How to Pass the ATSA Test (Air Traffic Skills Assessment)
Updated November 18, 2023
If your ambition is to become an air traffic controller in the US, it is vital that you pass the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Air Traffic Skills Assessment (ATSA).
This challenging test is designed to assess your suitability for job roles in air traffic control.
After taking the test, you will receive a pass/fail result, plus a grade and ranking based on your test score. The higher your score and ranking, the more likely you are to be offered a position.
In this article, you can learn what to expect when taking the ATSA test. You can also read example test questions and tips on how to prepare for the assessment, including where to find ATSA practice test questions.
The ATSA Air Traffic Control test is two hours and 49 minutes long.
During the test, you will be permitted to take breaks of up to a maximum of 30 minutes in total.
For example, you can choose to take six breaks of five minutes each, two breaks of 15 minutes or one 30-minute break.
The FAA ATSA exam is split into seven subtests. Once you have completed the first four subtests, you will need to speak to the test administrator. The test administration will advise on how you can access the final three subtests.
The seven subtests on the ATSA are:
- Memory Game
- Spatial/Visual Relationship
- Air Traffic Control (ATC) Simulation
- Word Problems
- Personality Test
- Reading Comprehension
The first memory game question is designed to test your ability to retain important information and think quickly to solve simple math problems.
The information will be provided on a ‘flashing’ screen, which means the information shown will disappear after about two seconds.
Your task is to remember the information that you have seen, and use it to solve the problem you are presented with.
Here is an example of the type of problem you could be faced with:
First screen: X = Y – 2
Second screen: Y = Z – 3
Third screen: Z = 10
You will see a number between 1 and 9 on the screen. After two seconds, the number will disappear and be replaced by another number between 1 and 9.
You will be asked to use the number pad to input the difference between the two numbers.
Once you have entered your answer, a third number will appear.
You must now work out the difference between the last number that you saw on screen, and the new number that you have been presented with.
You will be shown the number 8, and it will disappear after two seconds.
You will be shown the number 5, and it will disappear after two seconds.
You will enter the number 3 into the number pad, as this is the difference between 8 and 5.
You will be shown the number 10.
This part of the test comprises 10 sections, which become progressively harder as you work your way through them.
In the first section, you will be shown values for the letters X, Y and Z. You will then be asked to give the values of the letters in a random order.
X = 3
Y = 4
Z = 1
What does Y = ?
What does Z = ?
What does X = ?
In the second section, the letters will be put into an equation, for example:
Y = Z x 4.
The equation might require addition, subtraction, division or multiplication.
The numbers will remain between 1 and 4.
X = 3, Z = 1
What does X = ?, Y = ?, Z = ?
In the third section, two of the letters will be presented as equations.
Z = Y – 3
Y = Z + 3
What does X = ?, Y = ?, Z = ?
This subtest is designed to assess your spatial recognition and reasoning abilities.
It is divided into two sections, each of which will take between five and 10 minutes to complete.
In the first section, you will be shown an image and asked to identify the orientation of a small plane as if you were the pilot looking straight ahead from the cockpit of the large plane in the picture.
The airplanes will change direction and positions throughout the test. A series of images will be shown, with either LEFT or RIGHT at the bottom.
For each image, you must identify whether this instruction is correct, by choosing YES (+ sign on the keypad) or NO (enter key on the keypad).
In the second section, the images you are shown may include a picture of an eye. The eye is there to indicate your viewpoint.
This subtest is split into two parts.
In this first part, the screen will show a map, and numbered balls will move on and off the screen. Your task is to eliminate balls before they collide, by entering the number shown in one of the balls that is about to hit another ball.
In the second part of the test, you will need to continue avoiding collisions as above, while answering basic math questions at the same time.
This subtest assesses logical reasoning abilities and aptitude for extracting information from charts.
There are 15 questions to answer, and you will be allowed approximately 20 minutes in total.
It is important that you do not skip any questions in this subtest, as you will be penalized for doing so. If you are unsure of the answer, use the information provided to make an educated guess.
Statement: A two day career workshop is arranged for a local college. Six out of eight people working for local organizations will share insight on their chosen careers to the students. These are a butcher, jeweler, baker, store owner, mailman, optician, bus driver and teacher. On each day of the workshop, exactly three different local workers will speak to the students, during three separate time slots – morning, lunchtime and afternoon, according to the following limitations:
- The butcher is only available on the second day of the workshop.
- The jeweler and the store owner must not be booked to speak during the lunchtime session.
- If the jeweler attends on the first day, the teacher and the mailman will attend the second day.
- The store owner and the bus driver will not attend on the same day.
- If both the store owner and the optician are speaking, the store owner will need to speak prior to the optician.
1. Which of the following schedules would work according to the above limitations?
a) Day 1: store owner, jeweler, baker; Day 2: mailman, optician, teacher
b) Day 1: bus driver, butcher, jeweler; Day 2: teacher, mailman, store owner
c) Day 1: mailman, teacher, jeweler; Day 2: store owner, butcher, baker
d) Day 1: store owner, baker, mailman; Day 2: teacher, bus driver, optician
e) Day 1: baker, teacher, optician; Day 2: bus driver, mailman, store owner
Statement: 5 people are standing in a line. Taylor is ahead of Bryce, who is directly behind Anais. George is before Thomas, but behind Bryce.
2. What can be determined from this statement?
a) Anais is at the front of the line.
b) Anais is the fifth person in the line.
c) Taylor is in front of Bryce.
d) Bryce is at the front of the line.
e) Anais is George’s wife.
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The personality subtest is made up of 108 questions.
For each, you will need to read three statements, determining which statement is most like you and which statement is least like you.
This subtest includes 18 questions, which must be answered within 15 minutes. You will be shown six paragraphs of text, and each paragraph is followed by three questions.
You will be asked to demonstrate your verbal ability and reading comprehension by identifying the main theme or point of the text or identifying which of the given statements is true.
Statement: Julie and Rosie lived in the same town. Rosie owned a prestigious clothing store in the town, while Julie earned minimum wage in a coffee shop. Both Julie and Rosie were part of large families, with many children and grandchildren. Julie grew tired of not being able to feed her family, so she decided to move to a larger city, where she hoped she would be able to earn more money. With her family, she traveled from town to the city.
It was a long way, so they stopped in a park to break up their journey. A stream trickled through a park, providing a place for the family to freshen up. Julie asked her children to clear the area under a large tree to create somewhere they could rest overnight. Julie asked her husband to collect water from the stream, and she asked her son and daughter-in-law to build a fire. Julie began to cut wood from the trees. She didn’t know that in the branches of the tree, a thief was hiding. The thief watched as Julie’s family worked together, noticing that they had no food to cook. Julie’s husband thought the same thing, and asked her what they were going to eat. Julie lifted her hands and told her husband not to worry, as God was watching over them, and He would help.
The thief felt worried, as he had observed the large family, and noticed how well they worked together. He decided to take advantage of the fact they did not know he was hiding in the tree and decided to make his escape. When the family were not looking, he climbed down and ran for his life. However, he forgot to pick up his collection of stolen money and jewelry, which dropped down into Julie’s lap. Julie was thrilled! The family collected all of their belongings and returned to the town. Everyone was very excited when they told the story of how they became rich.
Rosie decided that the tree must be magical, and was a quick and easy way to make some money. She told her family to pack for a trip to find out if it was true. The family stopped under the same tree as Julie had, and Rosie gave orders in the same way Julie had. The difference was, Rosie’s family wasn’t willing to follow the orders. Since they were a rich family, they were accustomed to having servants. Rosie’s son was asked to collect water from the stream; instead, he decided to enjoy a bath in the water. Rosie’s husband was asked to collect wood to build a fire; instead, he decided to take a nap. When he woke, he went back to Rosie and noticed everything was ready, but there was nothing to eat.
Rosie raised her hands and told him not to worry, as God was watching, and He would help them. As she spoke, the thief hopped down from the tree with a knife in his hand. Everyone began running around in fear of their lives. The thief took everything the family had, and Rosie and her family had to go back to the town empty handed, as they had lost all of their valuables.
1. Why did Julie and her family decide to set up under the thief’s tree?
a) As they were a large family, they know they would be able to fight the thief if he attacked them.
b) It was a cheap place to rest overnight.
c) Because they needed somewhere they could rest overnight. There was also a stream close by and enough wood to build a fire.
2. Which of the following best describes Rosie?
a) She was a rich business owner.
b) She was greedy and tried to imitate Julie.
c) She bullied her husband.
3. Why did the thief decide to return to the tree?
a) To wait for Julie and her family to return.
b) To wait for Rosie and her family.
c) No reason was given in the passage.
The scoring system for the ATSA test is very simple. You will be able to access your results for the ATSA test online. They will fall into one of four groups:
- Best Qualified
- Well Qualified
- Not Referred
If your result is 'Not Referred', this means that you did not pass the test.
To stand the best chance of being successful in your application, you should aim to achieve a score within the 'Best Qualified' category.
Your ATSA test score is valid for up to three years. If you decide to delay your ATSA application, your ATSA score will still be valid if you choose to apply within this timeframe.
How to Pass the ATSA Test in 2023
Preparing for aptitude tests is vital, and to achieve the highest possible score in the ATSA test, you must dedicate sufficient time to ATSA test prep.
Here are some ideas to get started:
For some of the questions, answering incorrectly leads to a deduction of points from your final score.
Knowing which questions this applies to is vital, as minor mistakes can make a significant difference to your overall results.
Some of the questions must be answered within a particular timescale, so you will need to practice working quickly and accurately under pressure. This is where doing lots of ATSA exam prep will come in handy.
The ATC simulation is designed to assess how well you prioritize the questions, not whether you reach the correct answer.
For these questions, it is better to estimate the numbers.
JobTestPrep offers ATSA study guides and resources to help you improve your score in all sections of the ATSA test, plus an online ATSA practice exam, which simulates the official exam.
After completing the FAA ATSA practice test, you will have access to the correct answers and explanations.
There are also free ATSA practice test questions online, like those from WikiJob.
Prioritize sleep the night before the test and plan a healthy, nutritious breakfast to enjoy before you sit the assessment.
Drink plenty of water and use breathing or relaxation techniques to help you stay calm.
The Air Traffic Skills Assessment is well-known for being a challenging test. Some test-takers find the time-limited elements of the assessment difficult to manage.
For the best chances of success, you should spend time using ATSA test study guides and taking practice exam questions to improve your speed and accuracy. Note that some sections of the ATSA become harder as you progress through the questions.
There are more than 200 questions on the ATSA test. The assessment is split into seven sections.
With more than 200 questions, the ATSA test is two hours and 49 minutes long.
Air Traffic Skills Assessment scores are divided into four categories: Not Referred, Qualified, Well Qualified and Best Qualified.
If your score is Not Referred, this means that you have not passed the test. A score within any of the other three categories is a passing score.
However, for the best possible chance of being recruited, you should aim to achieve Best Qualified status.
Only United States citizens are eligible to take the ATSA test. Candidates applying for air traffic control vacancies must complete the assessment in person and show two forms of official identification.
You can sit the ATSA test as many times as you like; however, you may only take it once per application period. Your result will be valid for three years.
If you are unhappy with your result, you can choose to reapply to take the test again.
As long as you performed well enough on the Air Traffic Skills Assessment, you should receive your Tentative Offer Letter (TOL) within three months. If your score is not high enough, your details will be recorded on a waiting list.
It usually takes about one month to receive your results for the ATSA Test. Your result and referral status will be sent to you electronically.
The candidate pool for air traffic control positions is very competitive. The ATSA test is an important part of the application screening process, and you must pass the assessment to qualify for a role as an air traffic controller.
Your ATSA results will be used to help determine your suitability for the job role you have applied for. With this in mind, doing FAA ATSA test prep is essential.
Remember, there are seven different subtests within the ATSA exam, so it is important to dedicate time to practicing answering all types of ATSA test questions during your ATSA exam prep.