Studying for the CFI oral checkride is a massive undertaking that should not be underestimated. But with proper preparation it is possible to get a good overview of what to study to meet the expectations set by the FAA. The CFI oral examination will be a challenge regardless, but preparing yourself will make it much more manageable.

Knowledge tests

First of all you need to get two knowledge (written) tests out of the way:

  1. Fundamentals of Instruction (FOI)
  2. Flight Instructor

To study for the FOI knowledge test, read through the Aviation Instructor's Handbook by the FAA and use a question bank such as Aviation Exam, Prepware, or SheppardAir.
Studying for the Flight Instructor knowledge test is a straight-forward question bank course like you may have done for past knowledge tests.

Remember that completed knowledge tests are valid for 24 months, so get these done as early as you can so that you can focus on the next steps.

Learning the FOI's

You will find that most people dread the FOI's. There is really no reason for this, as much of the content revolves around common sense concepts and most importantly preparation. You should already have read through the Aviation Instructor's Handbook once for your knowledge test. This is a perfect opportunity to go through it again, and this time be ready to dive in with a more focused approach. Using the Practical Test Standards (PTS) we can find out exactly what the FAA will need us to have prepared for the checkride:

Each category mentioned above has an outline of items that are all fair game for the examiner to ask. None of it is particularly hard, it's just a lot of new content to absorb, understand, and apply. Find each category mentioned above in the CFI PTS and using the outlines in the PTS you will effectively have a study guide when going through the Aviation Instructor's Handbook. Your job will be to identify items outlined in the PTS as you are going through the Aviation Instructor's Handbook, and then condense the information into manageable bits. From there you can start making acronyms if needed.

The FOI's will be some of the first items to be covered during the CFI oral examination, and it is quick for an examiner to see if they are dealing with someone who is prepared or not.

If you are looking for a complete package which includes all of the FOI's with handy acronyms, check out our CFI binder!

Lesson plans

The hardest part about becoming a flight instructor is arguably the lesson plans. How do you put one together? How do you know what to put in one? And how do you even use it efficiently?

Luckily the Aviation Instructor's Handbook will have all the answers you need. Finding references like this is a big part of being a flight instructor. Your students will use you as their sole resource on questions you never even thought of. That is why it is so important to study the source material closely and note relevant references which you will keep in your lesson plans! In that way, when you are teaching a lesson on any given subject, you will teach the lesson but also tell the student where they can study the material further on their own time. Additionally, it makes it much easier for you to find the answer to one of those questions you do not have an immediate answer to. Your lesson plans should in essence be for you to refresh your memory on a given subject. They should not be a resource that has everything there is to know about a subject. Some people like to write a lesson plan out in bullet points, some prefer small paragraphs. Others like to write out a whole lesson on a whiteboard, take a picture, and use that as their lesson plan. The FAA gives us a general outline of an idea of a lesson plan, but not a definitive template.

Read our detailed post about writing a lesson plan.

When it comes to lesson plans there is no reason to reinvent the wheel. If you are looking for the best quality lesson plans take a loot at our helicopter CFI binder or airplane CFI binder. Both include the highest level of detail and each lesson is tested and tried through years of instruction.


Getting a hang of how endorsements work can be bit of a challenge. Luckily, the FAA has released a document which serves as a legal guide to how endorsements work. Look for Advisory Circular 61-65. It will have a letter at the end of it, which tells you which version it is. At the time of writing this post, we are up to 61-65H.

During the oral examination, you will be asked things like "walk me through the endorsements you would give a brand-new student pilot right up until his private pilot checkride." It helps to make up a timeline such as the one seen below. What you really need to make sure you have is references for each endorsement. Without references the endorsements you write are meaningless.

The bottom line

What it comes down to is reading through and understanding the PTS. It really is the ultimate guide to properly studying to become a CFI. It has all the questions the FAA can ask during the checkride. All you have to do is find the answers, note the reference, and write out a summarized version of the answer which you can bring with you into the checkride and use! In fact, the examiner will expect you to take a moment to find your lesson plan + references when they ask you a question on the CFI oral exam. It is very different from other checkrides where it is expected you answer their questions without using references.

It is also vital that you teach your lessons. Teach them to anyone who will listen. It is the only way you will get better. It is hard to stand up and present a technical topic such as how carburetors work in piston engines. Try to find student pilots to teach. They will love getting a free lesson and you will be getting free practice.

Lastly, find a good 2-year CFI who can help guide you through the process. They will be able to keep you on track and help you keep your focus along the way.

Don't forget there's no need to spend months writing your own lesson plans, when they are already out there tested and tried for years. Give our helicopter or airplane CFI binders a look. The amount of time saved versus the cost is huge.

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