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There was a great response to my recent article “4 Methods To Succeed at Your Initial Type Rating.”  If you didn’t have a chance to read it, check it out for additional strategies. I compiled a list of several techniques that I use when I go for training. However, many people shared their methods of success in response to that article. I was also reminded of some others methods I employ subconsciously. Here are a few things to incorporate into your own toolbox. 

  • Establish a study routine

In case you haven’t hit the books hard since high school or college, time to dust off the study routine.  Do yourself a favor and establish a system to coincide with your ground school lessons. The training environment is very structured. It may vary slightly from instructor to instructor, but there is generally a layout of which aircraft systems will be studied each day.  If not, ask your instructor at the end of ground school each day about what he or she will cover tomorrow. This is a great starting point. If I know tomorrow the instructor will cover electrical, landing gear and brakes, and the pressurization system, I will familiarize myself with those sections tonight at the hotel. I don’t study them exhaustively. Rather, I read through the associated chapter in the pilot training manual one time. Or, if available, I watch the system video to get a general idea of the subject matter. I may also review those limitations associated with the systems before ground school, too. This acts as a good primer before we really dive in in class. During the lesson, I take notes. After the instructor covers these items in class, I return to the hotel room, reread my notes, and answer the review questions associated with this chapter or section.  This format creates a study routine I can follow each day. Prime, learn, reinforce. If you feel like your studying is haphazard, hit the pause button and create a study routine. It’s like my pilot father told me over and over again, “do it the same way every time.”

  • Make a study guide

The study guide method is very similar to making your own flashcards, but it’s more logical, sequential, and organized. When you make a study guide, you employ the same tactile learning technique as flashcards. Writing down the information helps you remember it. Instead of the random, “pop-quiz” style of flashcards, grouping your key points chronologically in sections may appeal to your learning style.  Consider using some of the techniques from “bullet journaling.”  Start with the big ideas and add detail as you descend.  This is the inverse pyramid method. Use different symbols or colors to differentiate information.  For instance, use a red pen to indicate emergency checklist memory items.  Or, use a block symbol to denote a limitation.   The study guide method can really help you organize your thoughts.  Perhaps more than any other method, the study guide can be extremely helpful when you return for recurrent training. Hold onto it for next year!

What does your study routine entail?
  • Use a paper tiger

In years past, pilots would practice procedures in front of the paper tiger. Often, these trainers were no more than posters glued to foam board creating a cockpit mock-up.  Now, in the modern training arena, paper tigers have been replaced by state of the art flight training devices, or FTDs. Often, these amazing tools have the actual software loaded into the FMS system.  They are essentially simulators with no motion.  Recently, I spent twenty hours over five days practicing procedures and becoming familiar with the aircraft operating system before we stepped into the simulator. That being said, is there still a place for the paper tiger?  Absolutely! That place is the wall of your hotel room. I find my memory items are more easily retained when I couple memorization with the visual element of the cockpit. If I am memorizing the memory items for “engine failure below V1,” when I read each item, I reach up and touch the poster. 

  • Thrust levers idle – touch the thrust levers and move hand aft
  • Brake apply – tap my toes
  • Spoilers deploy – “pull” the spoiler handle
  • Thrust reversers deploy – touch TR handles and “open” them

Even if you’re sitting in an uncomfortable chair in your hotel room, strive to make your training as real as possible whenever you can.

  • Label every switch, knob, button, and handle

Until I went to school with a new partner, I had never seen this technique. He printed out the cockpit poster PDF into perhaps 20 different sheets of normal 8 1/2 x 11 paper. You could also simply cut up a cockpit poster into equal sized sections. Then, he made extensive notes next to every single item in the cockpit. He wrote down what every switch controlled, what memory items were associated with that button, and any important numbers associated with that system.  In a very tangible way, he attached the somewhat esoteric book information we were studying to a familiar environment: the cockpit. It made all the information very practical and real.

What methods do you use to succeed at initial training?