a ground school, but even full-time distance learning would be more beneficial.

9 – Book exams and revision week early – There is nothing worse than being ready to go to your revision week or ready to sit an exam and see that there are no places left. My advice is to book your revision week and exams when starting a module, you can always move them later if you wish.

10 – The training is going digital only – When I signed up my ground school provider gave you books as part of the package. About a year in they stopped doing that. Remember to check if you get books as part of your learning material or if they are an added extra.

With some dedication, time and a lot of hard work, you too can pass these exams.


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8 Replies to “My thoughts on the ATPL theory exams”

  1. Well done buddy. You can have a social life now. It feels great to not have the ATPL exams hanging over you. Good luck with your building and your Commerial training. Keep us posted.

  2. Well done mate, I finished my ATPL’s December last year, been through a journey similar to yours (in fact very similar, having a full time job as a software engineer). I have a degree in Computer Science which took me 4 years of all sorts of calculus subjects the human mind can think of but the experience with the ATPL’s was probably the most exhausting time of my life. It’s such a relief when you look at that CAA website and you see all subjects with a Pass 🙂

    1. Congrats Mike well done on completing them. I know tell me about it, I have logged in about 5 times just to check they haven’t made a mistake 😂
      As you say, it’s just exhausting so such a relief it’s over.

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