FAA & Test Takers a Step Closer to Learning

By Scott Spangler on November 16th, 2009

Tests are an important part of the learning process because they assess the knowledge students have acquired—and retained. This measurement is as important for students as it is for teacher. As anyone who’s taught any subject for the past century or so will tell you, going over the test questions missed—replacing misunderstanding with the right answer—closes the circle of learning.

Lasergrade-Computer-Testing For most of the the past century, or at least as long as it has been giving and grading knowledge tests, the FAA has not seen the educational benefits of sharing missed questions—never mind the correct answer—with test takers. The best it could do was the examination report with cryptic subject matter codes identifying general areas of deficiency. Finally, it seems, this is starting to change.

For decades the National Association of Flight Instructors, with the support of AOPA and EAA, has been talking to the FAA about changing this policy, to little avail. The latest conversations with AFS-600 about it was last August, says NAFI Executive Director Jason Blair. Then, in October, out of the blue, and with no warning, the FAA said it would give test takers a peek at their missed questions starting November 9, 2009.

A peek. That’s it. And still no answers.

CATS-logo LaserGrade-logo

Two private companies—the Computer Assisted Testing Service (CATS) and LaserGrade—conduct all computerized FAA knowledge testing at their facilities nationwide. Both got short notice of the change, but they made software changes to reflect the new FAA policy, Blair says, after talking to his contacts at each one.

Here’s how it works now. After taking the test the applicant has the option of viewing missed questions (without the correct answers) on a scrolling screen. The screen lasts five minutes and the proctor must be present during the test-taker’s review. Applicants do not get a print out of the missed questions, nor may they take notes.

This is a step in the right direction—finally—but if students cannot discuss the specifics of missed test questions with their instructors, what’s the point?

Perhaps a more important question is why the FAA is so reluctant to complete the circle of learning? Back in the early 1990s, when the tests were still paper, I bought the FAA’s explanation that it was structurally and logistically unfeasible to provide the missed questions and correct answers to applicants. But the FAA computerized the tests in late 1990s, and providing the results immediately was one of its big selling points.

apple Hmm. Immediate results suggests that the computer has the answers and could easily produce a missed-question-and-answer report with overall results. Yet, Blair says, over the past few years NAFI has broached the subject to the FAA four times, and each time gotten the “logistics” and “structural” explanation.

But the FAA did change its policy, so it is a first step for which the FAA should be commended. But the policymakers still have a good way to go if they want to earn apples from students and teachers who want to benefit from every learning experience possible to make flying more rewarding—and safer. – Scott Spangler

Related Posts:

10 Responses to “FAA & Test Takers a Step Closer to Learning”

  1. Faa.Gov Federal Aviation Administration National Weather Service « Jamison’s Random Blog Says:

    […] FAA & Test Takers a Step Closer to Learning – Jetwhine: Aviation … […]

  2. Faa.Gov Blood Alcohol Limit Legal Blood Alcohol Limit | Robert's New Site Says:

    […] FAA & Test Takers a Step Closer to Learning […]

  3. Ron Says:

    As an instructor, I can testify to the difficulty of complying with the FAA’s requirement that I review the areas of “deficiency” on the airman knowledge test with students before they take their practical exam.

    Imagine this. A student brings in their sheet and it lists no questions missed. Instead, just a bunch of codes like A356. I can use an Advisory Circular to decode them, but it’s not much help because all it gives are generalized areas like “Aircraft Systems” for a hint. I’m left to the student’s memory of the questions they might have received on that topic.

    Not a very good system. It makes the FAA’s knowledge test concept even more of a joke than it needs to be.

    What SHOULD happen is that the instructor should get an automated email from CATS (or whoever the testing organization is) with the student’s name, final result, and the questions they missed. Then I could really dig into things.

    Unfortunately I think the true problem is that the FAA doesn’t trust CFIs enough to provide that information. Which is sad when you realize the responsibilities we already have.

  4. Faa.Gov Federal Aviation Administration System Glitch « Jamison’s Random Blog Says:

    […] FAA & Test Takers a Step Closer to Learning – Jetwhine: Aviation … […]

  5. Faa.Gov Federal Aviation Administration Traffic Management Services | Robert's New Site Says:

    […] FAA & Test Takers a Step Closer to Learning – Jetwhine: Aviation … […]

  6. Faa.Gov | Robert's New Site Says:

    […] FAA & Test Takers a Step Closer to Learning – Jetwhine: Aviation … […]

  7. Faa.Gov Federal Aviation Administration | Robert's New Site Says:

    […] FAA & Test Takers a Step Closer to Learning […]

  8. Faa.Gov | Robert's New Site Says:

    […] FAA & Test Takers a Step Closer to Learning […]

  9. Barbara Goodwin Says:

    I taught private pilot ground school in the late 1980s when the test was done on paper. At that time, the students did get an accurate record of the actual numbers of the questions missed on the test. It was then easy to go over the questions missed and together with the student figure the correct answer. In the 90s when I again started teaching private pilot ground school, I was amazed to see the confusing results students received when they took their test on line. This new idea is a step in the right direction but “5 min.”
    to look as the questions go by on the computer screen. I’m not sure that will help very much.

  10. Faa.Gov Air Traffic Controller Faa Test « Jamison’s Random Blog Says:

    […] FAA & Test Takers a Step Closer to Learning – Jetwhine: Aviation … […]

Subscribe without commenting