Private Pilot Theory

Everything you need to know about taking your Private Pilot Theory

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How to complete your Private pilot theory course and examinations

This is an informational page and is, as far as possible, unbiased. To find out about our course, or to book your place, please go to the Book a Course page.

All United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority (UK CAA) and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) pilot licences are made up of both a theory course with its subsequent exams, flight training and flight examination.

This page is designed to explain how the Private Pilot licence (PPL) theory and examinations work and how they link to the flight training and flight test with an examiner.

Please also see our information on the PPL flight training courses.

>> PPL Flight Training

This information is for reference only, please see the UK CAA website for the latest information.

What steps are needed to complete the PPL?

  1. Arrange your Class 2 or Class 1 medical.
  2. Arrange a trial lesson. This is to make sure you feel able to receive instruction and actually enjoy being in a small aircraft. This can be done at most PPL flight schools (please see our page on PPL Flight Training for more information on this).
  3. If you are a non-native English speaker you will need to take a test to provide evidence that you can communicate to ICAO Level 4.  If you are a native English speaker your flight examiner will state that you are ICAO level 6 on your PPL application form (they can only test for level 6).
  4. We would then recommend you join a PPL Theory course. There are 9 exams you must pass before you can apply for your PPL Licence. You could also choose a different pathway and start your flight training and study for the theory and take your exams at the same time. Take a look at our advice on the PPL Theory below.
  5. Join a PPL Flight Training course. You will need to complete a minimum of 45 hours of flight training before being put forward by your instructor to take the flight test with a flight examiner. For information on the PPL flight training course please see our PPL Flight Training page. During this phase or during the PPL theory course if preferred, you will also complete your radio telephony examination, so that you are allowed to speak on the radio without an instructor present.
  6. Now you have your PPL you have a licence to learn! You can now build experience, add ratings such as night flying, instrument flying, float plane ratings, or take on the Commercial Pilot’s Licence with a view to becoming a professional pilot.

Please read on for more detailed information about each step listed above.

What are the PPL theory pre-entry requirements?

An applicant for the PPL(A) modular theoretical knowledge distance learning course must:

  • Be 17 years or over.
  • Be able to read, write and orally communicate in the English language to a minimum of ICAO Level 4.

If you are a native English speaker then you will not need to be tested on this. A UK flight examiner will determine during your flight test that you’re a native English speaker and your application form for licence issue can reflect that you are indeed Level 6.

If you are not a native English speaker you will need to take a test and be deemed to be able to communicate at ICAO level 4.

This is not be confused with the Radio Telephony (RT) examination that allows a pilot to operate a radio in the UK. This is normally done as part of your flight training or theory training.

>> More about the pre-entry requirements

What credits do I receive if I have previous experience?

Applicants for the PPL(A) who already hold a PPL(H) are credited theory in 5 subjects:

  • Human Performance
  • Communications
  • Air Law
  • Navigation
  • Meteorology

They have to pass exams in the other 4 subjects:

  • Principles of Flight
  • Aircraft General Knowledge,
  • Flight Performance & Planning
  • Operational Procedures

For the issue of a PPL(A), the holder of an LAPL(A) shall be fully credited towards the requirements of theoretical knowledge instruction and examinations.

What are the different routes to gaining your PPL?

As with most things in aviation there is more than one way to gain your PPL.

The most common ways are:

1. Have a trial flight or a couple of lessons, then complete the theory and theory exams at a specialist school. It is recommended that you take a trial lesson before making the decision to embark on your PPL to make sure you are comfortable in a small aircraft receiving instruction.

Next you complete the standalone PPL Theory course in which you study from home and then come to the school to run through the subjects with an instructor before taking your 9 exams.

You are then free to continue to your chosen flight training provider to complete your PPL Flight Training and when deemed ready by your instructor, take the flight examination. Upon passing your flight examination, you will gain your PPL and become a pilot.

2. The second way is to take the exams as you go through the flight training. Some schools offer classes, but you are generally advised to buy a set of manuals and self-study before taking the exams at the school.

Some schools do this very well and some leave you mostly to your own devices which can be highly frustrating and often causes students to give up before gaining their licence.

At BSA we believe the PPL theory is the foundation of your piloting knowledge and so we recommend the first route.

Through experience we have found that this allows the student to concentrate fully on the theory and exams. The student is then free to move forward to be able to enjoy and get the most out of the flight training.

This is not to say that a huge number of students haven’t successfully completed their training following the second route, it really comes down to personal preference, circumstances and the school you choose.

What are the subjects that make up the PPL theory and exams?

  • Air law (AL)
  • Human performance (HP)
  • Meteorology (MET)
  • Communications (COM)
  • Navigation (NAV)

Exams specific to the aircraft category e.g. If you were to want to fly a helicopter, these would be different to the fixed wing aircraft subjects in their content:

  • Principles of flight (POF)
  • Operational procedures (OPS)
  • Flight performance and planning (FPP)
  • Aircraft general knowledge (AGK)

How much do the PPL exams cost?

The PPL exam fees are paid directly to the UK CAA when booking the exams on their Tasman system. They are currently £10 each so you need to allow £90 plus any re-sits.

How do I study for the PPL theory at BSA?

At BSA we provide our students with a digital course that allows you to work through the course materials at home, but with access to our instructors when you need them.

Once you have been through the materials and feel ready, you then come to the school where you spend 5 days working through the subjects with an instructor before taking the 9 exams.

At BSA we currently use the industry’s leading training resources to make passing your PPL exams both interesting, efficient and successful.

You are of course free to add other materials to your learning as you can never have too much knowledge, but you must also complete the BSA course as this is what our UK CAA approval is based upon.

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How long does it take to complete the PPL theory course and exams?

The BSA course is 120 hours of study that is split between approx. 90 hours of home study and 30 hours in class learning and exams.

This is the time we have allotted to each subject for the BSA PPL theory course – you may of course take longer if required though.

Home study time:

Subject Word Count Initial Read In Minutes (180 wpm) Difficulty Factor 2nd Read In Minutes (180 wpm/difficulty factor)
Meteorology 58,000 322 1.8 580
Principles of Flight 52,000 289 2 578
Navigation and Radio Aids 65,000 361 1.8 650
Human Performance 33,000 183 1.6 293
Air Law and Ops Procedures 31,000 172 2.1 362
VFR Communications 8,500 47 1.3 61
Flight Planning and Performance 41,000 228 1.6 364
AGK1: Systems and Engines 42,000 233 1.6 373
AGK2: Instruments and Electrics 38,000 211 1.6 338
Maths & Physics 19,000 106 2.1 222
Total: 88 hrs 25 mins 18 hr 40 min 69 hr 45 min

School study time:

PPL Hours per subject at Ground School
Subject Hours
AL 3
HP 3
Total 30 Hours

How do I take the UK CAA PPL exams at BSA?

The UK CAA has now moved to an E-Exam system.

To make use of the system you will need to register for the UK-CAA’s on-line portal – the link below allows you to download the document that walks you through the process:

>> Guidance for registering with the CAA

Our instructors and admin department will be able to help you with this process, but you will need to be able to access the system when you come to the school for the classroom week and exams.

Please be aware that to register you will need:

Formal photographic identification (one of the below):

  • Passport
  • Driving licence
  • National identity card (Including citizen card or other government recognised ID)

Proof of address or existing CAA documentation (one of the below):

  • Driving licence
  • Bank statement
  • Identity card
  • Utility bill
  • Council tax bill
  • Council rent book
  • Mortgage statement
  • Existing CAA documentation (e.g., medical certificate)

Please note the same document cannot be used for both ie. driving licences can only be used for photo identification or proof of address. An additional item of documentation would also be required.

What do I need to know about taking UK CAA exams?

The CAA uses the same exam standard and levels across the board.

Exams are multiple choice and you must achieve a 75% or greater pass mark (you will go back through any questions you failed with the instructor so that there are no gaps in your knowledge).

The CAA uses a system of sittings which are new to most people. This means you can’t just take one exam a month (or similar), but have to split the exams into 6 sittings.

A sitting is a 10-day period and starts from the day you take an exam. If you fail to complete the exams in the 6 sittings you must start all over again.

You get 18 months to complete all 9 exams and that date is calculated from the end of the first month you take your first exam.

You get 3 attempts at each exam, but should you fail on the 3rd occasion you must start the whole process again.

Once you have completed all of the exams the clock starts ticking yet again and you have 24 months before you must complete the flight training and pass the skills test. Failure to do this means (you guessed it), you start again!

How long is each PPL theory exam?

Exam Number of Questions Time Given
Aviation Law 16 35 mins
Meteorology 16 50 mins
Aircraft General knowledge 16 35 mins
Navigation and Planning 12 45 mins
Human Performance 12 25 mins
Flight performance and planning 12 45 mins
Communications 12 20 mins
Operational procedures 12 20 mins
Principles of flight 12 35 mins

What does each PPL theory subject cover?

The table below contains links to the relevant CAA documents. 

It is not necessary for you to read these, they are provided so you can reference the learning objectives that make up the PPL theory course.

UK CAA Learning objectives Link to the current document
020 Aircraft General Knowledge  CAP 2090A
030 Flight Performance and Planning  CAP 2090B
040 Human Performance CAP 2090C
050 Meteorology CAP 2090D
060 Navigation CAP 2090E
070 Operational Procedures CAP 2090F
081 Principles of Flight CAP 2090G
090 Communications CAP 2090I
010 Air Law - Aeroplane CAP 2090J

How do the exams link to my flight training?

Once you complete your course you will receive a course completion certificate from BSA stating you have completed the theory course and passed your exams. Your exam passes will also be held by the UK CAA.

You can then continue with BSA to complete your PPL Flight Training, and maybe onward to gain your commercial licences, all the way to the level needed to become an airline pilot or one of the many other types of commercial pilot.

>> BSA PPL Flight Training

Or you can take your certificate to the flight training school of your choice and complete your PPL.

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