Cast your minds back, some more so than others, to when you were preparing for your G.C.S.Es and A Level studies and I can say with a high level of confidence that your schools, colleges and even the exam bodies themselves offered you some sort of past papers or exam questions to aid your studies. In the world of Civil Aviation however, this is not as common and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) don't publish the current learning objectives let alone past papers and therefore, services provided by Aviation Exam and Bristol Ground School (BGSOnline) are life savers.
In this post I aim to provide a review of the two question banks I used throughout my studies. Neither of them were 100% perfect and on some occasions each of them were stronger than the other when it came to specific subjects. Nevertheless, it is hoped that this post will assist you in deciding which provider to choose for your own ATPL studies.
IMPORTANT / DISCLAIMER:
It's important to stress that you can no longer simply rely on the question banks. In previous years the question banks had all of the possible questions and some people have been known to just memorise the question / answer combinations. Nowadays the CAA have begun introducing newer questions to each of the subjects to test trainees across the wider area of the syllabus so whilst the question banks will help you, I'd recommend using them as an aid to your studies - a good one at that - but not as the exclusive method of revision necessarily.
Founded in 1992, Bristol Groundschool has become one of the leading distance learning specialists in the field of ATPL Groundschool studies. In knowing a few, it has also become a favourite among modular trainees and thus would have been my school of choice had integrated finance not become available. In addition to onsite tuition, Bristol Groundschool also produce electronic computer based training materials, textbooks and last but almost certainly not least, BGSOnline its' ATPL question bank. The latter offering is available as a subscription to any trainee, whether associated to the school or not.
Czech based Aviation Exam was founded by pilots in 2004 with the aim of improving ATPL studies for future pilots. Like Bristol Groundschool, Aviation Exam also offers printed materials but its flagship question bank is by-and-large its' speciality. Offering access in languages other than English, Aviation Exam's question bank goes beyond the desktop environment and offers a strong suite of applications across a range of devices - but more on that later. Aviation Exam also aims to introduce a social aspect to the question bank through its comment facility enabling users to share their own opinions on questions - again, more on that later. Aviation Exam also offers questions for FAA students too!
Offering circa. 15,000 questions spanning the ATPL(A), ATPL(H)IR, CPL(A) and IR syllabus, BGSOnline have you covered no matter the commercial licence type. The BGSOnline question bank relies on the feedback of students sitting the current EASA exams in order to update its database and as a result you'll often find the database has perhaps the most accurate set of questions out there. As a result of student feedback new questions may not always get the exact question and answer combinations correct but BGSOnline mention this in their question explanations and the very presence of a new question, albeit sometimes incomplete, is to provide you with exposure to it as you prepare for your exams.
When comparing the same ATPL subject in BGSOnline to Aviation Exam there were a number of occasions where the total number of questions varied quite significantly. When looking at this in more detail it seems BGSOnline is certainly on top of syllabus changes by removing outdated questions from the bank much more quickly than Aviation Exam. For example, during my time studying for the ATPLs some Radio Navigation questions were appearing in Instruments within Aviation Exam but not so within BGSOnline which prevents you from studying unnecessary content where every minute counts in the run up to exam day.
Offering a similar number of questions to BGSOnline, Aviation Exam also spans the wider EASA syllabus. In the vast majority of cases the Aviation Exam question bank offers the exact same questions to BGSOnline although as above, Aviation Exam do seem slower to remove older questions from their Standard question bank which can be a bit of a pain, especially when you may not have been taught how to answer them due to syllabus changes. One plus point of Aviation Exam is their Extended question database where you can request Aviation Exam software displays older questions and previously appealed questions to help you see just how EASA could ask questions.
Clear, concise and to the point.
That's how I would sum up the explanations to questions on BGSOnline. The explanations given to you give you all of the key information you need and that's it. There's no fluff or lengthy paragraphs, just a simple explanation to help you understand where you went wrong in order than you won't (hopefully) make the same mistake again. When it comes to revising as part of an integrated course you don't always have the time to go sifting through your notes to find the explanation to things and as a result, I can't thank BGSOnline enough for their succinctness here!
With that said, nothing is without its' weaknesses and I have to say that I found some explanations in BGSOnline a little disappointing during my study and revision of the topics in Meteorology, Air Law, Operational Procedures and Aircraft General Knowledge. The reason I say this is as a fair number of questions, particularly in Air Law, simply copied the correct answer within the explanation. Now, if I knew the answer I would have selected it so I would have appreciated a little more detail here in order that I could perhaps understand, for example, why the ICAO council only had a certain number of members etc and how this was made up instead of simply copying and pasting the answer as the explanation. Another little annoyance was the simple copying and pasting of the legal document itself, but I suppose these are minor creases that BGSOnline could iron out if they wished too. Apart from that though, I can't fault them.
One little side note to the question explanations I will say though, and BGSOnline agree with this statement in their own explanations, is follow the teachings of your own school. In some questions you can work them out in many different ways and BGSOnline's explanations follow the Bristol Groundschool method of teaching. If you stick with one method throughout your ATPLs you won't go wrong!
When I first started my ATPLs I actually purchased Aviation Exam before later switching to BGSOnline for most of my studies. Now, don't get me wrong the rest of the Aviation Exam experience is brilliant - especially the user experience and more on that in Point 3 - but sadly the explanations began to do my head in a little bit. With BGSOnline if I got a question wrong you were met with a nice little explanation explaining the important details but sadly this was seldom the case with Aviation Exam.
On some questions I found that Aviation Exam simply used the same explanation for all similar questions and allowed you to pull out the detail. A lot of their explanations spanned a number of paragraphs, again requiring me to try and find the key detail and pull it out. Perhaps the largest annoyance of all, was the fact that in some cases there wouldn't even be an explanation and Aviation Exam had simply attached a PDF text book. The PDFs often span a number of pages requiring me to, yep you guessed it, sift through and pull out the detail.
Having spoken to a number of my peers, this was also their biggest gripe with Aviation Exam. It's a shame really as if it wasn't for this, Aviation Exam would be one of the strongest question bank products out there. A lot of us often said we simply skipped the explanations as they were so long and when you consider you're using these tools as revision aids that seems incredibly anti-intuitive.
Point 3 - User Experience
BGSOnline is a great tool but when it comes to the user experience i'd label it as 'Does the job' and that's about it. On their website they state "available for Mac, PC, iPhone, Android, iPad and Windows" and in some respects I suppose that's true, it is a website / web application after all. However, as a former website developer, it's somewhat unforgivable to claim a website functions on these devices when they don't scale to the size of a users device. Take this very blog which I built from the ground up as an example, if you're on a laptop take your browser window and drag its border to shrink it in size or if you're on a smartphone or tablet rotate your screen. Notice how the website resizes as you go? Yep, it's responsive and considering this has been around for some time now and is relatively easy to implement from a developer point of view, I can't understand why this hasn't been done. The majority of my studying away from home was done on my iPad Mini and it made for some quite uncomfortable reading. If BGSOnline can sort this out their product would be even stronger.
Unlike BGSOnline, Aviation Exam offers a truly native experience no matter which device you are using. Originally starting out as a website / web application you can of course still access Aviation Exam via your web browser but in addition to this you can also download the iPhone, iPad and Android applications from the respective stores. Furthermore, Aviation Exam also offer desktop applications for Mac and Windows too. Why has so much effort been put into the development of so many applications you ask? Well, this is where Aviation Exams' well thought out Offline Syncing comes in play. A wifi connection is no longer required in order to access your question bank subscription. Simply log on, sync your app to receive the latest question updates and you're away. You can then revise on a train, plane or anywhere else you can't get access to wifi. I have to say this feature has saved me a few times in the run up to exams where it seems BGSOnline crawls to a halt in peak periods. The only gripe i have with this is that if I complete 4 tests on device A and 4 on device B I have to sync both devices twice in order that you upload those tests to the server first before then bringing them down to each device separately.. I can't understand why that couldn't be done in one syncing action to save time? But that's a minor issue in the grand scheme of things.
The application experience and general user interface is the best among question banks. What's more, Aviation Exam introduce a community aspect to the application experience allowing subscribers to comment on questions with their own methodology. This also allows Aviation Exam to provide comment to those questions confusing many people which is invaluable. Of course, BGSOnline offer their ATPDigital.eu forum but this isn't integrated into the overall question bank perhaps as well as it could be.
Compared with Aviation Exam, BGSOnline offer subscriptions for shorter periods which is perfect for those who only wish to use it in the run up to exams. For the same price as Aviation Exam's lowest plan, you get an extra months' worth access with BGSOnline. The 6 month plans are essentially identical in price although BGSOnline is slightly more expensive in their annual plan than Aviation Exam.
|Subscription Length (Days)||Price (GBP)||Price (EUR)|
|3 Days - TRIAL (All Questions)||£00.00||€00.00|
Since I published the original pricing review - left below in stricken-through type - Aviation Exam have announced changes to their pricing structure. As of the 1st August 2017 you will be able to purchase subscriptions to the EASA Syllabus questions for a duration of 1, 3, 6 or 12 months. The individual subject options will cease to be available. The new pricing is outlined in the screenshot below which was taken from their announcement email. As of this change, Aviation Exam matches the BGSOnline offering in terms of price.
Only offering subscription plans starting at 2 months in duration, I feel like Aviation Exam would potentially benefit from offering a free trial period beyond the 5% questions they currently offer. If you don't wish to subscribe to the entire 14 subjects of the ATPL syllabus, you can subscribe to one for £10.28 / €12.00 for a period of 1 month. To save money compared with BGSOnline, you'd be better off buying a 6 month plan compared with three separate purchases of two months as and when each runs out.
|Subscription Length (Days)||Price (GBP)||Price (EUR)|
At the time of writing this comparison I had completed all 14 ATPL subjects with first time passes to an average mark of 86% and I wouldn't have done it without the aid of both of these question banks. Some people may see each of the weaknesses mentioned in this comparison as minor and a matter of opinion, although when using tools such as these as the customer you want them to be able to best prepare you for your examinations and with everything said and done, BGSOnline does just this. Ultimately, it's BGSOnline's concise explanations, up-to-date questions, helpful support team, affordable pricing and above all else the fact that the NEW questions actually come up in the exam which gives them the edge.
If you're reading as a potential customer of one of these question banks, why not give the BGSOnline trial a go and download one of Aviation Exam's apps and give their experience a whirl, although you'll only get 5% of questions this is enough for you to get to grips with it.
Notice to BGSOnline Staff
If Bristol Groundschool staff are reading, improving the website to make it that little bit more user friendly to smaller devices with responsive design would make your offering that so much stronger. At the moment, Aviation Exam has the edge over you on this and if it wasn't for the fact Aviation Exam's explanations were like mini-essays it would have made a very difficult decision for me in ranking you against them.