My Groundschool Experience & Study Tips 2017-02-21 22:45:00 2018-06-17 15:25:10
Pilot George
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My Groundschool Experience & Study Tips

21 February 2017

Degree or not, this is going to be the most intense time of your life!

Pre-Post Disclaimer:
Before reading ahead bare in mind I completed Groundschool in February of 2017. Leaving Groundschool when I did I was well aware of changes a foot to the examination style of the UK CAA so bare in mind some of this post may not apply to individuals whom perhaps stumble across it a year or so after. What's more, I completed my ATPLs at an integrated flight school so I've catered this content to the intensity of such a school. Regardless to the previous, you may well find a lot of its content still useful.

After finishing Groundschool I was asked by a number of the cadets starting on a new CP for some tips on how I got through it all. I thought that instead of reply to them all individually I'd post my recollection of Groundschool on here for others to see in the future. I've tried to make it mirror my Dibden Manor tips post.

What I will say to all readers is my method for Groundschool is by no means the perfect way nor the only way of going about studying. We're all individuals and we each have our own studying styles so some of this may help you, some of it may not. This post is definitely not here to lecture you on how to pass Groundschool it's simply an account of how I went about things in the form of tips. It may give you some ideas but i'd like to hope it prepares you for what to expect above all else.

The one thing I will say is, good luck and try to enjoy it as much as hate it!

Tip One: It's intense, so prepare those closest to you!

Stressful Groundschool

Being brutally honest with you, Groundschool is tough. It's draining. It's frustrating. It's all-consuming. It's amazing when you pass an exam but pretty upsetting when you have a setback. It becomes your life. You wake up, go to school to learn, go home and then study until bedtime. You Eat, Sleep, Study & Repeat. It has to be done sadly and even having completed a degree I found the volume of content tough to consume and more intense than anything i'd done before.

One thing I discovered is that it can be difficult for those whom aren't going through the process to fully appreciate it. If any relationships you have are going to work then they need to buy in to the process as much as you. Whilst it's important family, friends and partners understand you're about to disappear of the face of the earth for a bit, it's equally important you keep them close as you may well need them to have a chat every so often! I found that going home occasionally helped me escape from the intensity of ATPLs so i'd recommend that every so often too! 

I certainly have my parents and partner to thank for helping me through Groundschool as they had to put up with my stressed filled rants on many occasions. 

Tip Two: Don't re-write notes and if you are - Stop!

Notes Scrunched UpIf you're an integrated trainee you've only got 6 months to complete all 14 exams to the best of your ability. In order to achieve this, the absolute worst thing you can do is sit in class and write notes only to then go home again and re-do them to make them look neater. Forget it. It's not effective and CTC Aviation strongly discourage it. I feel I can say this to you because I learnt the hard way. I paid the price with low scores in Principles of Flight and General Navigation by making my notes slightly neater instead of trying to get my head around the concepts. The latter is way more important so try and become the most effective note taker you can when in class! 

Why not go and grab yourself some coloured pens from the local supermarket and use those in class to highlight the most important things. i.e. Put a red star next to things instructors tell you are important for exams, or use colour to separate sections of your notes. I often used pink for the chapter title, blue for sub-section titles and a combination of other colours for the information within each sub-section. I found that simply using black all the time was boring and meant I easily become lost when trying to find things again during my revision - even with folder dividers.

Tip Three: Decorate your room in Post-It notes!

Post-It Notes

I didn't realise just how effective Post-It notes could be until later on in Module Three and I have my housemate to thank for that! He wrote everything he needed to know on them and stuck them all around his desk and surrounding walls. Whilst his bedroom didn't look quite as drastic as the photo above, you can get the idea. He found this particularly helpful for formulas and quick key facts which come up again and again and again in exam questions. A Post-It note is effective as if you've forgotten something and simply can't remember it, then it's only ever a quick glance away. This saves you having to sift through page after page of your notes.

Tip Four: Whiteboards are your friend. Go buy one!

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Small whiteboards like these you can pick up at places like Tesco and are quite useful to have on your desk at home. Why waste loads of paper when you quickly jot a formula down or perhaps draw out a diagram to help you in answering questions or understanding things. I used whiteboards extensively during my study periods and I know a fair number of my coursemates did too. Subjects like Mass & Balance, General Navigation and Meteorology lend themselves to a whiteboard quite well especially when it comes to drawing out altimetry questions in the case of the latter two. They also lend themselves well to trying to help you memorise things as in the tip below. 

Tip Five: Write it out again.. and again.. and again!

There's not a lot to say for this one. If there's something you need to remember then the most effective way to get it in to your head is to write it out again and again and again. In doing so you're testing your own memory in the process. A prime example of this is the Mass & Balance tables for converting between units which is used over and over throughout the ATPL course. Re-writing things was an effective method for lots in my group. It certainly put my whiteboard to good use.

Tip Six: Get yourself subscribed to a decent question bank!


You won't make it through ATPLs without a study aid such as BGSOnline or Aviation Exam - Fact. If you're at CTC Aviation they provide the PadPilot question bank inclusive in your fees so by all means give that a whirl too but I found BGSOnline and Aviation Exam to be far superior. I've written a separate post about the above mentioned question banks and I'd really recommend you go and give it a read to help you decide which question bank is best for you. These services provide mock examinations for each ATPL topic and help you prepare well for the real things. 

Tip Seven: Take a break every now and then!

Groundschool Friends

Bowling, Laser-tag, Go-Karting, Cinema, Trampolining, Climbing, the Gym, the Pub and Golf. These are only a few of the things people in my group got up to during our time in Groundschool. Taking a break should not be underestimated. When stopping for one evening you may feel incredibly guilty for not studying but try to silence that little voice for a while and go and have some fun! You'd be surprised how much more relaxed you feel having done so. Go-Karting was incredibly fun by the way, you should definitely go!! 

Tip Eight: Switch it up a bit. Try studying somewhere new!

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Excuse the horrid mugshot - but I took it quite late having left CTC Southampton in the run up to my exams. I just thought i'd post it to demonstrate how you could mix up your study environment. You may not find it that effective, but I occasionally switched up my study zones between home and CTC and you might surprise yourself by finding some hidden motivation in the process. The benefit to CTC in Southampton is the fact its' open 24/7 so you can stay as long as you wish in the evenings. You'll often be one of the only few there so it's quite peaceful really. Just pop your headphones on and you'll often have a classroom to yourself. I can't comment on whether this is the case for the Coventry or New Zealand Groundschool facilities unfortunately. Another method which worked quite well was studying in the living room by putting a question bank up on the TV and going through questions with housemates. A further option is to take work to the local coffee shop or bar and test each other. Ultimately it's whatever works for you but don't feel restricted to just your own bedroom / office space. If you find you've hit a brick wall with studying, switch it up :-)

Tip Nine: Ignore the negativity from others!

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When I first started at CTC a lot of the cadets in CPs ahead of me were full of negativity. Having now been through Groundschool I can fully appreciate it's just exam stress, but it's certainly not what you want to hear when you first start and it really does bring your mood down. If you're starting at CTC soon my top tip here would be to ignore any negative comments from people already there. Make your time at Groundschool your own and don't let their stress pull you down. Just remember that this tip applies to you on the other side of the equation when new CPs start too. Don't bring their mood down on day one and allow them to experience Groundschool for themselves. :-)

Tip Ten: Eat well, learn well!


Don't underestimate the importance of a really good meal. Eat well and your brain will treat you well in return. I often prepared my weeks meals in advance and simply took it in to CTC in a tupperware. Doing this also gave me more time for studying in the evenings too. It doesn't have to cost a fortune either-- remember, Aldi/Lidl are your friends if you have one nearby. By all means, enjoy takeaways.. even I love a good curry or Dominos every so often but I felt so much better in myself through eating well.

Perhaps my most frequent mistake was overdoing it on the caffeine from the canteen machines. Having too much can massively affect your concentration levels in class :-(

Tip Eleven: Help each other out!

Whilst you're at Groundschool to aim for a strong score in your own ATPL exams, the fact is you and your peers are all going through the exact same thing means you shouldn't be afraid to ask them for help. Who knows, they may well have a fresh perspective on things. Asking a friend certainly helped me out in Meteorology in regards to certain aspects of Climatology and one of the areas even came up in my exam! Likewise I also helped a fellow trainee out in another subject. Peer to Peer study groups and support really does help.

Tip Twelve: Don't be afraid to be the one that always asks questions!

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I felt bad having to stop the class to clarify a point, but if you don't do it when you have an instructor present then you may never get that question answered. Just remember, it could be the difference between a mark in the exam! One thing I learnt in the ATPLs is no question is a stupid one and more often than not through asking one or having a peer ask one it often clears up confusion for the remainder of the group too! Just stick that hand up!!!

Tip Thirteen: If it helps, plan out your study time!

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So, you've got six hours of an evening... what are you going to achieve in that time..? Well, why not plan it out and cross things off as you go? For example:

  • 5pm - Cook dinner
  • 6pm - One hour of Mass & Balance
  • 7pm - One hour of Principles of Flight
  • 8pm - Break
  • 8.30pm - Mass & Balance Question Bank
  • 9.30pm - Principles of Flight Question Bank
  • 10.30pm - Try to learn Mass & Balance conversion table

There you have it, one evening of work mapped out. Cross off things as you go. If you don't get something done for some reason then put it on the top of the next days to do list. Doing this helps you stay focussed and stops you drifting off course.

Tip Fourteen: A world map may help you when it comes to Meteorology!

Meteorology Map

There's certainly a heck of a lot to learn when it comes to Meteorology that's for sure. Be it winds, ocean currents, high or low pressure areas the list goes on and on. When I went through CTC Aviation's Groundschool Meteorology was taught in module three however this has now been moved forward to module one so any new trainee will experience it earlier on. That has its plus points and its drawbacks, but irrespective of that I would say that getting yourself a map for your wall will certainly help. Mine was about 2 by 1 metres and was safe to use with whiteboard markers. As a visual person I found that drawing all of the winds, hurricanes, and airflows really helped me to save a mental image in my head. It's also great to refer back to when you're stuck on a question! You can pick them up for quite a reasonable price on Amazon. Highly recommended!

Tip Fifteen: There isn't much point in pre-reading!

PadPilot Apple DevicesIf you're starting your ATPL studies at an integrated school such as CTC Aviation then there really isn't much point in pre-reading the content. Why I hear you ask? Well, it's simple in that you are enrolling on an intensive course of classroom based study where instruction is going to be provided. Each instructor will have their own unique delivery style and whilst some will follow the books I found the majority didn't and each had their own structured way of teaching. An instructor not following a books structure is a non issue really so long as they cover all of the content required but what you may find is any notes you've made before starting don't really make any sense. 

Remember, this tips post is not here to lecture you on how to go about Groundschool so if you wish to pre-read then by all means go ahead, however, make sure its' from an up-to-date textbook recommended by the school you are going to attend. If that's CTC Aviation then it'll be PadPilot and you'll receive it about a week or so before starting. However, it's something I'd strongly discourage and a few of my coursemates would now agree. You may well find yourself lost when trying to follow along with any instructors and for some problems there may well be multiple ways to work it out whereby if you have followed the books method instead of the instructors you might find it difficult to follow in class.

Tip Sixteen: Find out your learning style!

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If you don't already, I'd highly recommend you find out what your learning style is. Are you a person that loves to learn visually? Do you prefer to record your own voice and play it back through your headphones? Do you like reading a textbook? Or are you hands on and simply put the IKEA furniture together without once referring to the instructions? Taking the VARK test will help you find this out!

The test is straight forward, asks a couple of quick questions and assesses your responses to given scenarios. VARK stands for Visual, Aural, Read/Write and Kinesthetic and knowing your result will help you cater your studies to your true learning style. I was surprised a few people in my group didn't actually know their learning styles before completing this test so it's worth a shot. As a guide for you, I completed the test at the time of writing and scored:

  • Visual: 15
  • Aural: 7
  • Read/Write:
  • Kinesthetic: 8

With this in mind it becomes quite obvious that simply reading a textbook wouldn't have been enough for me to pass my ATPLs. Thankfully, Integrated schools provide classroom tuition satisfying my teaching style with many teachers drawing everything out on the whiteboard to explain things. On top of that I also made use of CAE Oxford's Computer Based Training software to aid my revision in weaker subjects and I can't recommend it enough! 

To discover your own VARK score click the button below. It takes less than 2 minutes and costs nothing!

Take the VARK Test

Above all else, enjoy your time...

I'll aim to try and add to this over time as I'm sure i'll remember things. If you're starting in Groundschool soon, enjoy it. In your first week at CTC Aviation try not to over do it. Relax a bit and get to know your new coursemates as it'll soon be manic and you'll be juggling multiple topics at once. Your first week is certainly the time to enjoy a few drinks at the pub. Don't go drinking too much though, remember.. you're a pilot now (or, almost) ;-) 

All the best, and good luck!


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