Air Traffic Controller Aptitude Test (ATSA): A Definitive Study Guide with Practice Questions

Last Updated on April 13, 2022

Are you looking to enjoy the benefits of being an Air traffic Controller like high wages, great insurance, and challenging, meaningful work? If so, you’ll need the ambition to succeed, but that’s not all. You will also need to pass the air traffic controller aptitude test. The AT-SA exam.

In such a competitive and rigorous field, you’re going to need a high score on the AT-SA. And if unprepared, this tough test can knock some candidates on their back. So if you are nervous about an upcoming test, remember practice and prepare key to understanding what the test is, how it works and how to ace it.

Below you’ll find the tools you need to decimate the competition and set yourself up for your career in the control tower. Read on to learn what the exam is and how to dominate it.
Bring your smarts and skills—we’ll help you with the rest.

What is the AT-SA Exam?

First things first. What is the AT-SA exam? The AT-SA exam stands for Air Traffic Skills Assessment. This exam is taken in person and all test takers must provide two forms of identification. Only United States citizens are eligible to take this exam.

The AT-SA replaces the air traffic selection and training (AT-SAT) exam that was previously used to assess potential air traffic controllers. The exam is divided into seven subsets and will take a little less than three hours to complete.

This exam is notoriously challenging, and scores are classified in one of four ways: Not Referred is the lowest classification, followed by Qualified, Well Qualified, and Best Qualified as the highest score classification. Because of the competitive nature of the air traffic controller field, test takers strive to receive a Best Qualified classification in order to be referred to a job in the field.

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AT-SA Exam: Broken Down by Section

Let’s talk about each of the seven subtests within the AT-SA exam. Applicants should strive to do well on each of these subtests in order to boost their qualification score. The best way to ensure a high score is to practice each of these subtest types and to do special practice in areas where you are less confident. That way, on the day of the exam, you will be ready to ace the test.

Biographical Assessment/Personality Test

This portion of the test determines whether your personality is compatible with the responsibilities and atmosphere of an air traffic control tower workplace setting. These questions are to be answered in a “rapid fire” approach since there are 108 questions and only 20 minutes to answer this portion of the exam.

Essentially, you will see three statements. For each statement, you will be asked which of these statements is most or least like you. Approach these questions honestly, and consider which aspects of your personality are most likely to lead to flourishing in an air traffic controller workplace.

Here’s an example:

Mark which of these statements best describes you and which least describes you:

  • Most of the time I feel relaxed
  • I like to plan out the future
  • Competition brings out the best in me

For more examples, click here.

This can be a difficult portion of the exam for some test takers. It’s a good idea to practice many questions in this portion to get used to the types of answers that make sense for you.

Two Memory Games

There are two memory game tests in the AT-SA.

Memory 1

The first memory game test utilizes subtraction and categorization to determine your ability to think quickly while keeping information aside within your mind.

A number will appear on the screen and then disappear. You must remember this first number. Then you will see another number on the screen. Subtract the second number from the first and type this number in.

Next, a third number will appear. Subtract the third number from the second and type this number. Remember *not* to subtract the third number from any of the numbers you typed earlier. You are being tested on your ability to do simple math as well as your ability to keep different pieces of information separate.

Be sure to practice this portion of the test. You will only have about two seconds to remember each number that pops up, so you’ll want to build up experience with this process.

Memory 2

The second memory game test has three sections. Each section consists of ten questions. As you move from section to section, the test questions become harder.

At first, you will be told that a certain number will be represented by a certain letter. For example, A equals 1 or B equals 2.

Then you will see letters flashing out of order, and you will be asked to insert what number is being represented by these letters.

Next, you’ll also be given numbers represented by letters, but you will be asked to complete equations using these numbers. The equations will be completed using addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Finally, you will find two-variable equations.

Practice these types of tests and determine the best way you know to answer the questions. You may find it easier to tap or whisper in order to keep track of the letter and number substitutions. Also, if you haven’t done arithmetic in some time, get used to performing these functions quickly.

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Reading Comprehension

This portion of the exam focuses on the applicant’s ability to understand a passage and utilize deductive reasoning and inference. You will be asked to determine the main idea of the paragraph.

This section has 18 total questions with 15 minutes allotted for completion.

Word Problems

The word problem subtest engages the applicant’s logical reasoning as well as the ability to locate information by reading charts. For this section, be sure not to miss answering any questions or you will be penalized. Therefore, if you do not know the answer, use the information given to make the best possible selection.

If possible, use the process of elimination to determine which answers make the most sense of the multiple choice options.

Spatial Reasoning/Relationships

For this portion of the exam, you will need to be able to imagine the orientation of several airplanes from different perspectives. You may see two planes on the screen and be asked whether, from the perspective of the large plane, it is true that the small plane is on the LEFT side.

Then in the next section, you will be given a picture of an eye which stands for a third viewpoint. From this new viewpoint, is it true that the small plane is on the LEFT side of the large plane? This question is answered true or false.

When the eye symbol is present on the screen, it is typically (but not always) pointing at the large airplane. If you are running out of time, you can reverse the view of the large airplane to get your answer for a question with an eye symbol. This is a time saver but it is not always accurate.

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Air Traffic Control Simulation

This simulation is set up like a video game. The purpose of the game is to avoid collisions by marking down the number associated with one of the two balls that are set on a collision course. As the simulation progresses, you will also be asked to answer basic math questions while also avoiding collisions.

The key is to make sure your balls do not collide. While answering the math questions is optimal, it is more important to make sure there are no collisions. This test assesses the ability to view objects in space while also prioritizing different tasks in time and simultaneously considering multiple variables.

How to Excel at the AT-SA Aptitude Test?

If you want to be an air traffic controller, the AT-SA test could be one of the most important test taking opportunities in your life. Some may find themselves becoming anxious about the difficulty level and amount of questions on the test.

Others may be confident in their abilities but would still benefit from a lot of preparation beforehand. In fact, everyone who takes the test can improve their final score by putting in a lot of practice. Gaining access to a test prep program is the best way to achieve a score of Best Qualified on the AT-SA test.

This score could lead to a tentative offer letter (TOL) that advances the hiring process along. In short, this test stands between you and your career goals, and that’s why it’s essential to put in many hours of work to become an expert at every aspect of the assessment you’ll encounter during the AT-SA itself.

You’ll want to practice to get used to the types of questions. You’ll also want to answer those questions in a timed environment that is similar to the test-taking scenario you’ll encounter during the actual exam. It’s a good idea to see which portions of the test are your strong suits and which need a little extra practice.

Hone in on the more difficult portions of the test and recognize which specific skills you need to work on. Not only will this help you ace the test, but it will help you succeed if you eventually become an air traffic controller.

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Why Take the AT-SA?

If you have strong attention to detail and enjoy using your brain, a role as an air traffic controller may be the perfect career for you. This lucrative profession is financially rewarding and endlessly challenging, providing opportunities for problem-solving and connecting with people from all over the world.

Not only that, but the job is vitally important for the continuation of our modern society. How many others can say that about their professions? If you want to become an air traffic controller, practice for the AT-SA. Build confidence and get ready to enter the exciting and challenging world of the control tower.

Related Study Guide:

Practice Air Traffic Controller Aptitude Test (ATSA)

Learn about the different types of questions asked in the Air Traffic Controller Aptitude Test with this sample practice assessment. Good luck!

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