Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What Is Proficiency?

Ten ways of telling whether you’re actually as good as you think you are

Even if you fly regularly, you'll still need to make an effort to improve or maintain your skills by applying strict performance standards to them on each flight.
Aviation is awash in proficiency-oriented literature and training courses. But, what exactly is proficiency? How, for instance, do we know if we're as proficient as we should be, and how can we measure it? The good news is that aviation provides quite a number of yardsticks that enable us to measure what's essentially an intangible item. That being the case, it's then up to us to use those yardsticks and figure out how to keep that proficiency up.

What Is Proficiency?
The definition of "proficiency" is intertwined with the definition of "skill," and they're difficult to view separately. In fact, the dictionary says "proficient" is being "…competent or skilled in doing or using something." That doesn't clear things up, does it? However, if you sit back and carefully look at it, it could be said that skill is the living, breathing entity that enables us to move the controls at the right time, for the right effect.

Proficiency could be viewed as a way of measuring the health of that skill. Yes, we know how to fly. We have that basic skill. But, how healthy is that skill? Is our skill as sharp and as well-tuned as it was last year? Or the year before? In other words, are we as proficient at applying that skill as we were in the past, and are we as proficient at applying that skill as accepted aviation safety standards say we should be? Those are two different measurements.

Regardless of how we look at the skill/proficiency thing, we have to recognize that both will deteriorate, whether we want them to or not, if we don't apply that skill enough to keep it fresh. It's the old, "Use it or lose it," adage. But there's a flaw in that cliché: It's entirely possible to be in the air every single day and still not be proficient if we're not making any effort at improving or maintaining those skills by applying tight performance standards to them.

Intelligent Repetition Vs. Sawtooth Deterioration
It's well accepted that learning is based on repetition: You keep practicing something over and over, until you can finally do it. However, that repetition only works if it's "intelligent" repetition: If we keep doing the same thing wrong, we get really good at making the same mistakes, but never get any better. This is where applying performance standards to ensure that the repetitive cycles are done right comes into play. This also helps eliminate the sawtooth deterioration/improvement pattern that dogs a lot of us. This is the tendency to let ourselves slide downhill, suddenly realize we're doing a lousy job, so we get some dual instruction and improve, only to let our skills slide downhill again. And the cycle keeps repeating itself.

So, where do those performance standards come from, how do we use them in testing ourselves, and how do we work them into our everyday flying habits?


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