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Air Traffic Controller Test (ATSA) – Ultimate Guide For 2024

Jan 16, 2024

What Is the Air Traffic Controller Assessment Test?


If you want to join the Federal Aviation Administration as an Air Traffic Control Specialist, you will be required to take the ATSA.

The Air Traffic Skills Assessment (ATSA) is an entry-level employment assessment that is designed to evaluate whether you have the skills and attributes that are required to become an air traffic controller, and the test is used early in the recruitment process as an initial filter.

The test is administered by Pearson VUE, and you will only be able to take the assessment at one of the Pearson test centers if you are invited following your initial application for the role of ATCS on the USAjobs.gov website. The first stage of application will ensure that you meet the basic requirements of the role – that you are the right age (under 31) and that you are a US citizen.

The ATSA is a computer-based test, and comprises seven subtests, all designed to evaluate different attributes related to what an air traffic controller is expected to be able to do to effectively complete their duties.

You’ll have a maximum time allowed of two hours and 49 minutes and will need to complete all seven sections in that time. You may take a break of 30 minutes, which can be taken in six breaks of five minutes, or a full 30 minutes.

 

Prepare for the ATSA Test with JobTestPrep!

 

The test subsections are as follows:

  • Number Differences
  • Memory – Variables
  • Spatial and Visual Relationships
  • Collision Simulation
  • Personality Test
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Logical Reasoning

 

To move onto the next stage of the application process, you will not only need to pass the ATSA, but have a score that is deemed Best Qualified – competition for roles with the FAA is fierce, and the acceptance rate might only be 2.5% of applicants.

 

Who Can Take the ATSA Test?


All open positions with the FAA are advertised on USAjobs.gov, and this should be your first port of call when you are looking for a role as an air traffic controller. Application openings are not on a set schedule, but there will be a specified amount of time that each opportunity will be open for.

The application form is quite lengthy, requiring the usual basic contact and educational information, but you will also need to be able to provide all your jobs and addresses for the last 10 years.

To progress this far, you need to be a US citizen, and not be any older than 30 (you have to start the FAA Academy before or on your 31st birthday).

There are two pools created from this basic application. Pool One is for candidates who have an aviation degree, relevant work experience from the military or similar, or who have completed both postsecondary education and relevant work experience. Pool Two is essentially everyone else who applies.

Next is the ATSA. You will be invited to the Air Traffic Controller assessment test and will have to schedule it with Pearson VUE at a test center. You’ll need an official ID that matches your application details to take the ATSA.

The test will place you in one of four bands (more on this later), and your result will determine whether you move to the next stage. The better your performance, the more likely you are to be accepted.

If you do well enough on the test, you will be given a Temporary Offer Letter (TOL), which you need to accept if you want to accept the offer. You might need to fill out extra paperwork when you accept. If you accept, you will then receive your Clearance Information Letter (CIL), which will have information relating to your medical and security clearances.

Once all the checks and clearances have been completed, you will receive a Firm Offer Letter (FOL). This will detail your academy start date and starting salary information.

 

What Is in the Air Traffic Controller Test?


The Air Traffic Controller Test is a lengthy pre-employment test that is separated into seven subtests. Each looks at a different skill or ability, all of which are directly related to the aptitudes needed to be successful as an air traffic controller.

The subtests are as follows:

 

Memory Game

This memory game combines short-term memory with simple math.

You will be shown a number on screen, which will only be visible for two seconds before it is replaced with another number, again for just a couple of seconds. To answer the question, you will need to deduct the second number from the first and enter that in the answer box. You then have to continue to deduct the next number from the previous number throughout the test.

This test requires you to have excellent short-term memory and recall, as well as being able to follow specific instructions – you are only using the numbers presented to you in the deductions, not your answers, for example.

 

Memory/Variables

Another number-based assessment, this time getting you to make different use of numbers and variables presented on screen.

This test is divided into three rounds.

In the first round, numbers and variables will flash on the screen for a short amount of time, and then you will have to remember and input the value of each variable.

In the second round, the value of variables will flash on the screen, followed by an equation that you need to solve using those variables.

In the third round, there are two equations to solve.

This test gets progressively more challenging, especially as you will need to memorize both letters and numbers and the relationship between them, and then use that information to solve simple equations. You will be expected to use addition, multiplication, subtraction and division in these questions, and you will not have access to a calculator or any scrap paper.

 

Spatial/Visual Relationship

Spatial awareness is essential for an air traffic controller, and in this subtest, you are being assessed on your visual awareness of items on the screen in relation to space and to each other.

This test involves an image where there are two differently sized planes on screen, as well as a text box that either says left or right.

You need to decide if the small plane is on the left or right of the big plane and use that to choose whether the text box is correct (yes or no).

In the first round of this subtest, you are required to decide where the small plane is in relation to the big plane from the point of view of being inside the plane.

In the second test, the point of view may change – an eye may appear on the screen, and that represents the point of view that you should be viewing the planes from to decide whether the small plane is on the left or the right.

The images change quickly so you won’t have much time to make your decision.

 

ATC Simulation

This is probably the best known of all the subtests on the Air Traffic Controller exam. Set up to resemble a computer game, you need to be able to multitask effectively to score well on this.

In the first part of the subtest, there are numbered balls traveling at different speeds from different places across the screen. You need to avoid collisions between the balls, eliminating them by typing the number to make them disappear. You need to be able to plan ahead and make quick decisions.

In the second part of this test, the difficulty increases. As well as preventing collisions, you will also need to answer some math questions – taking time and focus away from the screen.

This simulation mimics some of the work that you will need to do as an air traffic controller, so you need to be able to prioritize tasks and use your time effectively.

 

Word Problems

This is the logical reasoning section of the Air Traffic Controller exam, and in it you will need to make logical deductions based on the passages of instructions that you are given.

Many of the word problems are the common seating arrangement types, where you need to come up with an arrangement that follows the rules given.

For many test-takers, this is one of the more challenging sections, especially as you will not have any way of planning or making notes.

This is also the section where it is really important to attempt to answer every question (there are 15 of them that you need to answer in 20 minutes). Blank responses in this section are marked negatively.

 

ATSA Personality Test

In this subtest, you are expected to answer 108 questions, and while this part is untimed most people complete it in 15 to 20 minutes.

Each question consists of three statements, and you need to decide which of these statements is most like you, and which is least like you.

As this is a personality test, the best way to approach these questions is to answer them honestly, rather than trying to choose the response that you think the FAA wants you to give.

 

Reading Comprehension

Like a verbal reasoning assessment, the reading comprehension subtest is all about extracting meaning from text. You will have six passages of text to read, with three questions to follow. There are a total of 18 questions that you need to answer in 15 minutes.

In the questions, you might be asked to determine if a statement about the text is true or false or establish the main purpose of the passage.

 

How Is the ATSA Test Scored?


The actual scoring method used in the ATSA is relatively complicated and not discussed, but your results will determine whether you are allocated a coveted TOL.

About three to four weeks after you have completed the ATSA, you will be able to log in to your account and see your results. You won’t see your score, but you will be evaluated into one of four groupings:

  • Best Qualified
  • Well Qualified
  • Qualified
  • Not Referred

 

Not Referred is a failing score, and you will need to retake the ATSA if you are committed to becoming an air traffic controller.

The Best Qualified designation is the one that is most likely to end with a TOL, especially as the competition is so fierce for places on the FAA training courses.

Scores from the ATSA Air Traffic Skills Assessment are valid for three years after completion, so if you have recently taken the test you can choose to use your previous results as part of your application.

If you want to retake, either to pass this time or to improve your score, you can – but it needs to be part of a new application process, so you will have to reapply in the next available application window.

 

How to Prepare for the ATSA Assessment


 

Familiarize With the Test Format

The ATSA is a challenging assessment, with different requirements for each subtest. Knowing what to expect in the assessment will make you feel much more confident when you are taking the test, and this can have a positive impact on your performance.

The more you know about what is expected of you in the test center, the easier you will find it to concentrate on the air controller test itself.

 

Take Practice Tests

Practice tests (like the ones at TestHQ) have several benefits when you are preparing to take the ATSA or any pre-employment assessment. First, as mentioned above, they can help you get more familiar with the test format, how you need to answer the questions and what the content might be like.

They are also an excellent starting point for any revision that you need to do. Using a practice test before you revise will help you pinpoint which areas you need to work on and can help you build a preparation plan that is tailored to you and what you need.

As you revise more and get closer to the test date, taking more practice tests should demonstrate a noticeable difference in your results, which will help you feel even more confident.

 

Create a Study Schedule for Each Segment

The results of that initial practice test – and your own understanding of your skills and abilities – will help you build a study plan that is scheduled to cover all aspects of the Air Traffic Skills Assessment.

While you might want to focus more time on the areas you know are more challenging, there are still benefits to revising areas that you feel are stronger for you.

Make sure that your study schedule covers each subtest, but don’t forget to allow yourself time for other activities – personal and leisure time should still factor into your planning and preparation.

 

Focus On Time Management

The best part of three hours in an assessment might look like a long time when you are initially considering the assessment, but when you have taken a practice test you will come to appreciate that the time passes very quickly, and if you are not working efficiently, you could find yourself running out of time.

Whenever you take a practice test, make sure that you are timing it, as this will get you more used to answering the questions quickly.

Another quick note about timing is to decide how you are going to take the 30-minute break that you are offered. You can take this in one hit, or you can take six different five-minute breaks in the test.

 

What to Remember When Taking the Test


 

Read Instructions Carefully

Each test is evaluating a different skill or attribute, and the tests themselves are regularly updated in terms of both content and format – so don’t assume that you know what you need to do when you get into the test center.

Take the time to read the instructions fully; you don’t want to risk missing out on valuable answers because you rushed through the test.

 

Try and Estimate if Unsure

In the Word Problems section in particular, you will lose marks if you leave a question unanswered, so it is good practice to try and answer every question on the ATSA to ensure that you don’t lose out.

Many of the subtests are multiple-choice questions, so even an educated guess is better than an empty answer box. Try and rule out the answers that can’t be right and make an estimation if you are still unsure.

 

Keep Track of Time

When you are focused on answering questions in your assessment, you might be spending too much time on one area and leaving yourself too short for time to answer all the questions in that section.

Keep an eye on the time, and make sure that you are answering all the questions as efficiently as possible.

 

Frequently Asked Questions


 

What is ATSA testing?

ATSA testing is an early part of the application process to become an Air Traffic Controller with the FAA. This entry-level test is used to evaluate candidates on skills and attributes that are needed to be successful in the role.

 

What is the passing score for the ATSA exam?

ATSA scores aren’t released to participants; instead, you’re placed in a grouping:

  • Best Qualified
  • Well Qualified
  • Qualified
  • Not Referred

 

Not Referred means you failed. Some sources suggest the pass mark is about 70%, but aim to score as highly as possible as competition is fierce.

 

Do you need to study for the ATSA test?

The ATSA is a pre-employment aptitude test, which means that you need no previous knowledge or experience to be able to take the test. However, studying and practice tests will help you feel more confident about the content, and ensure that your skills are polished.

 

How hard is the air traffic controller test?

The air traffic controller test (ATSA) is designed to be challenging, as the role itself is challenging and there are many applicants for every role advertised. The best way to ensure a good score is to practice and prepare, as you want to get the highest score possible.

 

What happens after you take the ATSA?

After you take (and pass) the ATSA, the next stage is to receive a Temporary Offer Letter (TOL), which is a tentative job offer that you will need to accept. Only the top scoring candidates are likely to receive one, which is why practice and preparation is so important.

 

Final Thoughts


Becoming an Air Traffic Control Specialist is a popular job role, offering lots of variety and challenges as well as financial rewards and other benefits – which is why competition for roles can be so fierce.

As mentioned, the FAA may only employ 2.5% of applicants, so you need to demonstrate that you have what it takes from the very start of the process.

The Air Traffic Controller aptitude test is a challenging assessment that covers many different aptitudes and skills, but with the right practice and preparation you can ace the test and take the next step on your chosen career path.

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