OAA Skills Assessment

Oxford Aviation Academy Skill's Assessment with COMPASS (Pilot Aptitude testing)

This is my experience of the Skills Assessment process. Reading about the day from a few people's blogs reassured me before though I really didn't know what to expect, having only been to Oxford Airport on the open day I didn't know where to go or who I'd meet. My assessment day was 3rd-4th February 2014, that's right at Oxford it goes across two days! As we had to be there at 8.30 in the morning I decided to drive down the day before and stayed in the Highwayman Inn which was close by to the airport.

In the morning, I got up did a quick bit of mental maths and forced myself to eat breakfast. I drove round to Oxford (though I could easily have walked) and checked myself in at security outside and obtained a car parking pass. You've got to make sure you check in and are wearing your security pass at all times so don't forget. I met one other guy there, Rob who was doing his assessment at the same time as me and we waited in a room to be called. I'm really glad there was someone else there, it definitely helps to share nerves, there were others doing the assessment too but they had a different schedule to us and we would all converge for the group assessment stage.

First up on my agenda was the Simulator assessment. As Oxford will accept people of all flying experiences (including those with none considering you possess the right aptitude) you're first given a briefing going over what you'll be asked to do and the basic instruments you'll be looking at in the cockpit. Flight Simulator practice would be really useful here! One thing I found a little off putting was that we weren't allowed to use the rudder pedals, only the yoke for turning! "But glider pilots lead with the rudder" I obsessed in my head.

The man who did our briefing and assessment was so friendly, making jokes and generally talking to us to relax our nerves. I learnt that he used to fly Hercules in the RAF and he was impressed that I'd been in one with the Cadets. Points for me as your personality is also assessed in the Simulator as well as your multitasking, response to commands and flying accuracy. The simulator was a CRJ200 fixed base (sad, no motion sims today) and the tasks and instruments needed in the assessment were all explained in the briefing. This was the most fun task of the day, I loved it!

The actual assessment was simple enough you were given a heading to turn onto, a turn angle, a speed and an altitude to maintain whilst performing various turns. If there was a descent/ascent involved you'd need to ask your 'co-pilot' (the assessor) for the appropriate change in power as you didn't yourself control the throttle. I was scared of doing this and said it as politely as possible so as to avoid coming across too bossy! The total time in the Simulator was about 30-40 minutes and I even got to do some aerobatics in it after the assessment. After Rob and I were finished it was lunchtime and waiting for the dreaded COMPASS test to begin.

I can't tell you how relieved I was that my COMputerised Pilot Aptitude Screening System (COMPASS) testing was on the first day, as this and mostly the maths was the part I was most worried about. I've got to say, it actually wasn't that bad. You did have to concentrate for a long time but if you just think of it as playing some games on a computer it's almost fun, almost. It was split into 8 (?) tests I think and I'm just going to jot down what I remember about them:

Every test is timed and you get a practice round followed by several attempts at each task, the idea is that you improve each time. Make sure you READ the instructions thoroughly. You have the opportunity to read the instructions more than once and I'd recommend doing this just so you don't miss anything :)

1. Coordination
I found this one a little tricky, you had to read the instruments and look at the orientation arrows on the aircraft to the central aircraft to see which one was correct for all instruments to be true.

2. Slalom
You used the joystick for this one and had to keep your little air plane between the goalposts, not too tricky but I've heard of them reversing the controls for this one before!

3. Hands
Requires mental rotation and listening to the audio instruction. You need to count how many of the figures shown actually match the instruction, this one gets harder; you start off with 6 seconds per task and it goes down to 4 seconds so make sure you get your answers in quick.

4. Memory
You're using short term memory here which is tricky so practice beforehand methods such as 'chunking' which will help you commit figures faster. You're given a series of numbers and letters about radio, altitude, airspeed etc. or a combination of them to commit to your short term memory. You'll then do a coordination task using the joystick and a cancellation task to get rid of red dots, when it asks you for autopilot information you have to insert those numbers you learnt earlier and put them in as quickly as possible. Multitasking to the max so be ready for it! I found this task the most difficult.

5. Maths
Just maths! You have 24 questions in 20 minutes, nearly one a minute so not too tricky if you've practised your mental maths. Not multiple choice unlike the Pilapt testing and you can't go back to questions so try and write something for every one. You do get a pencil and paper for working out so make sure you use it. The questions were a little wordy so be sure to read it carefully.

6. Multitasking
Using the joystick and rudder pedals you have to keep the ball between the goalposts (yaw) and keep the cross-hair on the grid. Simple.

7. Physics
I found these quite tricky, there was 15 questions to do in 10 minutes, although they were multiple choice. It is GCSE level so a little revision is needed before the test. It could be on anything from pivot points to pressure to electricity so learn a few formulas and be prepared for anything.

8. Personality profile
There are a lot of questions and you have to pick one of two questions to say which matches yourself the most. Some of them are quite similar but make sure you read them and don't zone out. The questions will indicate whether you have a high or low risk personality and therefore will help determine your suitability for the course. This one takes a while so take a break before starting if your eyes are feeling tired. You can have a break after every task, though it is tempting to power through and get out of COMPASSing.

9?! Bonus task: BA Maths
In my debrief they said this one wasn't part of the assessment, I think they were testing to see if they could incorporate it so not sure if everyone gets this. This was multiple choice maths with 25 questions in 15 minutes. Too fast! And so wordy, some had separate inserts with graphs and tables on which just took time to read. I just finished this one before the time limit, phew!

The whole COMPASS procedure does take around 3 hours so make sure you're comfortable, read the instructions carefully and take breaks whenever possible. The whole experience was not as bad as I had feared though, honestly.


Teamwork is the name of the game! All 5 of us got together in the morning and after a quick briefing to meet our assessors were led into a room with a round table for the group exercise. The scenario was explained and there were various instructions written on a piece of paper for our reference. Two members of the group had roles; a timekeeper and a log keeper. I volunteered for the latter and had to keep a real-time log of all our decisions during the exercise, as everything was done in real time we didn't have time to finish (as the scenario was set to take place over a certain time period) so we had to decide and log what our next moves would be. If you get the chance, volunteer for one of these roles to show you can handle the responsibility.

My advice would be to listen to the instructions (the instructors are in the room with you and will change the scenario at times so you have to change your plan), take notes as they only say it once. If there's someone quiet in the group make sure you ask their opinion too and if you disagree with anyone (the task is very open to interpretation) make sure you say it as politely as possible, don't interrupt but still get your point across; don't just sit there and go with what everyone else says.

We thought it went rather well, we finished the task and log and managed to do everything they asked for. Then came the debriefing; as log keeper everyone elected for me to read out our plans, the assessors picked it apart asking "who came up with this" and "why didn't you think to do it like this?" Gulp. We had to convince them of everything we'd discussed even though they'd been there whilst we made it, this was another challenge as we definitely didn't want to come across as too bossy towards them; make sure you let all team members have a say in this process.

I wasn't nervous about this part, as I'd practised interview questions had done my research,  until I sat down. The interview is conducted in two stages by two interviewers. The first part was the technical based interview asking about your motivation for training, what you knew about the course and any relevant airline knowledge you had; I found this part fairly straightforward and think I did an okay job. 

The second half of the interview was called 'competency' based, this is to get an idea of your personality and relies on you providing examples of when you've demonstrated a certain skill. I hadn't had these types of questions before so found it quite difficult to pull up examples on the spot. My advice would be to prepare example situations before hand such as when you've shown leadership, teamwork or decision making skills. In the interview they emphasised you could take your time so pause to think before opening your mouth. 

My nerves are in shreds at this point. You have to wait in the common room with the other candidates until you're called back for your debrief and to find out if successful or not. The first one to go in my group was not successful which made me feel even more nervous when going in for mine. The ex-red arrow pilot who conducted my debrief was very friendly, asking me how I felt, what I thought of the process. I think he could tell I was nervous and told me to relax, because I'D GOT IN!!!! I was so excited I wanted to bounce around the room, instead had to sit steady and discuss my scores for each part of the assessment. I even got a 21/25 in the BA Maths and I thought maths would be my downfall! After a quick phone call to my thrilled parents I went to discuss funding, insurance and when I'd like to start and was given an information pack (and certificate!) to take it from there. 

I weirdly enjoyed the whole experience and am so pleased with the result, good luck everyone!