The ground school portion of pilot training can help you prepare for your FAA knowledge test, flight training, and the oral part of the FAA practical tests. You have dozens of options for ground schools — both in-person and online. Before you enroll in an online ground school, you should consider a few key factors to ensure you find a program that matches your learning style, goals, and budget.
How do you like to learn?
Take some time to consider what an ideal hour of studying looks like to you.
- Do you like to flip through a book with a highlighter and pen, underlining terms and writing notes in a notebook?
- Would you rather watch videos of ground instructors in classroom settings, teaching concepts like weight-and-balance and cross country flight planning on whiteboards?
- Would you prefer to see videos of flight instructors actually flying?
- Would you like to use a mobile app to go through knowledge test questions and take practice tests and quizzes?
Whether you want the most basic, economic, PowerPoint-style ground school or an expansive course that offers a library vault of videos and resources, you can find a learning solution that you enjoy. There are flight instructors who inject humor into lessons and others who use the whole class runtime to dive deep into the nitty-gritty of technical details.
Since you have so many options for ground school, pick one that aligns with your preferred methods of learning. Remember, ground school is just one tool in your flight training toolbox.
What do your flight school and flight instructor think?
Some flight schools offer in-person ground schools and may prefer — or even require — you to enroll in their program. Even if you take an in-person ground school, you can still supplement it with an online ground school that gives you the advantage of reviewing course content over and over again. The FAA does not require student pilots to take an in-person ground school to sit for an aeronautical knowledge test; you only need an endorsement from your instructor prior to the exam.
Many online ground schools, such as King Schools, MZeroA, Fly8MA, Sporty’s, Angle of Attack, and Gleim will provide an endorsement from one of their flight instructors upon completion of the course. You may have to submit practice tests or other evidence showing you have reviewed the materials.
If you haven’t begun your flight training yet, you can complete the ground school portion of training online and take the FAA knowledge exam before you even sign up for flight lessons at a flight school. This can allow you to “check the box” on the knowledge test requirement, so you can focus on your flight training.
However, you should still plan to review your ground school lessons as you complete your flight training and prepare for your checkride. When you take flying lessons simultaneously, your ground school classes can help you get ahead on the mental part of practicing flight maneuvers and scenarios — allowing you to accomplish your goals as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.
What is the true cost of the course?
From a cost perspective, ground school is just a small portion of your pilot training; it can be less than the cost of a few flying lessons. The price of online courses ranges from free to around $400. Some ground schools, like MZeroA and Fly8MA, offer a monthly subscription model.
Before you sign up for any online ground school, verify how long you have access to the content. Will you have lifetime access, or do you have to pay a subscription? If you will be paying a subscription, how long do you anticipate you will need access to the ground school materials and study guides? If your flight training will take more than six months and you would be paying $79 per month for a ground school subscription, it may make more sense to pay a flat rate when you purchase an online ground school course.
You should also look at everything you will pay for in a program and make sure you need it. Many ground schools are packaged along with other pilot tools or courses. For example, the King Schools “Private Pilot Get It All Kit” includes a private pilot ground school and practical test prep, as well as access to 15 pilot skills courses. If you are trying to stick to a budget, only pay for what you need.
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Four things to keep in mind about your FAA knowledge test
It is possible to pass ground school and take your written test with relatively minimal studying, but you should keep in mind the following:
- If you fail your knowledge test, you will have to retake it, at the expense of another test fee. As of 2021, the cost of an Airman Knowledge Test (AKT) averages $175. Your test results will indicate a “take number.” You will bring your test results to your checkride, and the Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) will be able to see how many times you took the knowledge test (along with your final passing score).
- Your FAA Airman Knowledge Test Report will list the learning statement codes for questions that you answered incorrectly. On your checkride, the DPE will ask you questions about areas you missed.
- FAA knowledge test results are generally good for two years. In other words, if you do not take your private pilot practical exam (checkride) within two years of taking your knowledge test, you will have to retake the knowledge test.
- If you breeze through ground school and then use one of the knowledge test prep programs, you may pass the FAA knowledge test without fully grasping aviation concepts — using rote memory. Though you may have the knowledge to pass the written exam, you may need additional time with your flight instructor to understand the concepts in practice. While there is nothing wrong with this, you are likely paying your flight instructor somewhere between $30 and $75 per hour (or more) to teach you. The hourly rate of learning from your online ground school, whether flat rate or subscription, is most likely a significantly lower cost per hour.
Choose a ground school that helps you succeed (finish)
The dropout rate during private pilot training is high (70-80% according to AOPA), and running out of funds is one of the biggest reasons people walk away from learning how to fly. If you take advantage of the information and lessons offered in ground school, you can save money on aircraft rentals and time with your flight instructor. Your choice of ground school is an important step in learning to fly and obtaining your private pilot license.
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