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Ground School Thriving, Not Just Surviving - Sam Jones

Date: 4 December 2018

Hi I’m Sam, I’m currently in the core flying phase based out of Hamilton in New Zealand, and I’m coming towards the end of the VFR flying Phase, and am training on the Flybe MPL.

Looking back on my time in ground school there’s a few things I could’ve improved upon. Not necessarily to improve my average but more importantly, make the whole thing that little bit more bearable. Having survived the trials and tribulations of ground school relatively unscathed, I feel well placed to offer some advice on making the most of your time in this intense yet rewarding environment.


Below are a few of the lessons I learnt the hard way...


1 - Sleep


I wish I knew what I’m about to tell you before I started my training, in the weeks that followed my ground school phase I read a book by Mathew Walker “Why We Sleep”. If you’ve not read this yet, make it a priority. Truly life changing.


Throughout ground school I rarely slept longer than 6hrs a night, this was in some attempt to squeeze as much work out of the day as possible, often awake working until eleven or twelve in the evening and up at six to study or prep for the day ahead. My thoughts were if i just worked as much as I was physically capable then my scores would be maximised… Alas, I was wrong. Now clearly I survived to tell the tale so it must’ve worked to some extent. But optimal? Certainly not.


Making sure you get sufficient sleep is imperative, giving yourself an 8 hour sleep opportunity EVERY night, without fail. Like me you’ll think I’ll just do an extra hour or so and sleep a bit less, but I plead with you… don’t. Not only will you learn nothing extra, but you’re significantly less likely to remember the content you’ve already put so much effort into trying to absorb. Since reading Walker’s book it’s only helped to double my resolve to make sure I get the hours of sleep needed.



2 - Exercise


Exercise had a large part in my life before starting ground school, averaging between 4-6 hours a week. For me, exercising is the best outlet for all of my frustrations, both personal and work/career related. Believe me, ground school can be one of the most frustrating yet rewarding periods of your life. My training time or exercise time is the only point during the day where everything gets put to one side and I get to focus on nothing but the session in front of me. Quite frankly there is no better outlet for life’s frustrations.
For the first 4 months of ground school, I almost completely stopped exercising, once again choosing to “prioritise” study over exercise. Justifying it to myself with the relatively short period of time that ground school takes place. Again this was a terrible idea. Not being able to exercise meant my health deteriorated, back pain, tiredness in general, moody, not sleeping properly, lack of energy and motivation to study. All of this, because I sacrificed a couple of hours a week of exercise to study, and on reflection those additional study hours probably did more harm than good.


Again, learn from my mistakes here, you can take time to exercise, it won’t damage your scores, if anything it will improve them. There’s heaps and heaps of evidence that links exercise to improved cognitive function, mental health as well as being a great tool for stress management.


If exercise is something that’s been missing from your life for a while, then I’d actually argue that ground school is a great time to start. Your schedule is about as consistent as it will ever be, in lesson Monday - Friday 8-4, and then the rest of the week is yours. Now obviously most of that time will be spent studying, but you should certainly set aside a few hours a week to look after yourself.


3 - Time off


Something hugely overlooked by a lot of trainees, lack of time off can lead to early burnout, loss of motivation, and in some cases mild depression. Mod 2 Blues are certainly a thing that we all felt. With maybe only 10 days off in 26 week, It can easily become all too much for some trainees. This is something that has to be carefully managed, clearly too much time off and you’re just not going to be able to consume the amount of information required. As with everything, balance is crucial. I Fell victim to the over working side in Mod 2, I don’t think I had one day off in the whole mod. BIG mistake. I was physically and mentally ruined by the time it came to the EASA exams, not a place you want to be. So once again, learn from me here. It’s okay to have a day off now and then, use it wisely, spend time with friends and family or do things you don’t normally have time to do.


Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes, and optimise your time in ground school, I’m not saying this list of tips and tricks is going to get you a 95% avg, but hopefully you’ll have a much more enjoyable and manageable time.


Work hard and enjoy!

Thanks for Reading,

- Sam