Everything you need to know about ATPL Exams 2021

Everything you need to know about ATPL Exams 2021

Everything you need to know about ATPL exams, from how to study and what to expect. Expert advice from Nathan Powrie | A320 Pilot and ex-ATPL Theoretical Knowledge Instructor. 
The ATPL (Airline Transport Pilots Licence) exams are the first steps to achieving your full ATPL licence. This guide takes you through each of the exams you will have to take and the different ways to study for them. You may also find this guide helpful if you already hold a non-EASA ATPL and wish to convert to EASA. 

There are two ways you could study for and sit these exams, either modular or integrated. The modular route gives you the ability to study and sit exams at your own pace, perfect for someone who still wishes to work during their pilot training or study remotely. The integrated method is a fast track route through the exams and requires full time, intensive study for around 6 months. 

ATPL exam sittings during Covid-19 in 2021

You can still sit your ATPL exams during the pandemic, new exam dates are still being released at all the UK test centres.​

The Exams

There are 14 exams in total that you will need to take on the way to your EASA ATPL. Exam lengths have recently been changed by EASA - you can find the details here in this document.

1. Mass and Balance
The Mass and Balance syllabus covers all topics surrounding the weighing and load distribution of the aircraft. It will take you through topics such as standard passenger masses, the effects of different centre of gravity positions & the mass components of an aircraft. This is one of the shorter exams in the ATPL course and is usually enjoyed by those with a maths background. 

Number of Questions: 25
Time for exam: 1hour 15mins
Difficulty: Medium

ATPL Ground School: Mass and Balance formula workbook

Free PDF download.
2. Performance
Considered one of the more difficult exams, performance covers aeroplane performance at different stages of flight. You will cover take off & landing performance calculations as well as climb, cruise & descent performance variables. This exam required a good memory of numbers, an ability to dissect formulas and read graphs. 

Number of Questions: 45
Time for exam: 2 hours
Difficulty: Hard

ATPL Ground School: Flight Planning Formulas

3. Flight Planning  
Flight planning is another subject based around graphs but is certainly on the lighter side compared to Performance. You will be required to remember certain formulas and definitions. Our handy guide can help you through this. 

Number of Questions: 42

Time for exam: 2 hours
Difficulty: Medium

ATPL Ground School: Performance: Factors and Equations

4. Air Law
As you’d expect, Air Law is a very fact based exam. You’ll be required to remember the rules of the air, what governs them and when they apply. A strong memory is required for this and it is often one that consumes a lot of study time due to the sheer amount of information you are required to remember. 

Number of Questions: 44
Time for exam: 1 hour
Difficulty: Medium

5. Aircraft General Knowledge
Aircraft General Knowledge will cover the basics of the aircraft engines, airframes and systems. It supplies a general overview of a commercial airliner and is not aircraft type specific. You’ll not only need to have the knowledge, but also a good understanding of the logic of how an aircraft works to get the right answers in the exam.

Number of Questions: 80
Time for exam: 2 hours
Difficulty: Medium

6. Instrumentation 
This subject takes you through the basic instrumentation on commercial aircraft. Again, this is not aircraft type specific and will provide a general overview without too much depth. We recommend trying to get into an aircraft simulator to help with your revision. Students can often struggle to recall the things they’ve learned in these lessons due to lack of understanding. This can be helped by booking in some simulator time with your instrumentation instructor.

Number of Questions: 60
Time for exam: 1 hour 30 mins
Difficulty: Medium

7. Human Performance
Human performance covers the factors affecting the human body such as sleep and alcohol, as well as why we make errors. Some may find this topic rather interesting, but once again a lot of revision sticky notes will be required to remember the high level of information.

Number of Questions: 48
Time for exam: 1 hour 30mins
Difficulty: Medium

8. Meteorology 
Weather is something pilots will face every day, it’s important to understand which weather you need to avoid. This topic will cover the different types of clouds, weather systems and patterns throughout the world and the impact on flying operations. It takes a solid commitment to studying to understand the logic behind what you are taught in this module.

Number of Questions: 84
Time for exam: 2 hours
Difficulty: Hard

9. General Navigation
General Navigation covers navigation tactics around the world and focuses on the different types of charts available, great circle routes and much more. Some may say it’s outdated as pilots need little knowledge on the topic nowadays due to the invention of GPS.  Nonetheless, this is another subject that requires a confident level of mathematics. 

Number of Questions: 55
Time for exam: 2 hours 15 mins
Difficulty: Hard

10. Radio Navigation
Radio Navigation gives you an understanding of the different radio aids that aircraft can use to navigate. By then end of it you’ll be able to read aircraft instruments and calculate positions based on radials and distances between radio aids.

Number of Questions: 66
Time for exam: 1 hour 30 mins
Difficulty: Medium

11. Operational Procedures
Operational Procedures generally vary by airline, but they will have to meet a minimum standard met by the regulating body such as the UK CAA. This subject takes you through generic operational procedures, unfortunately it’s another memory test!

Number of Questions: 42
Time for exam: 1 hour 15 mins
Difficulty: Medium

12. Principles of Flight
Principles of Flight is one of the toughest ATPL exams. You’ll learn how aeroplanes fly and all about the main forces in flight; thrust, drag, lift & weight. You’ll need to be comfortable rearranging formulas and the questions will really test your understanding of the subject. 

Number of Questions: 46
Time for exam: 1 hour 30 mins
Difficulty: Medium

13. VFR Communications 
The first of two communication exams, this covers the radio phraseology when under Visual Flight Rules. This subject will give you a good understanding of RT before you get into your first light aircraft. It is a short exam that people generally find straightforward.

Number of Questions: 20
Time for exam: 30 mins
Difficulty: Easy

14. IFR Communications
The final ATPL theoretical knowledge exam is the Instrument Flight Rules part of communications. Most commercial flights take place under IFR so this will be relevant for your future airline career. It is another short and fairly straightforward exam, but also a good opportunity to get your average marks higher!

Number of Questions: 20
Time for exam: 30mins
Difficulty: Easy

How to take your ATPL Ground School exams

There are two ways to study for and then take your ATPL exams; distance learning, classroom study or as part of an integrated course. 

ATPL Distance Learning
Distance learning is perfect for those who wish to study whilst still in full or part time work. This involves purchasing a course which you can do at your own pace. Distance learning courses generally include a limited number of instructor hours to help you should you need the support. 

Distance learning courses range at prices between £1,499.00 and £2450.00. Some providers include:

ATPL Full Time or Integrated course
An ATPL integrated course is available for those who wish to complete their ATPL exams in the shortest period of time (usually 6 months). These courses will include full time classroom tuition and can be incredibly intense, it is not recommended for those who wish to continue working whilst studying. The integrated course could be as part of a full training package or MPL training programme, it could also be an intense part of a modular training programme. 

Some providers of this type of ATPL Ground School include: 

ATPL Exams: Frequently Asked Questions

- Are ATPL exams difficult? 
Naturally some find the ATPL exams easier than others. There is no doubt that they are challenging as you need to get at least 75% in all of the 14 exams. Some airlines will stipulate you need at least a 90% average if they are to take you for your first flying job. It is generally between GCSE and A Level knowledge, but the stress is an added factor.

- How long are ATPL theory exams valid for? 
According to the EASA Flight Crew Licencing rules ‘The completion of the airline transport pilot licence (ATPL) theoretical knowledge
examinations will remain valid for the issue of an ATPL for a period of 7 years from the last
validity date of an IR entered in the licence.

- Are ATPL exams multiple choice? 
ATPL Exams have changed in the last few years. Although the bulk of questions are multiple choice, some questions are now written answers and are not multiple choice. 

- What is the best way to study for ATPL exams? 
A healthy mixture of textbooks, memory flash card and question databases would be my advice on how to study for your ATPL. I would emphasise the use of testing yourself, whether that be practice exams or quizzing yourself with a friend. The best way to remember things is with recollection. 

- Do I need to do ATPL exams to convert to an EASA Licence? 
Generally the answer to this is yes, you will need to complete all 14 ATPL exams should you wish to obtain an EASA ATPL Licence. 

- Where can I take my ATPL exams?  
You must go to a CAA approved test centre. These include centres at Gatwick, Luton, Oxford and Coventry. For the most up to date list please visit the CAA website.

What equipment do I require for ATPL exams?

To get the most from your ATPL studies you’ll need equipment such as a good notebook, a calculator, pens & pencils, a CRP - 5 & you’ll also need charts for your General Navigation exam.
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