The dreaded air traffic controller aptitude test. Of all the exams and training that air traffic control candidates face, a great deal of trepidation surrounds this test. However, a great deal of the stress that candidates experience is due to the fact that they are not prepared, or they do not know what to expect from the test. There are many study guides available on the market, as well as software programs. In addition, many air traffic controller schools include a prep class to cover items that will be addressed on the test.

The 8 hour exam given by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) Academy has many components. Not all of these components test IQ. Some components test mental acuity, memory, and logical reasoning skills. The aptitude test, however, does form the core of the testing. Physical tests, as well as psychological tests, are also a part of the application process. The FAA air traffic controller aptitude test is of sufficient duration and of depth and scope to adequately analyze the candidate's abilities to perform the tasks assigned. Specifically, the test will test verbal and numeric abilities, ability to reason abstractly, special awareness, mechanical concepts, data interpretation, and troubleshooting capabilities.

Components of the Air Traffic Control Aptitude Test

Those having taken the test report that the test is broken down into components in the following manner:


This first section covers dials. The computer will simulate instrument dials such as one might see in an actual aircraft. Altimeter, voltmeter, VSI, airspeed indicators, heading, fuel ratio, and fuel and oil indicators may also be shown. Former test subjects report that students do not need to have prior knowledge or experience with reading dials as the questions are very direct and informational in nature. The only difficulty that a candidate may experience with this portion is not reading the instruments correctly. For example, counting hash marks incorrectly, miscalculating magnitudes, or forgetting that some of the dials are split read instead of single read.


Most sections allow the student to take a few sample questions before beginning. This is highly recommended with this section of the test. The timing on this section becomes more critical, as well. There are, as a general rule, 25 questions and the student is given 25 minutes to answer them. No scratch paper is given and all computations must be done mentally. Be familiar with knots and nautical miles. According to the test prep manual by Mattson, the equation for distance is one of the more useful formulas to memorize.


This section is actually a type of 'game'. The computer based test gives you up to 7 minutes to practice the game and fully understand the instructions. This is a type of simulation game where the candidate is given a radar screen with a number of planes represented. A series of numbers will appear at the bottom of the screen indicating the speed and range of the various aircraft. Your radar range will have a limited set of numbers. Any numbers that show up and are outside of that range need to be eliminated from the candidate's screen. Candidates will be using the 10-keypad that appears on most computer keyboards. Applicants should familiarize themselves with this keypad prior to the test. This test, or one similar to it, can be found and practiced for free, online under the name SCAN.


This section tests the candidate's ability to shift perspectives and to utilize spatial reasoning. Typically, these questions offer the test taker an angle with the instruction to determine how many angles can be formed. The other type of question in this section will give the student a number and present four angles as possible answers.


In this section students are encouraged to spend time practicing the sample questions at the beginning of the test. This is another type of 'game' test. A conveyor belt has letters that ride on it. Each letter is a different color. Random letters will join the original set and move toward the bottom. Boxes corresponding to the letter's colors will be at the bottom. When the box is filled with a corresponding letter, it is considered 'full' and a new box must be obtained and placed by the test taker. The belt speeds vary so the student may need to constantly scan the area to see if the letter coming up has an available box. Test takers are encouraged to fill the boxes from greatest to least. At this time there does not seem to be an online version of this game.

Air Traffic Situations

Utilizing a headset, the applicant will be shown a radar screen that will show a sector of airspace. Each sector will have an exit point, runways, and planes. The goal is to literally 'control' and direct the traffic in this sector. In this simulation, sometimes the planes will purposely 'misunderstand' the directions given by the controller. This game gives the student four separate times to play. After each portion, an evaluation of the student's round is given, with feedback for improving. According to Mattson's prep materials, the greatest numbers of errors are procedural ones. Maintain separation of planes, be aware of their speeds, and have a sense of where each plane is headed and this section should be no problem. There is an online version of this game. It is called: SCENARIOS and is, according to former test takers, almost identical to the real test.


This portion tests the candidate's ability to see relationships between items, as well as other cognitive processes. Word analogies and picture analogies are presented in varying forms. These questions are similar to the typical types of questions posed on standardized tests such as the ACT or SAT.

Most who have actually taken the air traffic controller aptitude test report that it was not as daunting as they thought. In general, if the candidate takes the time to prepare himself for the test, putting time and thought into the answers, then the test should be no problem. A passing score on the test is a 70, though those who score higher often are given better assignments and afforded more opportunities throughout their ongoing training.