Why do people typically fail out of the FAA academy?

SavannahATC

Lurker
Messages
14
Why do people fail the academy, do they not study enough? Or is it like an art form, you either have it or you don't? Is it through lack of effort? Lack of time to learn? Poor memory? Poor reflexes? Etc.? I tried to search around on the forums and couldn't really find an answer. I recently received a TOL and have a high paying job with a family to support and while I would much rather pursue ATC, since my job is extremely dull (Accountant), I am wondering if it's worth me taking the risk of going to OKC. This is a career that I really want to pursue and will give it my all but I genuinely wonder if I have what it takes to get through the program.
 

Philly

Member
Messages
24
A lot of people fail because of the nervousness created that basically if you blow it you’ll be on the streets trying to hurry up pick up the peices and find another job.

I left my former job in a career I had been established in for 7 years, took a 70k pay cut which was getting payscale increases every year (ATC had been my dream since 2004 so it wasn’t even a hesitation when I finally got the shot)

I was blessed in that my employer (Fortune 100 Company) gave me an LOA so that if I didn’t make it I would go right back. That made me extremely calm (I’m a pretty relaxed person in general) and that not having those “unknown future” thoughts in my head like I think many do helped. I passed.

TLDR; see if you can get some sort of LOA. If they really appreciate you. They’ll do it and want to help see one of their employees have the opportunity to climb.
 

Hitchcock

Trusted Contributor
FAA
Messages
266
Facility
ZDV Denver Center
I'm not sure how you haven't found this but I'll keep it simple.

  1. They didn't get it
  2. Nerves
  3. You have a bad day on eval day
  4. Drama/Partying/Bad Study Habits
  5. You think your doing good but you actually suck because you can't read a dash 25
 

SavannahATC

Lurker
Messages
14
So more or less two main reasons, either they didn't prepare enough or they were nervous on the day of evaluations?

Hitchcock When I was searching around the forums, I kept coming across the same answer which was, "You either have it or you don't" or some variation of.
 

Erick

Trusted Contributor
Messages
60
A lot of people will probably disagree with me but if you got referred and received a TOL, you’ll probably have some of the tools to make it happen. I don’t have a lot of faith in the hiring process, but I’m sure there is some method to their madness and hopefully it’s a legitimate indicator of future success.

Personally, I had a similar path. Left an established career in investments for 5 years. Took the risk and left my partner and small child back home. In retrospect, it feels pretty crazy that I took the risk but I don’t regret it for a second. Only 9/18 in my terminal class passed. We had another 3 or 4 who just missed out by a few points and the others probably could have made it as well if they got a second chance.

There isn’t a magical formula. I’m sure you’re smart enough to learn the rules and the phraseology (I was completely off the street and had no problem). It just came down to using your tools, not trying anything you haven’t done before, and remaining calm. For terminal, your evaluation is 15 minutes shorter than all your practice runs and it goes by in a flash. It’s stressful, but that’s the point. The job can be stressful, but you need to be automatic and fall back on your training without freezing.

Wish you the best of luck. It’s a great job.
 

32andBelow

Trusted Contributor
Messages
304
I didn’t study at all and passed easy and others study 12 hours a day and fail. In Enroute I think people can’t develop a good scan.
 

SavannahATC

Lurker
Messages
14
Erick
Thank you for your response, I really appreciate it. Are terminal evals considered easier than enroute evals?

32andBelow
Other than reading the basics manual offered on this site, is there any games or anything else that you can recommend to better prepare before entering the academy? I have a decent amount of time before now and before I get a class date, assuming I get one and want to obviously do everything I can to lower my risk of it not working out.
 

Stinger

Moderator
Staff member
Messages
999
Are terminal evals considered easier than enroute evals?
There will be more people passing the tower evals this year compared to the last couple years.
I'd expect tower to be around 80% pass rates this year, and enroute to be passing about 65%...maybe a little more.
 

32andBelow

Trusted Contributor
Messages
304
Erick
Thank you for your response, I really appreciate it. Are terminal evals considered easier than enroute evals?

32andBelow
Other than reading the basics manual offered on this site, is there any games or anything else that you can recommend to better prepare before entering the academy? I have a decent amount of time before now and before I get a class date, assuming I get one and want to obviously do everything I can to lower my risk of it not working out.
Nope enjoy your life. Have fun. Get in good shape. And be ready to study when you get there. Stress management and being lose is important. Anything you need to know will be spoon fed to you in OKC.
 

JNev

Trusted Contributor
FAA
Messages
179
Facility
MRY Monterey Tower
Just speaking from my experience in Terminal at OKC, I think most of the people in my class who didn't pass didn't believe they could or would pass. You obviously need to do more than "just believe", but I think it plays a big role since everyone is trained the same amount and the same way. You could write a research paper on the dynamic of OKC, and I'm sure there have been many.

It's 100% worth it to try in my opinion. The job is so so great and the pension is such an amazing thing to have for retirement.
 

Nfingers

Trusted Contributor
Messages
116
I haven't been to the academy, but I was in the air force through tech school and I'm in the FAA now. They do not want you to fail. They want you to make it. My opinion of air traffic classroom is that anyone can make it if you study enough and know you're stuff and know the common traps. Now real atc? I also believe there is a "you have it or you dont" factor here. Especially as you get to busier facilities. With all this being said, you're asking questions about it which shows you have the right amount of interest in it. Good luck!
 

spider

Trusted Contributor
Messages
28
Can you make a mistake and fix it before it becomes too late? If you do make a mistake, can you go and fix 100 other mistakes without letting the mistake you missed bother you?

That's what OKC is about. You make an error 1 minute into your problem and you don't fix it. Now what? Do you shut down or do you keep pushing on through to salvage the rest of your problem and end up with a 75 or do you fail to recover and end up with a 0?
 

fivebyfive

Member
Messages
32
You have to want it. The ones the failed in my academy class had the attitude of it either happens or it doesn't and didn't put much work into it.
The stress is real at the academy. Find a way to deal with it so you can perform.
 

J-one-s

Trusted Contributor
Messages
55
I worked as a pseudo-piloted at the academy and now at a center. Academy has weird little rules that you HAVE to follow, so its all about being able to work in those specific parameters. I think a large part of it is knowing that something needs to be done and ACTING on it immediately. That's hard to do, as other things are piling up on you. It's like trying to do 1 thing while listening(and hopefully understanding) 2 conversations about the next 3 things you need to do. Basic human nature, when things get that stressful, is to freeze up like a fainting goat.
 

SCofATC

Member
FAA
Messages
23
Facility
STP St. Paul Tower
One reason I have seen people fail in OKC and at facilities is because they try to learn through osmosis. I had this issue at my first facility. You can get all the hours in the world to train on position but if one is not actively analyzing and fixing identified deficiencies between sessions it will be a long road which may lead to a dead end.

For example, issues with traffic calls. If you dont have your oclocks down or mileage draw up a mock radar and put some targets with callsigns on them. Do a bunch and go through them. Dont wait to fix it on position cause it will be a waste of time that could be used for other things.

Also, everyone trains differently. We are all like snowflakes. So an identified deficiency may require a remedy for one but a different remedy for another. Studying in grade school and college was one thing. Lot of memorization. Knowing how to train yourself to successfully apply Air Traffic rules in a given situation can be a new experiece for the newly hired.

I see students leave it solely up to the instructors to hold their hand. Take the learning upon yourself. Instructors can give you the training methods they are familiar with to have you learn how to apply the rules, but the student must then follow through.

Lastly, a student seeing a classmate performing better than them can drag them down. But its not a competition. I have seen people certify in min hours then quit learning and suck. And I have seen people use up almost all their hours and become great controllers. Again everyong trains differently.

Certifying doesnt mean you know it all, and especially graduating from Academy too. Certifying means you are safe and can continue the learning process yourself. 16+ years and I still have a lot to see and learn. That is why this job is so fun.

SavannahATC. You should do it and give it your best shot. Cause if you do not you will always wonder about it. You cannot know if you have what it takes unless you go through the program.
 

SCofATC

Member
FAA
Messages
23
Facility
STP St. Paul Tower
Lot of good thoughts from everyone on this thread about the training environment. Something I have been involved with since I got in.

Lemme also add that the training environment can be rough depending on the instructor. There are new hire's that are put off guard with the style and stress of training. And what can hold you back is not being able to manage your reactions to an instructor. I continually work on this. No matter how a training session went I always thank them for their time.

Was down in OKC for 3 months of radar this summer and I knew the instructors that were easy to work with to make the day pass by a lot smoother. But it was those that were harder on me that I pushed to train with having learned the most from. Some of which are now good friends.

I met a ton of off the street controllers while I was there. Another tip is to not to weasel out of a question that you do not know the answer to from an instructor. Just say "I don't know," "can you help me with that," and fix it. Stat.
 
Messages
8
I passed Terminal Academy just under a year ago and am now a CPC. We had 16 people in my class and 14 passed. We should have passed 15 out of 16. I'll tell you about myself and the ones that washed.

The first one that washed out pretty much resigned himself to the fact that he wasn't going to pass and was contacting his former employer the second week of "across the street" to make sure he could come back to his job. He was very studious and studied all the time, but never had an ounce of confidence is his voice or what he was saying. On the academic tests he killed it because he knew everything. When it came to the simulator and table-top (and eventually, evals) he folded like a cheap suit because he constantly doubted himself and would mumble and stammer in a low voice through whatever he would say, even though he knew what to do.

The other one that washed was a good kid (I say kid because I was the oldest in the class by several years at 31 years old so they were all "kids" to me); he had his ATC degree and was doing great in academy all the way up to the very final eval run. His final local run he only needed around a 25% to pass and make the 70% threshold and there was no reason to believe he wouldn't kill it like he did his first local run and place towards the top of our class. His final local run was the last run of the day for our class and literally everyone had passed except the other guy that we more or less knew wouldn't make it and the girl that was doing her final ground eval. There's no two ways around it: he choked. He absolutely choked on his final run. I still keep in contact with him from time to time because we were roommates during academy and I genuinely care about his success in life. What I got from him was that he screwed up right away and it more or less took him mentally out of the run and that tanked his run. He said it wasn't a scenario where he let the first screw up weigh on him and that caused other mistakes to build on themselves; he said that after the first screw up he more or less completely lost perspective of the problem he was running and terrible thing after terrible thing happened because he no longer felt like he was "in it".

Me? I would bet money if you told our class at the beginning of evals that 2 wouldn't make it that I would have been one of 3 people you would have guessed would take those two spots; for sure. 100 to 1 odds on that. It's not that I didn't have the "stuff", it's that I wasn't quick enough to sharpen my "stuff". I am as off the street as they come. Greener that Kermit. Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and no form of ATC exposure prior to applying. I studied more than I ever have in my life and was probably middle of the pack in academy, academically speaking. I honestly believe my saving grace was my previous work experience being a 911 dispatcher for several years; it enabled me to shake off each mistake I made and keep working the problem in front of me.

As an entire class and as roommates (6 of us at Kim's Place), we would practice table-tops going over critical situations we could think of for an hour or two a day, every day. I would study independently for about an hour day, including the weekends (took those easy to keep my sanity, unless we did table tops).

The advice I feel I can adequately give without giving anything away is:
1.) Be friends to the best of your ability with your entire class. We had a few less than stellar people when it came to the personality department but we all still tried to get along with each other and study together. Your classmates success can also be the key to your success.
2.) Know when and how to study. Everyone benefits from different amounts and different intensities of studying (half hour on, half hour off for a few hours; 3 hours straight; hour when you wake, hour at night; etc.) . Find the study style that benefits you most and get after it hard.
3.) Know how to relax. It's important to keep you grounded. My girlfriend came to visit OKC once and I went home over a holiday weekend once. My roommates and I played a fair amount of video games. I only really drank and "partied" twice: when we passed basics and when we passed the academy. Self care is critical. I got an hour massage the day before final evals started and it really helped to work out a good chunk of the stress I held on to up to that point through academy. Know what your balance is and keep it in moderation.
4.) KEEP WORKING THE PROBLEM. This is my holy grail. No matter what gets thrown at you. No matter what happens at any point in any problem. KEEP WORKING THE PROBLEM. DO NOT STOP WORKING THE PROBLEM. Don't let attempting to fix a mistake take your attention away from what else was in front of you before the mistake. Do not let a mistake put you in a negative head space for the rest of the problem. To quote Rocky Balboa, "it's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much can you take and keep moving forward." Fight to the very end. I am a CPC today because I kept working the problem after each mistake I made, and I made plenty.

Hope this helps people.
 
Top