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A Guide to the Air Traffic Controller Test: Examples & Tips

A Guide to the Air Traffic Controller Test: Examples & Tips
A Guide to the Air Traffic Controller Test: Examples & Tips

The Air Traffic Controller (ATC) Test, also known as the Air Traffic Skills Assessment (ATSA) is an exam used as part of the air traffic controller hiring process. It is a challenging assessment consisting of seven subtests designed to evaluate an applicant's aptitude for the role.

Becoming an air traffic controller is a challenging and rewarding career that requires extensive training. The Air Traffic Controller Test (previously known as the Air Traffic Selection and Training (AT-SAT) exam) is an important part of the selection process. 

The Air Traffic Skills Assessment (ATSA) measures a candidate's ability to handle the demands of the job. 

In this article, you’ll find example questions, a guide and tips for preparing for the ATSA exam.

This article relates specifically to the ATC test used in the US. Candidates in other countries may be expected to take a different version of the test. 

What Is an Air Traffic Controller Test?

The Air Traffic Controller Test is a computer-based pre-employment exam. It is taken as part of the air traffic controller hiring process. 

It is one of the screening tests used to select the most suitable candidates for Air Traffic Control trainee positions. 

It is a type of aptitude test designed to evaluate the necessary skills and attributes required by the job. 

The test typically measures a range of cognitive abilities, such as logical reasoning, spatial orientation, multitasking, memory recall, problem-solving ability and other relevant skills.

For example, candidates must match certain behavioral and personality characteristics to be considered for the position.

The application procedure is highly competitive. Candidates must aim to achieve the highest grade on the exam to have a chance of securing a job.

The assessment is taken at an ATC testing center and is administered by Pearson VUE.

Who Can Take the ATC Test?

The eligibility requirements are set by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Applicants must be:

  • United States citizens
  • At least 18 years old and under 30 unless you have a year of ATC experience
  • Able to pass a medical examination
  • Willing to relocate
  • Able to speak English clearly

Also, applicants must meet certain education or work experience requirements, such as having a bachelor's degree or relevant work experience. 

The FAA may also require applicants to pass additional tests, such as a security clearance background check, before being eligible to take the ATC test.

Applicants are designated as either pool 1 or pool 2.

  • Pool 1 consists of those who have previous air traffic control knowledge and experience or who are eligible for veterans’ preference. 
  • Pool 2 consists of applicants without air traffic control experience or who are not eligible for veterans’ preference. They may be recent college graduates or individuals who want to switch careers.

The ATC exam content is the same for both pool 1 and pool 2, but the passing score requirements may differ. 

Pool 1 candidates may also be given preference over those in pool 2 even if a pool 2 candidate scored higher, depending on the needs of the FAA.  

All test takers must attend the ATC testing center with proper identification (ID). 

What Is the ATC Exam Format?

The entire ATC aptitude test contains more than 200 questions. The time limit is two hours and 49 minutes.

Candidates are able to take up to 30 minutes break during the test. 

Questions are split over seven subtests which are timed separately. 

1. Memory Game

This tests your ability to recall and retain information. There are approximately eight questions in this section.

For each question, you will be shown two numbers between 1 and 9. You need to remember the difference between them. 

Then an additional number will be shown and you need to identify the difference between this number and the previous one. 

2. Memory – Variables

This section includes 10 questions involving missing variables. They get progressively more difficult.

You need to input the value of letters A, B and C. The harder questions involve equations. 

The equations use addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

3. Visual/Spatial Relationship

This tests your ability to visualize and manipulate objects in three-dimensional space. 

There are two parts, each lasting five to 10 minutes.

You will be shown an image of a small and large plane and asked to confirm the orientation of a small plane from the viewpoint of a large plane. 

In the first part, you need to state whether the given orientation (left or right) is true or false.

In the second part, an image of an eye is included which changes your viewpoint.

4. ATC Collision Simulation

In this test, you will see numbered dots representing planes. If you spot a plane heading for a collision, you must enter the number on the keypad. 

This test gets progressively harder as more planes are added to the screen. 

Later, math problems are introduced to see how well candidates can multitask.

For this section, it is most important that you avoid plane collisions. You can estimate answers for the math problems.

Pay the most attention to the path of the planes on the screen.

5. Word Problems

This section lasts 20 minutes and contains around 15 questions

Answer every question, even if you are unsure, as unanswered questions are penalized. 

6. Personality Test

This section has approximately 108 questions

You will be presented with three statements and must choose which one is most like you and which one is least like you.

7. Reading Comprehension

This section has 18 questions to be answered within 15 minutes. These questions test your comprehension and deductive reasoning. 

You will be shown six passages and three questions related to each one.

What Happens After the ATC Exam?

After taking the ATSA, results will be sent to candidates approximately three weeks after the testing window has ended.

Your results will be posted in your USAJOBS account. You won’t receive an overall score; instead candidates are placed into one of four categories.

  1. Best Qualified
  2. Well Qualified
  3. Qualified
  4. Not Referred

If you fail the test, you will be placed into category four. 

Competition for places is high. For the best chance of success, you should aim for category one, Best Qualified.

A high score on the ATSA test could lead to a tentative offer letter (TOL). This is the next step towards securing a position as an air traffic controller.

Air Traffic Controller Exam Examples

Here are some questions that you can use as an ATSA practice test to get a feeling of what to expect.

Memory Game Questions

Example Question

1a. You are shown the numbers 7 and 9. What is the difference?

b. You are shown the numbers 7, 9 and 4. What is the difference?

Example Question

2a. You are shown the numbers 3 and 6. What is the difference?

b. You are shown the numbers 3, 6 and 8. What is the difference?

Memory – Variables Questions

Example Question

C = B + 1

A = 2
B = 4
C = ?

Example Question

A = B + 1

C = 3
B = C – 2
A = ?
B = ?

Visual Relationship Sample Question

Example Question

Visual Relationship Sample Question

If you are sitting in the big plane, then is the statement that the small plane is on the right side of the big plane true or false?

Word Problem Sample Question

Example Question

In a queue, James is ahead of Sue who is directly behind Enid. Sue is ahead of Dave, but behind James.

Which statement can you determine as true?

a) Enid and Sue are friends
b) James is ahead of Sue
c) Enid is first in the queue
d) James doesn’t like Sue

Personality Test Sample Question

Example Question
  • I prefer to spend time alone
  • I follow instructions carefully
  • I am competitive

Select which statements are MOST and LEAST like you.

Reading Comprehension Example Questions

Example Question

1. Read the passage and identify which of the following statements is true.

The Earth's atmosphere is made up of several different layers. The layer that is closest to the Earth's surface is called the troposphere. This is where most weather occurs, and it's also the layer that we live in. The stratosphere is above the troposphere and that is where you can find the ozone layer. The mesosphere is next, followed by the thermosphere. The exosphere is the outermost layer, where the atmosphere fades into space.

a) The stratosphere contains the ozone layer
b) The exosphere is the layer closest to the Earth's surface
c) Most weather occurs in the mesosphere

Example Question

2. Read the passage and identify which of the following statements is true.

The human circulatory system is made up of the heart, blood vessels (arteries and veins) and blood. The heart is a muscular organ that pumps blood throughout the body. The arteries carry oxygen-filled blood away from the heart to the body's tissues. Veins carry oxygen-depleted blood back to the heart. Capillaries are the tiny blood vessels connecting arteries and veins.

a) There are four main components of the human circulatory system
b) Arteries carry blood from the heart to the tissues
c) Capillaries connect the heart to the veins

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How to Do Well in the ATC Psychometric Test

Step 1. Understand the Test Format

Understanding the format of the particular assessment test helps you prepare more effectively for the ATC exam.

It focuses your air traffic controller test prep on the specific skills required for each section of the air traffic controller exam.

It also helps you to manage your time during the test. Knowing how much time is allocated to each section helps you stay on track to ensure you have enough time to complete the test.

Being prepared reduces anxiety and increases your confidence, which can improve your performance on test day.

Step 2. Take Practice Tests Online

Using online practice tests for your ATSA test prep helps you become familiar with the format and types of questions you will encounter on the actual exam. 

Taking an air traffic controller practice test can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. This shows you the areas where you may need additional study. 

This also helps with devising a study plan. You can spend more time on the areas you struggle with to help improve your overall score.

By simulating the test-taking environment as closely as possible, online practice tests can help you to feel more comfortable and confident during the actual exam.

Remember to take regular breaks throughout your practice to help you remain focused on the questions.

Step 3. Read Questions Carefully

Read instructions carefully before you start so you know how to approach the question.

You will be presented with practice questions in the ATSA, so take advantage of these. 

Take your time to process the examples as they will help focus your mind on the task and help ensure you answer correctly. 

Frequently Asked Questions

The ATC test is a cognitive ability test that is used to assess the ability of individuals to perform the duties of an air traffic controller.

It consists of a series of subtests that assess the necessary skills and aptitude of candidates. It is a computer-based test that must be taken at a Pearson assessment center.

The ATSA is a very challenging test and it can be difficult to achieve the highest grade of Best Qualified. 

Not only does it require intense levels of concentration, but questions also often increase in difficulty within each section.

Significant preparation and practice are required to increase your chance of success. Taking an ATC practice test will help you determine your strengths and weaknesses so you can prepare more efficiently for the actual test.

The Air Traffic Controller Test consists of seven subtests. These assess a candidate’s cognitive abilities, spatial awareness and other necessary skills needed for employment as an ATC.

To prepare for the ATC exam, significant preparation can help improve your potential score. 

Take air traffic controller practice tests online, such as the ATC practice tests on JobTestPrep.

You will receive your ATC test results within three weeks of the end of the testing cycle. 

You can access these on your USAJOBS account.

The percentage of applicants who pass the ATC test with the required score varies.

To be successful, candidates should aim for the Best Qualified category.

Free ATC practice test questions can be found at JobTestPrep online

Preparing in advance using online ATC example questions can help improve your chance of passing the test.

The ATC test is timed and takes around two hours and 50 minutes to complete. 

Candidates can opt to take up to 30 minutes break, which can be split. This increases the total time of the test to over three hours.

Your ATSA score remains valid for three years after the completion date of your test. You can only take it once per application phase.

You are able to retake the test or use the results of your previous test. If you retake the test and score lower, this result will be saved.

The ATC test is a significant step in the hiring process of air traffic controllers. 

Only those who pass the ATC exam, and achieve the highest scores, will be considered for positions as ATCs.

To take the ATC test, candidates must be US citizens under the age of 30. 

You must also meet a number of other requirements, such as educational background as specified by the FAA.

JobTestPrep has a full air traffic controller study guide for the ATC test. This will help you in your ATC test prep as it contains useful tips, sample questions and information about what to expect on the ATSA.

Final Thoughts

The application process for air traffic controller positions is competitive and requires taking an air traffic controller aptitude test. The ATC test is a challenging test that requires significant preparation to achieve a high grade. 

However, taking an air traffic controller practice test will help you prepare and feel more confident on the day of the actual test. Though the test is challenging, those who pass will be one step closer to securing a rewarding position as an air traffic controller.

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