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Student pilot tips

The moment is there, you have become a student pilot. But before you can shine in your ray-bans and take cockpit selfies for your tinder profile, you will need to pass your theoretical exams (at least that is the case for many flight schools). And let that theoretical part just be the most unglamorous time of your student pilot life. At least that was the case for me. I hope the following tips can help you suffer just a little bit less during this difficult time.

Disclaimer (I know you guys need them sometimes); these tips are especially written for (future) student pilots. Although it might still be an interesting read for #avgeeks, I won’t explain much about why things work a certain way (maybe a future blog post). These are specific tips to help you pass your exams and remember things that are explained in the study books or by your instructor 😉.

This was not my tinder profile picture, promise.

Ice tea, pretty cold drink

If you are a little bit like me, the first time that you’ll learn about all the different airspeeds and the type of errors that separates them, it might seem overwhelming (and useless). But fear not, there’s actually an easy trick to remember them, and when you become an airline pilot you’ll have to worry very little about it.

So the thing to remember here is: Ice tea = pretty cold drink. The first 4 letters of the drink will give you the different speeds, the first letters of pretty cold drink will give you the errors.

I’m not an artist, but you get it right?

Seven five – “he has a knife!”

One thing that you do have to remember as an airline pilot, are the different emergency squawk codes (but hopefully you’ll never need them). I don’t know why it is, but it seems to be easier to remember things when they rhyme, here’s your next top tip to remember the different emergency squawk codes and their meanings:

Seven five – “he has a knife” = squawk code 7500 stands for a hijack.
Seven six – “I need a fix” = squawk code 7600 stands for radio failure.
Seven seven – “we’re going to heaven” = squawk code 7700 stands for emergency.

+ 2 / – 2

This is actually a tip that I didn’t know about until I was already flying as an airline pilot, but better late than never. Many of the tips that I’ll give you in this blog are just for passing the exams and is about stuff you can forget when flying as an airline pilot. This tip however, still makes my life easier every single flying day.

You’ve reached radio navigation, a subject disliked by many. Radials, bearings, QDR codes, especially when you don’t have any previous flying experience, can this stuff be very confusing. And to be 100% fair with you, I have no clue which QDR and other Q codes stand for which type of bearing anymore, I never use them anyway.

But something we do use are radials. And this thing with radials is that it helps if we know the opposite number on the compass. Although you don’t have to be a math professor to subtract or add 180 to a number, we lazy people like tricks to make life easier:

So when you have to fly a certain radial inbound, which heading do you need? The +2 / -2 trick will help you “calculate this”. Just add or subtract 2 to the first number and do the opposite to the second number. Whether you add or subtract depends on the number, you can’t go higher than 360 or lower than 0 of course.


Read the full (or f*cking – you choose) question.

It sounds so simple, but it can make a huge difference. These days, ATPL questions are not just testing your knowledge anymore, they also tend to test your reading skills. Sometimes they do this by playing a little dirty, for example by playing with similar words (attitude & altitude) or with things like, what answer is NOT correct (but the word not won’t be in capitals of course).

Especially when you’re racing the clock to finish your exam, taking your time to read the full question properly can be difficult. For me, this tip was one of the most important ones, that important that I would always write it on top of my note paper before I started the exam.

Another tip to answer questions during your exam: look at the amount of points you get, they’re most of the time related to the amount of time you need for a question. 1 point question? It should be a simple answer. 4 point question? You definitely need to spend some more time on this. Especially on questions where you have to calculate stuff (mass & balance for example), the points can give you an idea of the amount of steps you have to take to find the solution.

Shower with your uniform

One of the many challenging things during flight school can be time management. There will be times that you’re fighting your sleep deprivation, you’re heart is racing at 150 bpm due to the excessive amount of coffee and stress and you’ve only got 10 minutes left to click through 1603 questions of POF.

Saving time skills are key here. One thing you can do is take your uniform shirt in the shower with you (something I still do, just because I am lazy). When you hang your shirt in the shower, the hot steam will iron out most of the worst wrinkles, so you’ll save a lot of time on ironing.

Even more lazy or short on time? Don’t iron at all and wear the uniform jumper (just don’t forget that your shirt isn’t ironed so don’t take off your jumper at school).

If, like me, sleeping is your biggest talent. Napping in between lessons can help as well ;).


Flight school sucks sometimes. It isn’t “living the dream” for 99% of the time (during the theoretical part at least), it can be hard and stressful. Make sure you don’t forget why you’re doing this. I printed a picture of a twinotter and hung it above my desk. Every time I got frustrated I would look up and tell myself “one day”. Watching cool pilot programs helped as well (I especially loved “worst place to be a pilot”, which you can find on YouTube).

This was the exact picture that was hanging above my desk.

Question banks

“Don’t just study the question banks, EASA (or whoever provides your ATPL questions is) are changing the questions” – ground school instructors.

Well yes, and no. Don’t just study the question banks. Study your book first. BUT, and this is a big BUT for a reason, don’t underestimate the usefulness of question banks.

First of all, they’re a great tool to see which subjects/chapters you’re good at and which ones still require some extra studying.

Second of all, they’re a great training tool to learn about the dirty tricks they sometimes play while making the questions. When you see a lot of different type of questions, you’ll get used to their way of asking things and fall less easily for their tricks.

And least but not least, there are so many questions in the question banks, they cannot just come up with so many new ones. They might not be literally the same in your exam, but many questions will be similar to what you’ve seen 😊.

Study techniques

Find something that works for you! Yes I can advise you to study the books first and do the question banks after. But most important is that it works for you. Some people like to study together, some people like to study alone, it’s all good as long as it works.

What worked for me?

Study somewhere else than my room, I would just get distracted by my stuff. I found an empty room at my campus which I changed to my study room. Just a desk and a chair, nothing else, no distractions. I always need to write stuff down, do something with it, make drawings, just reading it doesn’t work for me. And lastly, I have a strong faith in my short term memory. So whenever there was stuff I struggeled with, I wrote it down, and go through it just before the exam started.

Tips from my followers!

Some of these I totally forgot, some of them I wish I knew when I was in flight school:

“Can dead men vote twice?”
“Captains don’t meet virgins twive”
“Cat drinks milk, very tasty”

What do these (strange) sentences have in common? The first letters will help you remember the difference between the different headings.

C = compass heading
D = deviation
M = magnetic heading
V = variation
T = true heading

By: @lmorand & @christicozmei

Variation east, magnetic least. Variation west, magnetic best. & UNOS.

We like rhyming to remember stuff 😉

Variation is added or subtracted from magnetic heading to get your true heading. But will you have to add or subtract it? When the variation is east, magnetic will be least, so less than true heading.

UNOS is short for: Undershoot North, Overshoot South when correcting for compass lag error.

By: @stay_gold_ponyboy144

Chicken Tikka Masala

How better to remember the affects on airpseeds with altitudes than with a reference to my favourite indian food? Chicken Tikka Masala is the best way to rememeber in which order these speeds where affected again.

By: @reginathepilot

Flight simulator

This is more for the student pilots who are already flying, but you can use flight simulator to practice flows etc. I actually used flight simulator as well during the type rating to practice working with the FMC 😊

By: @jacobisflying

4 red, you’re dead.

How did it work with the papi’s again? What did 4 red and what did 4 white mean? Well red rhymes with dead. And being low is much more dangerous than being high. So 4 red means you’re too low (according to the papi).

By: @svmru

I hope this helps. Remember you are not alone. Pilots (even student pilots) can be proud people, we don’t like showing that we are struggeling as well. Do your best, take care of yourself, and one day, it will all be worth it when you’re soaring in the skies and are being paid for it. Stay strong ❤ ❤ ❤


Yours truly

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