I’ve just got back from passing CASA’s IREX – the Instrument Rating Exam. Hooray! Before I pop open something bubbly I wanted to share my top 10 tips for how I passed the CASA IREX exam.
IMPORTANT: Before we start, please remember these are just the thoughts of an independent private pilot to try and help my fellow aviators attempting this exam. If you have any questions about the exam or how you should study please talk to a certified flying instructor or check out some of the professionals listed in this article.
1, Give yourself time to prepare
The IREX exam is not necessarily hard, but it requires a lot (like a lot) of preparation. I self-studied using Bob Tait’s material. Like many people I have a job outside of aviation so I gave myself a minimum of 3 months to study before starting to think about booking an exam date in. That was about the right amount of time for me.
It took me at least 4-6 weeks of grabbing time after work and at weekends to get through the study material, and only then was I ready to even start thinking about practise exams.
As you get closer to the exam itself, I’d also recommend trying to get some longer blocks of time away from work (and family) where you can really get in the right headspace. I was fortunate to have the Christmas and New Year break a few weeks before my exam date, and I used that quiet time to really boost my studying and take as many tests as I could.
Which leads me to…
2, Do ALL the practise exams
As mentioned, I studied using the Bob Tait material and bought his excellent exam prep online exams (see Bob Tait online here). But in addition to Bob’s material, I also ran through as many other IREX practise exams as I could find including purchasing a pack of IREX exam questions from my local pilot supplies shop and going through the sample questions on CASA’s website (see sample IREX questions here).
Getting used to the varying ways in which the same question can be asked can really help during the exam. Don’t rote learn one set of sample questions and expect to see the same content in your exam, it won’t happen. A large part of the exam is based around decoding information to come to an answer that will be in a book in front of you, it’s just knowing what to look for and where to find it.
3, Know your documentation backwards
The list of permitted materials for the CASA IREX exam is listed on their website (see IREX permitted materials here). For a lot of questions the answer will literally be in front of you, you just need to know where to find it. So it becomes really important to know your way around the ERSA and AIP in particular, but also the CAO and CAR documentation for areas such as recency and equipment requirements.
I discovered that a few sections of CASR Part 61 kept being referred to in questions, so along with some parts of CAO 20-95.2 I printed out the parts I was most interested in and was able to refer to those in the exam. A word of warning though, make sure your follow CASA’s guidelines on how to bring those to the exam room – ie in a binder or similar, not as loose sheets. These guidelines can change so my advise is check first, then bring whatever you need in that format.
Going through those practise exams mentioned in point 2 above will then really help you navigate through these documents. I found that by the time I took the exam I hardly had to use the indexes in the AIP, you almost know instantly where to look. You’ll become best mates with AIP ENR 1.5, trust me.
4, Use highlights
To assist with point 3 above, make sure you take advantage of the fact that CASA allow you to mark your documentation in certain ways (see Marking and tagging of permitted documents here). I used all 10 of my allowed AIP marks to quickly get me to sections that I knew would come up.
I’m not suggesting you follow the same markings shown below, but if you end up with the pages you know you’ll want to refer to quickly marked it will make finding the relevant sections that much faster in the exam.
5, Consult a professional
If you’re finding yourself struggling it’s not a bad thing to admit that self-study might not be the way for you for an exam like the IREX. Consulting a professional theory instructor for an intensive course to identify your weak areas and get you ready for the exam is often the way to go.
I can recommend one specialist training company based in New South Wales run by my old flight instructor Matt Morton. I am in no way affiliated with this company, but if you want a starting point and someone new to talk to about your IREX then consider checking out Mats Aviation Theory (see the Mats Aviation Theory website IREX page here).
6, Do some IFR flying with an Instructor before the IREX exam
This wasn’t something I was planning to do initially, but it turned out to be really valuable. On a regular training flight about 2 months before the exam the weather turned out pretty lousy but my instructor asked if I wanted to fly under the Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) with him as PIC for practise. We flew in IMC, climbed and descended through cloud, and flew the RNAV approach to Moorabbin Airport.
Actually seeing some of the procedures that you’re learning about in books and hearing the radio communication really puts a lot of it into context. It can be hard to understand how an RNAV approach actually works, or how to follow a DME/GNSS approach when you’ve never actually experienced one from the cockpit.
Flying with an IR qualified pilot in actual IMC whilst you can ‘relax and observe’ is a great way to help visualise some of those techniques that you’ve been studying. Plus you get to fly in cloud which is cool.
7, Know your basic navigation, and draw it out
I can’t stress this one enough – if you’re unsure on NDB relative bearings, VOR radials, how to intercept a track, how to calculate LSALT, how to avoid controlled airspace, what track error vs drift vs track made good means and all those navigation basics, then there is no way you can pass this exam.
Understanding the basics of navigating both by dead reckoning (I had to use the 1 in 60 rule in my exam at least once) and via navigation aids (I was tested on NDB, VOR and GNSS) is critical.
Whilst studying and during the exam itself, I also found myself drawing the scenarios as an ‘idiot check’ just to make sure I had my lefts and rights the right way around, and if you have time I’d recommend this too. You don’t want to lose a precious mark through a brain fart moment when you got your heading and track mixed up, or you confused left drift with left of track. Drawing the aircraft in the scenario in question is a great sanity check.
8, If you’re unsure, maybe don’t change your first ‘guess’
This may be a controversial tip but I stand by it. I had one question on icing in clouds which I was 50/50 on the answer. Something about rime ice and turbulence in certain cloud types. I selected what I thought was most likely to be correct but then on my final sweep through of the questions right before submitting I changed it. When I got my KDR (Knowledge Deficiency Report) that question was one that I got incorrect – gah!
So, if you are not sure on an answer, and you put down what you think is the most likely to be correct answer, I would suggest don’t dwell on it and move on. Focus on double-checking the questions you are sure of, and maybe don’t change your mind at the last moment.
9, Don’t be distracted by irrelevant information in questions
There was a fair amount of this in my exam. I had time/date information that wasn’t required, references to VHF radios when the question being asked had no relation to the aircraft equipment list, and several other examples.
I found it was better to read the whole question first, not to think if I knew how to answer it, but just to work out what was actually being asked. Once I knew what was required, I could then dig into the information and disregard the irrelevant parts.
Ok, I know this is easier said than done, after all I had a fairly restless night the night before my IREX exam (I was dreaming about VORs, very sad I know), but as this is a long exam (3.5hrs) it’s really important to get rest properly in the lead up to exam day. Turn up to the exam room feeling energised and not fatigued at all.
Make sure you’re hydrated, take a snack (if your examination facility allows it), and take advantage of the fact you should be allowed a toilet break. I opted to take a quick break after I’d finished all of the 40 questions, just to rest my eyes for a second, gather my thoughts and mentally rest for a short period of time. If you are able and have time, and even if you don’t need to use the facilities, I would recommend taking a short break as staying mentally sharp for 3.5hours in an exam of this nature otherwise is quite hard.
One final thought to leave you with – I am a self-studied private pilot who didn’t know what a sector entry or NDB approach was before starting out. I even remember Googling “what is an approach plate” at one point. But with hard work and lots and lots and lots of studying I managed to pass the exam with a mark that I was very happy with. So if I can do it, anyone can, especially you!
Good luck, and enjoy your flying,