The other day, I tested 2 applicants for the private pilot certificate. Both had similar traits; male, well educated, similar flight experience, and had excellent instructors. Both applicants were very nervous. It was easy to tell, the wringing of the hands, the pacing and laughing at my stupid jokes. Any attempts at lightening the mood by me were not working at all.
Both applicants had worked hard and appeared well prepared. But there was a clear difference in their performance during the checkride. One applicant struggled throughout the test eventually blowing a maneuver to the point where I had to recover. The other applicant sailed through the test despite ATCs attempts otherwise. How can this happen? Darn good question.
Checkride-its, test anxiety, or whatever you want to call it, are all a form of stress. Stress can either improve or hinder your performance. I believe how this stress is handled is a good predictor on the outcome of the checkride. I don’t have the expertise to write a doctorate paper on stress control but here are a couple of methods I’ve read about.
First method: Prepare well. Some theories state that consciously or subconsciously you know that you are not prepared for the test and this leads to that unsettling feeling. By preparing well, I don’t mean cramming the night before the checkride. You may have gotten away with it in collage but it doesn’t work very well (at all?) here. Preparing over time with some concentrated study up to a couple days before the checkride works well. I recommend taking the last 24 hours off from studying, have nice dinner and get a good night rest before the checkride.
Second method: Write down your concerns about the checkride. One study found that when people with high test anxiety write down their testing concerns their performance improves during that test. This study was performed at an aviation university using applicants for different checkrides. This study also found that if an applicant fails a checkride their test anxiety goes even higher on the retest. So I recommend writing down you checkride concerns before showing up for you checkride. In doing so, you’ll address or at least acknowledge the concerns before the test. What you do with the list is up to you. The study doesn’t mention taking the list to your instructor for psychoanalysis but rather just putting it aside. The idea is just to bring these concerns to the surface before the test.
Would either of these methods have helped first applicant pass the checkride? I don’t know, but at least I can offer a couple of suggestions to help lower the anxiety.