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How to study for your ATPL
Best way to study for your ATPL

What to expect from studying your ATPL’s

So if you have decided to embark on the difficult task of your atpls and want to know what’s involved then this is the article for you.

But first lets cover some FAQ’s often asked

# Can I just buy the text books second hand and take the exams?


No, you must be signed up to an approved ATO school such as Bristol ground school or Cats, most will charge you around £1,500-£2000, with an additional £500 for the books, the school fee is for the 3 weeks of class room tuition you need as a minimum, not to mention support and help when you need it, It may seem expensive but you are getting a lot for your money. The books are sometimes optional, sometimes they will give you access to them online as part of your subscription fee with them

# What are the modules?


Schools divide the teaching in 3 modules(sometimes 2), where you are allocated a selection of subjects per module, these are chosen carefully by the school as some subjects compliment each other, it is not essential you do the modules in a 1,2,3 pattern, but they have designed the course to best suit what they think works.

Each module contains a 1 week classroom attendance, you cannot take the exams for the subjects till you have completed the class room attendance week for that module.

#What are the 6 sittings?


ATPL exams have a slightly complicated pattern to how exams must be taken, you have 6 sittings (each sitting is one week long), and in that week you can take as many exams as you wish(providing you have done the classroom attendance for that exam).

Generally, people do 3-4 exams per sitting, and are done with in 3-4 sittings.

Why not spread them out all over the 6 sittings you may be asking….?

You can fail an exam up to 4 times before having to start the whole atpl course again(Yes 4!), but if you fail one exam more than this, your out and its back to square one.

But also, you must complete all exams it the 6 sittings

So come your 4th sitting, lets say you fail Air law, - you cannot take that exam in the same sitting again, you must wait till the 5th sitting

You then fail it on your 5th sitting…

Then you are sitting number 6, and if you don’t pass it this time you are out as you have ran out of sititngs

Imagine if you spread your sittings out and took airlaw on the 6th sitting and failed it , you are finished.

This is why its important to aim for 3-4 sittings, to give you 2 sittings spare for retakes

If you fail an exam on sitting 1, you have 5 more sittings to give it another go(providing you don’t go over the 4 attempts rule per subject)

So in all this, you can see why a good study pattern is essential to ensuring you don’t put your self in to a difficult situation


#So how do I study best?


Everyone is different with how they learn, some prefer videos, some prefer textbooks, some prefer reading PDF’s from an ipad, so how you study is down to you, but how long you should study per subject is what we will discuss.

We will break down the subjects in to Long, Medium, Short to give an idea of how much work is involved, some subjects can be studied in one week, some in 4 weeks. This also depends on your background knowledge. An aircraft engineer will probably be fine with Aircraft general knowledge and will know it inside out already so this is just a general guide

Airlaw – Medium/Long 
Operations – Medium/Long
Human performance – Medium
Meteorology – Long
General Navigation – Long(Medium if excellent at maths)
Instrumentation – Medium.

Aircraft general – Long
VFR communications – Small

IFR Communications – Small

Flight planning – Long(Medium if excellent at maths)
Performance – Medium
Mass and balance – Medium(Shorter if excellent at maths)
Radio Navigation – Medium (Some maths helps)

Principles of flight – Long(More medium if your physics is excellent )

Lets break the study time down per category

On the assumption of 3 hours per day

Long subjects: 3-5 weeks
Medium subjects: 2-4 Weeks
Short subjects: 1-2 Weeks

Everyone has their own preferred study plans on what works for them, but here are what we feel the points that matter and will help you the most


#Study Pointers


Reading the material inside out, sometimes just isn’t enough and take it from experience, you can read the material inside out and feel like you understand it. But then do a practice test and you score only 50-60%, this is common for any ATPL student.

Studying effectively is important

As you study, make notes of the things you don’t understand as easy, a nice large book of notes per subject.

At the end of the subject, read your notes and try some question banks to test your knowledge. Write down areas you have missed, you will also come across sections which you feel like were not even in the text books(but they are there some where)

Then go through the material again, and write up a more condensed set of notes , referring to your list of struggled areas from the practice questions, you will soon start to see the areas on the question bank which you missed or didn’t even read properly as you go through the book a second time.

At the end of that, test your knowledge again, your scores will start to improve.

Then same again, start to skim through the book quicker, finding areas you are struggling with.

As you can see- going through the material several times is probably best practice – you can sit there and think you have understood it all perfectly but there are so many areas you will of missed without realising.

The second source of study is also a good idea, some books teach certain areas excellent whilst other books may not be as good at explaining.

We recommend purchasing Phil Croucher’s Professional pilot studies guide


This is one book featuring all subjects (it’s a large book), but it is also a great second resource reference guide, this could be the book you read from when you pass the material a second time.

Also good are the Oxford CAE books, they are expensive, and sometimes go into more detail than required but they certainly serve as a “second resource” 

Ensure a balanced study across the subjects

It is important not to try and spend 3 weeks on Airlaw, then 4 weeks on Meterology, then 3 weeks on Operations, Because by time you have finished Operations you will of forgotten so much of airlaw.

ATPLs are a memory game, and the biggest memory game you will ever face. 

So try split your studying so that there are no large gaps between subjects, especially as you get closer to the exam dates


Week 1 – Subject A (if you don’t finish all the material don’t worry)
Week 2 – Subject B
Week 3 – Subject C
Week 4 – Subject A

Week 5 – Subecjt B

Week 6 – Subject C

Week 7 – Subject A & Subject B
Week 8 – Subject B & Subject C

Week 9 – Subject A/B & C (2 days per subject)

Week 10 – Subject A/B/C A/B/C(1 day per subject)

As you can see, the closer you get to the exams, the less gaps you try make between subjects to ensure you are keeping a fresh knowledge of each subject in your mind.


How long should I spend studying per module? 


For someone who can commit 3-4 hours a day – 3 Months per module is a rough guide, if you are studying maybe 2-3 hours per day – 4 Months is more likely

Remember there is a timer too… 18 months FROM the day you sit the first exam (But this is plenty of time for most people)


Don’t take breaks


When you begin a module, ensure you can commit to studying at least 90% of the days, if you have holidays then try place your holidays to work so that they are between modules

This may sound Over the top, but taking breaks of 2-3 days when studying ATPL’s, will set you back a week, Like we said before, ATPLs are a memory game and the game is to ensure you keep reading the material to ensure its fresh in your mind. 

Even if on your off days you just read your notes, its important to keep reciting the material to make sure its stuck in your head

Do you have kids or a partner?

This is a little warning to you , and one that may seem ridiculous but many students will say the same to you. Ensure you speak to your partners before starting this course and explain the time and dedication you will need towards it because they can certainly start to feel like you are using the studying as an excuse to not spend time with them. Your kids will also be a huge inconvenience in your life whilst studying ATPL’s, it will be hard to commit that time you need sometimes, but don’t let that put you off, just spend more time per module before taking the exams.



Managing the classroom sessions with your studying?


You may have other commitments like work to manage your time around, the schools tend to run modules at a rate of 1 or 2 per month, (and you need to ensure there is spaces available too) and remember you need to attend the classrooms before taking the exams


The classroom sessions should be attended at around 75% of the way in to your studying, when you have already read through the material and have a good idea, the sessions are nothing more than revision sessions, they will spend 1-2 days per subject, or for the smaller ones only half a day. 

But this is where it can be tricky

Lets say its January the 1st, and you are ready to start studying module 1, but you find your schools module 1 sessions is January the 26th, that doesn’t leave you much time to read all the material, the next module 1 session is April the 26th but its already fully booked, what do you do?
Then you notice there is a module 3 class March 26th and it has spaces available, and this works perfectly as it gives you 3 months to read through the material.

So this is where starting Module 3 first may work for you, remember you do not need to study them in order. 

So once you are set on your plan, book your self on to the module 3 course, and start studying.

When do I take the exams?

Now depending on your circumstances you may find you are located 5 hours from your nearest school so you may find it tempting to go down, do the classroom and then take the exams the week after and stay there all weekend to avoid the traveling.

This can work, but you need to really ensure you understand the material before you go, like seriously understand it. The schools are brilliant at spending time on the areas of a subject they feel students struggle the most , it is very unlikely they will go through the entire subject and are more likely to spend time just covering certain areas.


But the classroom sessions may also locate issues with your knowledge and then you need to spend more time studying.

The best situation is to go the classroom sessions, then return home and spend another 2-3 weeks studying just to brush up on anything you have missed but we can also appreciate that people don’t want to be traveling up and down the country if they live so far away.

Taking the exams the week after the classrooms, is an option and it can work for you, but it isn’t always the best practice.


Failing exams

Now you obviously want to pass your exams first time, it looks better on your records having great first time passes for the airlines but it doesn’t always work out like this. 

The honest truth is, having more than 2 fails on your atpl records may hinder your chances of an airline career, some airlines require high pass rates and no more than 2 fails so its really important to try and pass first time so don’t rush and take the exams when you are ready.

Is it very easy to fall in to the trap of just wanting to get it done so taking your exams a little to early can be tempting, but try avoid this.



Study hard, study smart, and take your time.

ATPL exams are no easy task and they are extremely demanding on your social life, they can be cruel, frustrating and make you question if its worth it.

But the day you pass your final exams you will shed a tear at the journey you have been on and how you managed to get through it.

Some refer to it as “getting out of ATPL Jail” , and the truth is the ATPL theory can feel like a jail sentence but at the end of the day if you want to be in charge of 200 Tonnes of metal and have the lives of 400 passengers in your hands then they aint going to make it easy.

Pilots can receive the same pay as doctors, surgeons and lawyers and they spend 5+ years studying , the ATPLs demand your commitment for 18-24 months so think of it like that. You’re getting off lightly in some sense.

Best of all, enjoy the learning experience, you will learn so many new aspects off life from weather to how the human body works that will sit with you for the rest of your life. 



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