Just when you thought everything had been done in the world of ground school/knowledge exam preparation, along comes somebody with a twist on tradition. For decades now, the accepted method of preparing for taking an FAA knowledge exam (popularly known as a "written test") has been to take either the King Schools or Sporty's Video courses, or do an accelerated weekend cram course. Video courses have evolved from 1990s VHS quality, with an instructor standing in front of a chroma-key green screen, to today's slicker Internet-based courses with HD resolution and 3D graphics. But overall, the choices haven't changed much. Some people opt to study without the courses, using various text and online resources to supplement their self-guided learning. But the days of traditional "ground school" sessions—led by a live instructor—seem to have buckled under the stress of our over-scheduled lives.
Pro Aviation Trainers has created a new approach to passing the knowledge exam by combining the best of live ground school sessions with the advantages of web-based courses featuring rich graphics and animation. In business since only June, the company has introduced another method for aviation students to pass their knowledge tests.
Modern graphics and pre-reviewed content is combined with a live instructor to create a new ground school model.
Pro Aviation Trainers' system is a hybrid of the popular video course format, with the interaction of a live instructor. Students enroll in a course given on a specific date and receive detailed training materials ahead of time. Then they use their Internet web browsers to launch the course on that date and time. Instead of pre-recorded content, students hear a live instructor and see graphical content for that lesson. Browser controls allow the user to "raise their hand" (it's a virtual gesture, nobody sees each other) and ask live questions. Students can chat, make comments and interact with the instructor in real time. Like other digital formats, students can access the courses from wherever it's convenient and can follow along even in their pajamas.
The system is the idea of Al Naqui, an engineer and MBA who invested in a traditional FBO and saw a need for a different kind of ground school training. "I noticed that not every student learned the same way," said Naqui. "Having a live instructor, they could ask questions that seemed to improve their learning."
As of late summer, some 50-60 students had taken Pro Aviation Trainers' course. So far, only the Private and Instrument Pilot courses are available, though Naqui already has plans to expand. "We are in the process of adding the Commercial and CFI courses," he told us. Students can select from a 10-week format or an "accelerated" two-day option for either the Private or Instrument course. Naqui says they require a minimum of five students to conduct a seminar, though he has run seminars with less. He caps the courses at 25 students, and an average of 10-15 attend.
The courses are technically rich. They can be run on Mac or PC computers, and even most tablets or mobile devices. No special software is required, though a small-footprint client app will download to your computer the first time you access a course. Ground instructors are certified, of course, and the seminars contain the usual components including practice exams, FAA-approved endorsement and progress tracking. The instructor will administer a practice exam upon completion of a seminar, and the student must pass with an 85% or better. "The FAA requires a minimum passing score of 70%," adds Naqui, "so we set our bar higher. Students can take the final practice exam as many times as they like until they reach the magic 85%. They will then receive the proper endorsement to take the real knowledge exam."
My impression from taking a subset of the Instrument seminar is that it's effective. It's interesting to hear others' questions, and being able to ask the instructor for clarification is probably the course's strongest selling point. The graphic format is nice, though I found it much more akin to a PowerPoint presentation than the sophisticated graphics of, say, the Sporty's course. Still, the information is relayed effectively. When one considers that some of the graphics in the King courses are nearly 20 years old, the difference fancy graphics make to success on the FAA exams seems overrated. I think it depends on the student.
Scheduling seemed amply available, and at $279 for the 10-week Private course, the price is reasonable for what the student receives. The materials you receive a week before your course will give you everything you need to succeed in the course. Like all FAA-prep programs, success on the exam is up to the individual. There are no magic bullets, and—especially for the Instrument rating knowledge—you have to study until you really understand the material. There's no universal method of learning that works for everyone.
have to study.
I think systems like Pro Aviation Trainers have a place in our increasingly complex aviation world. I love the idea of interacting with a live instructor while still enjoying the convenience of home study and participation. It adds a option for passing the FAA exam.
Visit www.proaviationtrainers.com for more information.