Some say that the IFR written test is the hardest of the FAA tests.  I have no real idea if that is true or not since I have only taken the PPL previously.  If you are willing to put in the work it isn’t a difficult test to prepare for.  I think more than anything, the difficulty arises in how the test questions are asked more than anything.  There are many instances on the test where two answers are correct but evidently, one answer is more, err, correcter?  Other answers sometimes differ by a single word or plurality, so if you are not paying close attention you could get it wrong.

I wish that I could say it is because when you’re flying IFR you really need to focus on all of the details so that something doesn’t slip through. However, that would be giving the test preparers huge amounts of credit.  Sadly, I think the true reason is more insidious.  I believe it comes down to average test scores.  There is some sort of reverse curve at work here in which they write intentionally vague questions in the hopes of bringing the average down.

Really, there is no excuse for not doing well on one of these exams.  You have all of the study information available and practice tests to take in order to get a feel for the content.  If you read enough of the prep content, you even start to memorize the questions.  This is where rote memorization divides the masses into feverish debate.

My feelings on rote memorization are mixed.  I believe that knowing the contextual side of the content is really important for determining the best answers in the grey area.  However, by memorizing questions and answers of varying perspective, you can in a sense, understand the problem from all angles.  I mean let’s face it, most of us memorized our times tables.  In college you commit to memorizing formulas and organic structures (if you were a chem nerd like me).  PEMDAS anyone!

I think that rote memorization is fine as long as you have the curiosity to look further into questions that you struggle with.  This way you can add context to the facts.

One advantage of rote memorization is the ability to recall a specific answer to a situation in a very quick manner.  I feel that this could be advantageous in a high workload/stressful environment when in hard IFR on approach.  I mean, if someone were to dangle you off a ledge and ask you what 9 times 7, you certainly are not going to want to be counting fingers and toes.

Memorization is obviously baked into the DNA of teaching / learning to fly.  There are so many rules and regulations that there is nearly an acronym for everything.  IMSAFE, PAVE, TOMATO FLAMES FLAPS, GRABCARDD…. I literally have pages and pages of just acronyms to memorize!!!

As far as the FAA instrument test is concerned, I am hoping that the test writers feel the same way.  I hope that the most important parts, of safely navigating and completing an ifr flight, are all there in their test bank.  Of course wanting to be a good pilot I am not going to trust in this assumption.  Instead I am going to study the fuzzy stuff for more context.

So did I take the test? And, if so how did I do you ask?


I had a challenge to get a good score from my previous instructor now airline pilot! What do ya think? 🙂