Updated: Jul 22, 2020
There are 8 subjects in all. 7 PPL Ground School subjects, and a Restricted Radio License, for which you must complete the Course, write the exam, and undergo an oral test.
The Radio Course is best done through a Designated Radio Examiner. Your Flight School will recommend someone, or you can do our Online Course, which, of course, I recommend above all others. But don't take my word for it.
It used to be that you could do a PPL in 3 to 4 weeks here in SA, with open book exams. The quick and easy PPL is long gone. Now you have to know your stuff, and the exams are designed to be tough.
The 7 PPL Ground School Subjects
PPL Online Exams Exam Duration:
AIR LAW 01:00
PRINCIPLES OF FLIGHT 00:45
AIRCRAFT GENERAL 00:45
HUMAN PERFORMANCE 00:45
FLIGHT PERFORMANCE & PLANNING 01:30
Where to buy PPL Notes
The syllabus is, according to CAA, based on these books:
South African Airlaw for Private Pilots - Lilith A Seals (RSA)
Air Pilots Manual - Volumes 2,3,4,6 & 7- P Goodwin (UK)
A Pilots Guide to Aircraft and their Systems - Dale Crane (for aircraft technical) (USA)
South African AIP & AIC's (RSA)
Aviation Law - C Beek (RSA)
Human Performance and Limitations in Aviation - R D Campbell/M Bagshaw (UK)
I do not, however, recommend that you rush out and get all of these as it is a mountain more than you need. Rather buy the Avex Notes or the Aeronav Notes for PPL from your Flight School. These have been researched for you, and so you will not have to sort through all the extra stuff yourself. Alternatively, self-study for your PPL online. This way you can begin preparing for the exams before you even choose a flight school. It is more interactive, so you might even find it a bit easier. Remember though, that if you ever get stuck, you can always ask your flight instructor for help.
Online Multiple Choice PPL Exams PPL exams can only be done at the SACAA, (South Africa Civil Aviation Authority), or through the SACAA at approved testing centres.
Many flying schools have their own testing centres. Just double check this when you sign up with a school, make sure they have one, or you might find you have to travel a distance to write your exams.
BEFORE you may write any exams, you need to get your SPL - Student Pilot License. You need an Aviation Medical and to pass an in-house test to apply, and you can only get your SPL through an approved, Part 141 flight training school, or you can attend the SA Pilot online course, and, on completion, receive a letter of recommendation from them to write your exams at the SACAA. Then all you will have to do at a flying school is your hours! Cost The CAA charges a fee for the seven online PPL exams. You will probably pay more than this though, because the Flying School has to provide a separate room, an invigilator to keep an eye on you, and has to record the entire exam. This, of course, costs, so they will add their fee to the CAA fee.
The good news is that you can write as many times as you like, until your time runs out, but it will cost you for every exam.
Time Restrictions From the day you pass your very first exam, you have 18 months in which to pass the rest. If you don't pass your final exam within the 18 months, even by one day, then all your previous credits are cancelled and you have to write everything over from the very beginning.
From the day you have passed your final exam, you have 36 months within which you have to pass your practical PPL flight test, or, once again, you will have to re-write all seven exams. This is seldom a problem as the flying part is why you are doing this in the first place, isn't it?!
Do you have to do Ground School? No. But you can do a Ground School course if you want to. Not all flight schools offer ground school classes. Many people self-study for all their aviation exams. It depends on you if you work better in a course structure or if you're able to self-study. In a course, if you don't understand, you can ask the lecturer immediately. In self-study, you can ask your Flight Instructor to clarify things for you, or simply Google, Yahoo or Bing it! It is also useful to study alongside other soon-to-be pilots. I suggest that you pace yourself through your exams, start with Airlaw, because that will give you a good grounding, then Human Performance, because it is quite easy. Principles of Flight to follow, by now you should already have an idea of what it is all about, then Tech and Gen, and perhaps keep Flight Planning, Met and Navigation until after your Flying Navigation lecture, (you exercise 18 lecture). This is your longest lecture and will make these last three subjects much easier to get through on your own. WARNING! Do not leave the exams to last minute! There is nothing worse than having to wait a long time to do your final practical PPL flight test because you first have to complete your ground school exams. You have 30 days in which to submit your practical flight skills test to the CAA, so technically you could still write an exam or two in this time, but what if you don't make it in time? You would have to re-do the flight test at an unnecessary cost. Good planning, something a pilot is expected to be able to do, will prevent this sorry scenario. Another IMPORTANT note: You have to have your SPL before you are allowed to write any exams. TIP: Start studying right at the beginning. Even if you just read through everything to become more familiar with the lingo and concepts. Are the PPL Exams really tough? Everything is difficult before it becomes easy. When all the information you are learning in your ground school is completely new to you, then yes, it is tough. But hang in there! Eventually all this new info will become old info, and when it reaches that point, it will be knowledge, and knowledge is a part of who you are, and then it is easy.
So, INFORMATION INPUT + TIME = GROUND SCHOOL & PILOT KNOWLEDGE KNOWLEDGE -> EXAMS = EASY!
I have had students who have re-written some exams up to ten times, and others who have written them all in the period of a week, writing multiple exams in one day. It is all up to you.
PPL Exams Pass Mark The pass mark is 75%. There is no negative marking, which means that if you are not sure of an answer, go ahead and guess. You will not be penalized.
There will be between 20 and 40 questions in your paper. Remember to RTFQ! (Ask your Flight Instructor for the meaning). Exam questions are often deliberately tricky. You will get a print out after the exam of the general area in which you got wrong answers. Don't expect to get the actual exam questions. You are also not allowed to take any of your scrap paper out with you. No programmable calculators, and no pens since spycams became available in them.