Which ATPL Exams are the Hardest?

Naturally, you’re going to find that some ATPL exams are easier than others and, if you’ve already started revising, then we’re sure that you’re already finding that you are enjoying some modules more than others. However, there are some ATPL exams that many widely agree are more difficult than others, including:

  • Performance
  • Meteorology
  • General Navigation
  • Principles of Flight
  • Human Performance

In addition, out of all of the ATPL exams, the Principles of Flight module is considered by many to be the most difficult of all the ATPL exams. This is because, in this exam, you’ll need to prepare for it by learning how airplanes fly, including being comfortable with, and having a comprehensive knowledge of the main forces that can impact the aircraft while mid-flight, including weight, thrust, drag, and lift.

Are ATPL exams hard?

If you want to gain your ATPL or Airline Transport Pilot License, then you’ll first need to conduct a series of exams in order to successfully gain it! Generally speaking, some people will find certain ATPL exams easier than others, and this will depend mainly on your natural strengths and weaknesses.

However, the good thing about each ATPL exam is that they each follow the standard exam process structure as what you’ll have already experienced in your prior education studies. Therefore, regardless of which ATPL exam you take, the main struggle you’ll likely face is stress.

It’s also worth noting that ATPL exams have changed over the past couple of years. Initially, all ATPL exams were originally conducted in a multiple-choice format. However, as of right now, many ATPL exams are now conducted in a question and answer format, which means that you’ll likely find yourself needing to spend more time preparing for these types of questions, as you will need to provide a long-form answer without any visual prompts, or help from the multiple-choice answers.

Therefore, to make sure that you give yourself the best chance of success, we recommend using a variety of textbooks and flashcard ques to help you properly prepare for the exams.

How long do ATPL exams last?

In total, there are 14 exams in total that you’ll need to take to acquire your ATPL license. Each exam is slightly different in length, so we’ll break each one down below:

1. Mass and Balance

The first exam you will need to take is the Mass and Balance exam. This module covers everything you need to know regarding the weighing and load ability of the aircraft. Over the course of the module, you will learn areas of Mass and Balance such as mass components and gravity positions.

Exam length: 1 hour and 15 minutes

2. Performance

The second exam you’ll need to take is Performance. This module covers everything surrounding airplane performance across the different stages of a flight. In this module, you will cover the landing, climb, and cruise, including descent and landing performance variables.

Exam length: 2 hours

3. Flight Planning

This exam covers flight planning, and the exam consists of formulas, definitions, and graph analysis.

Exam length: 2 hours

4. Air Law

The fourth exam consists of air law, in which you will be required to learn about all of the rules and regulations that come along with safely navigating an aircraft.

Exam length: 1 hour

5. Aircraft General Knowledge

This exam will require you to learn the basics of aircraft systems, structures, and engines.

Exam length: 2 hours

6. Instrumentation

This module will equip you with a general overview of basic instrumentation across all types of commercial aircraft.

Exam length: 1 hour and 30 minutes

7. Human Performance

To prepare for this exam, you will learn about all of the ways both internal and external factors can affect the human body, including errors.

Exam length: 1 hour and 30 minutes

8. Meteorology

As a pilot, you will frequently need to deal with changing weather conditions, which is what this module will help to prepare you for.

Exam length: 2 hours

9. General Navigation

The general navigation module of your ATPL program will cover everything you need to know about manual navigation, without the use of a GPS.

Exam length: 2 hours and 15 minutes

10. Radio Navigation

This module will teach you how to use the help of radio aids to safely navigate the aircraft.

Exam length: 1 hour and 30 minutes

11. Operational Procedures

This exam is mainly based on memory, as it requires you to have an in-depth understanding of correct operational procedures.

Exam length: 1 hour and 15 minutes

12. Principles of Flight

Generally considered to be the hardest of all ATPL exams, this module will teach you about how airplanes fly, and the exam requires you to be able to correctly rearrange and calculate formulas in order to display your knowledge in this area.

Exam length: 1 hour and 30 minutes

13. VFR Communication

This is the first out of two communication tests and consists of radio terminology while operating the aircraft under VFR (visual flight rules).

Exam length: 30 minutes

14. IFR Communication

This will be your final ATPL exam and is the second communication exam. This module will teach you how to correctly operate an aircraft while flying under IFR (instrument flight rules) all while using proper terminology.

Exam length: 30 minutes

Is ATPL theory hard?

If you have plans on becoming a pilot (whether private, commercial, or cargo) then the good news is that, so long as you have a basic understanding of maths and science, then there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to pass your ATPL tests and acquire your license.

As a matter of fact, most budding pilots who have gone through the ATPL process comment on how the hardest part of the course is the sheer amount of material to work through. In total, you will need to learn and retain information across 14 different modules, and then apply all of the knowledge you have acquired to the written exams.

This isn’t impossible, but it will require dedication and determination to see the course through, which is something to keep in mind when deciding whether or not you want to become a professional pilot, especially as the process is both lengthy and costly.