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Study order and difficulty level of ATPL exams

Many give in to the temptation to start learning from the easiest subjects such as, VFR/IFR Communication, Operational Procedures, etc. By choosing this approach, they most often leave studying the most difficult subjects for later. In time, motivation decreases, as this approach is a constant struggle. It truly requires an enormous motivational effort to persist until the end and pass the exams in the deadline and the number of attempts set by regulations.

Similarly, combining difficult subjects with those easy results in a sinusoidal pattern of difficulty level, which in my opinion is everything but helpful in managing one’s motivation.

Sitting ATPL exams should be carefully weighed at the very beginning. Contrary to what might be expected, the order in which subjects are studied is important. In the beginning, when we’ve got the most strength, it’s best to tackle the most difficult and time-consuming subjects, whereas those easiest should be done as the last. The mental approach and motivation are by far better when you’re aware that each subsequent subject will be easier to study than the one previously finished. It gives you a sense of going downhill throughout the learning process instead of bending over backwards to get the plan done.

Description of Subjects and Difficulty Levels

The most difficult ATPL subjects

  1. Instrumentation – a lot of concepts and details; a relatively small number of questions pertain to the same issue. Many quite abstractive problems are difficult to be referred to the existing knowledge. Moreover, the subject involves a relatively high number of questions.
  2. Airframes – a subject that serves as an introduction into the world of airplane systems.
  3. Meteorology – the most massive ATPL subject. It’s worth to learn this subject with understanding, as it makes memorising numerous issues easier. Bear in mind, that majority of issues are more or less directly interrelated, thus understanding one issue makes it easier to comprehend others.
  4. Radio Navigation – a lot of concepts and details one must simply learn by heart.
  5. General Navigation – a subject many students wrongly assume to be highly difficult. It comprises a theoretical part and a practical part. The theoretical part involves a dozen or so topics one ought to master. The practical part involves problems that constitute a major part of the study material. They are all based on around 10 solution schemes. When solving them, pay attention to details, e.g., the symbols +/-. Although you know how to solve a given problem, getting the symbol wrong gives you a completely different result. While sitting the exam, you’ve got about 2 minutes (on average) to solve one problem. For that reason, try to gradually reduce the time dedicated to solving the problems to prepare for the exam. Solving Navigation problems will be more time-consuming than solving problems of other subjects, especially at the first time. Don’t get discouraged – it’s perfectly normal.
  6. Principles of flight – the second most massive subject after Meteorology. When studying this subject, focus on learning with understanding. Dedicate some more time to visualise a phenomenon you’re studying and comprehend it. In this subject, many questions pertain to the very same issue. You should learn formulas you can find in study materials and charts presenting various interrelations by heart. Knowing these formulas is vital for answering many questions. To this end, I recommend studying while holding a model airplane in your hand, which in many cases will help you visualise phenomena that occur around the aircraft.

Average difficulty ATPL subjects

  1. Flight Planning – a subject that combines the knowledge gained on Meteorology, General Navigation with skills acquired when drawing charts on Mass and Balance and Performance classes. It is definitely a subject you should start learning after passing the subjects mentioned above, which will make studying much easier. It also requires – as in the case of General Navigation – time discipline in solving problems at the exam. To this end, having gained the initial grasp on how they should be solved, try to solve them as quickly as possible during revisions.
  2. Aviation Law – this subject involves a lot of topics that require learning by heart, which might seem a bit terrifying.
  3. Performance – a subject of medium difficulty compared to others. It is largely based on the skill to read performance of an aircraft from charts, which requires understanding of basic concepts covered in this subject. The subject is similar in certain aspects to Mass and Balance and Flight Planning.

Easy ATPL subjects

  1. VFR Communication and IFR Communication – two easiest subjects.
  2. Mass and Balance – a subject that involves some theory and many problems to be solved. Calculating and reading data from charts are essential skills. The subject is undeniably pleasant to learn. Calculations require simple mathematics. You should find it easier if you’ve already passed Principles of Flight.
  3. Operational Procedures – a relatively simple subject, although you might think otherwise when going through the material for the first time.
  4. Human Performance and Limitations – the entire subject is not overloaded and touches upon only a few major issues that are relatively simple to comprehend. At first, medical terminology might cause some difficulties.