It’s no secret that the UAV industry will boom in the near future. Drone enthusiasts have been eager to get certified, but until recently, the barrier to entry was fairly high, requiring “high hurdles” to fly UAVs (e.g. the former 333 exemption required that a remote pilot in command hold a minimum of a Sports Pilot License). Although the Sports Pilot License has less requirements than a full “Private Pilot’s License”, the training requirements for becoming a sport pilot were pretty intense:
- A minimum of 20 hours flight time including:
- 15 – 20 hours of flight training from an authorized instructor.
- 5 – 10 hours of solo flight.
- Flight training must include at least:
- 2 hours cross-country flight training.
- 10 takeoffs and landings to a full stop.
- One solo cross-country flight of at least 75 nautical miles total distance with a full-stop landing at a minimum of two points.
- 3 – 5 hours of flight training in preparation for the practical test.
- Ground training from an instructor or home-study course.
- FAA knowledge test on applicable aeronautical knowledge.
With the new part 107 regulations, some of the major barriers have been eliminated (e.g. a remote pilot in command is no longer required to hold a traditional pilot’s license like the requirements outlined above).
How to Prepare for the Part 107 UAV Exam: 9 Helpful Tips for Remote Pilots in Command
Before we get going, it is important to review the requirements to become a certified UAV pilot. On June 21, 2016, the FAA announced Part 107 and stated UAV operators are required to:
- Pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at one of the FAA approved knowledge testing centers across the USA.
- Obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA. Once obtained, this certificate will never expire… similar to the existing pilot airman certificates.
- The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will need to vet each applicant.
- Every 2 years, you will need to pass a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test.
- Be at least 16 years old.
- Upon the request by the FAA, you will need to make available any associated documents/records required to be kept under the proposed rule and the physical UAV itself.
- Conduct preflight inspections before any operation. These inspections will include a review of the UAV and control station system checks, to ensure the SUAV is safe for operation. If you are wondering what a preflight inspection consists of, you can read 5 Tried-and-True Tips for Preflight Inspections on your UAV.
1) Prepare! You should begin to prepare for the exam by reviewing the content that will be on the test. In July 2016, the FAA released a standards document for Remote Pilot – Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airman Certification. You should begin to prepare for the exam as soon as possible to avoid having to retake the exam.
2) Study in a method that best suits your learning style. Are you a Visual, Aural, Physical, Verbal, Logical, Social or Solitary learner or a combination of a few? The source of these learning styles are based on Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. If you are not quite sure of your learning style, you can review a breakdown of the different styles below here. Depending on your best learning style or combination thereof, you may want to create flashcards if you are a visual person. If you are a logical person, you may dive deep into the factual information to back up claims.
You may want to read the FAA supplemental information for each section that you will be tested on. If you are aural or verbal, you will want to read and repeat to reinforce the material. If you are a physical or social learner, try to get a group together and set study times where you can study together and possibly “white board” material to reinforce the “learn by doing”. Lastly, if you are like me, you are more of the solitary learner. The find a quite place and self-study will work best for you. The next section will point you to study material to review and test yourself.
3) Review material and test yourself. It is important to become familiar with the UAV Pilot Test. This is what the UAV pilot test looks like:
- It is a multiple-choice type test consisting of 60 questions with three single responses per questions (i.e. A, B or C).
- Each question is independent of other questions… meaning, a correct answer on one question does not impact the question of another.
- Some questions will require supplemental material (e.g. charts and maps).
- The minimum passing score is 70% (meaning, you will need to get 42 questions right).
- You are allowed two (2) hours to complete the test.
- Here is a breakdown of the questions by knowledge topic:
4) Take practice tests. Practice, practice, practice. It has been tricky to find good material for the UAV aeronautical knowledge test. I used the FAA Airman Knowledge Private Pilot Test Guide and studied the sections covered in the breakdown above. At the time of this writing, I was not too sure about the drone specific training courses out there. The Test Guide provides numerous sample questions along with the supplemental sectional charts, diagrams, airport/facility excerpts, compass diagrams, etc…
The FAA also released a sample exam which contains 40 sample questions. You can download it here to practice for the test.
5) Prepare to know the material. The FAA released its Part 107 UAV online training course. The course is intended for Part 61 Pilot Certificate Holders but anyone can register and take the course for free. If you are looking for a good reference to start studying for the UAV aeronautical knowledge test, I would recommend the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge which can be found on Amazon. You can use this FAA handbook and focus on those sections that will be covered on the UAV aeronautical knowledge test.
6) Exam review course. Although not required, having a good “exam prep” course might not be a bad idea if you don’t mind spending the money. Usually these types of courses are a great way to enhance your knowledge and make you focus on the important aspects of what’s covered in the exam. Another benefit of using courses like these is that you typically walk away with additional study material that you can review before and leading up to the exam.
There are a few things to consider when looking at external exam courses. You should ask if the course is taught and produced by someone who has taken the exam you are preparing for. You should also ask if the instructor is an actual operator and has flown UAVs either recreationally or commercially (i.e. via a 333 exemption and a pilots license).
Lastly, try to review a course close to the exam date so it is as fresh as possible. I will be publishing a blog that has some exam review courses specifically tied to the Part 107 test within a couple of weeks. My goal is to vet a few that I can recommend to you.
7) Practice 30 minutes before the exam. I would like you to consider two things: 1) Try to schedule your test first thing in the morning and 2) Try to arrive 30 minutes early and either stay in your car to study or go inside and find a quiet place to review the material. Why you may ask… well a recent study by the Danish National Centre for Social Research in Copenhagen have looked at 2 million standardized test scores from Danish children aged between 8 and 15. Starting from 8 am, for every hour later that a test was taken, scores declined by an amount equivalent to the effect of missing 10 days of school.
Another interesting statistic that came from the study showed the power of a mental break. If a test was taken just after a 20 or 30 minute break, scores improved by as much as if the children had taken it 2 hours earlier. Although the studies were conducted on children and “are not” comparable to adults that will be sitting for this exam, my opinion is you should use every advantage you can take.
8) Relax! Try to get a good night sleep the night before the test. There are other studies that show testing scores decline with lack of sleep. In fact, researchers from Ghent and KU Leuven universities in Belgium surveyed 621 first-year students about their sleeping habits during exam period. Students who generally got a good night’s sleep performed better on exams. On average, the grades of the students who slept seven hours each night during the exam period were nearly 10 percent higher than those students who got less sleep.
I know what you are wondering… what about all the other variables that could impact this study. The good news is the researchers accounted for differences in the students’ study habits as well as their health and socioeconomic backgrounds.
9) What to do on test day? Well, test day has finally arrived… Congratulations! If you followed the steps above, you should feel more prepared to take the exam. One thing that I usually do is scan the entire test and answer all the questions that I feel very confident about and pass over the other questions that I am not sure about. Once you get to the end and finish all the “EASY” answers, go back to the beginning and review all questions you passed over. Surprisingly, some of the questions will seem easy and you will wonder why you passed it over. Take your time when taking the test and be cognizant of the 2 hour limit. The goal is to answer all of the questions, even if you don’t know the answers to some.
It is better to be lucky sometimes. Once you have answered all the questions, go back and review your answers if you have time. Once you feel pretty confident about your answers, take a deep breath and turn it in. There is a good chance you passed the test if you followed the tips above.
What if you Fail? According to 14 CFR part 107, section 107.71, it states that any applicant who fails the knowledge test may not retake the knowledge test for 14 calendar days from the date of the previous failure. The applicant is required to submit the applicable AKTR indicating failure to the testing center prior to retesting. I am going to remain optimistic for you and will assume that you passed your test… Let’s speak positive.
I wish you the best of luck on your test!