UK CAA to make changes to ATPL examinations

What are ATPL Theoretical Examinations?

It’s likely that the majority of readers already know the answer to this question. However, for the avoidance of doubt, these are the exams currently 14 in number which must be passed as a prerequisite of gaining a commercial pilot licence. These are known by many names across the globe, but this post relates specifically to the EASA syllabus as implemented by the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority.

How are the exams currently conducted?

All 14 exams are all assessed through the medium of multiple choice questions. A candidate will be shown a question with or without an appendix depending on the subject matter and be asked to ascertain the correct answer and select it from four options. The remaining options are a combination of obviously incorrect options, those easily obtained through the use of incorrect methodology and/or distractors based on common misconceptions of truth. Results are marked by computer and are released within 24 hours of the last exam within a sitting.

So, what’s changing?

Over the past year or so the UK CAA has been hard at work refreshing all of the questions within the central question bank which has certainly caused chaos for students and instructors alike. In some cases, new questions – of which were appealed – weren’t even in the learning objectives for the subject. Things have got a little better in that regard, although it had also been long rumoured among forums/cadets/instructors that the question formats were to change. Well, it appears said changes have been finalised and are start rolling out to the UK CAA EASA ATPL exams as of August 2017.

It’s worth saying this type of testing is not new and thankfully the UK CAA is not to be the guinea pig. This new type of questioning is making use of the precedent set and currently in use within Australia and New Zealand, referred to as Quadrant.

What will these new question formats be like?

The following question types will now be seen alongside the existing multiple choice format:

  • Multi-Selection:
    Designed to replace questions where students are to pick an answer containing multiple correct options. In essence this removes the ability to deduce correct answers by eliminating those containing incorrect options. Instead, candidates would presumably have to tick tickboxes associated with correct options. I imagine you’d need to get all of those options correct to score the point.
  • Inline:
    Arguably multiple choice still, but you would need to complete gaps in sentences using dropdown boxes containing words/numbers/combination of both which make the most sense in the given sentence. I could certainly see this type of question utilised in Air Law / Operations among others.
  • Text:
    Candidates are provided a textbox to which the correct option must be entered. Presuming the exams are to remain marked by a computer it is unlikely this type of question be used for freetext. This type of question would suit the calculations required in mass and balance or performance where numerical values must be entered although, it remains to be seen whether the CAA will permit a tolerance either side of the correct answer. If they don’t then I can see it becoming troublesome with takeoff / landing performance charts in the topic of performance – unless the questions also change.

When are they being introduced?

It would appear that this change is being rolled out in phases with feedback from each phase being used to improve the next. The dates given for each topic are as follows:

Topic  Proposed Date
Air Law 14/08/2017
VFR Communications 21/08/2017
IFR Communications 21/08/2017
Human Performance 28/08/2017
General Navigation 04/09/2017
Radio Navigation 04/09/2017
Meteorology 11/09/2017
Operational Procedures 11/09/2017
Aircraft General Knowledge 18/09/2017
Mass & Balance 02/10/2017
Principles of Flight 02/10/2017
Performance 09/10/2017
Flight Planning & Monitoring 16/10/2017



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