ATSA test - how hard is it - featured image

How Hard Is the Air Traffic Controller Test [ATSA]: An Inside Look

The Air Traffic Controller Test (ATSA) is considered difficult, especially with no prior preparation. There are specific subtests that are harder than others. These include the memory games, the spatial relationship subtest, the ATC radar simulation test, and the logical reasoning subtest.

This guide will show you examples of the hardest ATSA sections, explain what makes them so challenging, and provide useful resources to help you prepare.

Let’s dive in.

Memory Game – Variables


This subtest is divided into two parts.

In part one, you’ll need to memorize the value of three variables (A, B, C) and enter these values into a text box. You’ll have only a few seconds to memorize the values.

In part two, you’ll need to make simple calculations using one or more of the variables.

For example:
A = 2, B = A + 1, C = 4.

You must:
Type 2 as an answer to the question “A = ?”
Calculate the value of B: A + 1 = 2 + 1 = 3, and type 3 to answer the question “B = ?”
Type 4 as an answer to the question “C = ?”


Part One

Part Two

ATSA Test Prep Variables Sample Question JobTestPrep

What Makes This Section Difficult

Part two is the harder between the two parts. As you can see in the example above, the numbers disappear very quickly. You must remember their values and calculate them in your head while remembering the right operator (+, -, x). And, of course, you don’t have time to use scratch paper.

Prepare for the gamified test sections with dozens of accurate practice simulations.

Spatial/Visual Relationship


In this subtest, you need to quickly determine the location of two airplanes in relation to each other.

In the first batch of questions, you’ll see images with two airplanes, one large and one small, and a text box indicating “right” or “left.” Assuming you’re sitting in the cockpit of the large plane, you must decide if the smaller airplane is to your right or your left, and if the text box is correct.

In the second batch of questions, an eye is added to some of the questions. When you see the eye, it becomes your point of view instead of the large plane’s cockpit. Then, according to this specific point of view, you must decide if the smaller plane is to the right or left of the large plane.


What Makes This Section Difficult

You’ll have only 2-3 seconds per question, and there’s no pause between questions, which increases fatigue. Also, once you answer a question, you cannot return, so you must be decisive.

Additionally, when the eye appears, it makes this section harder as it demands even more concentration and accuracy.

ATC Radar Simulation


This subtest, which measures your visual awareness and reaction time, is considered the hardest by many test-takers.

In this test, you’ll see a radar simulation and nine dots representing nine airplanes. As the dots move toward each other, your task is to prevent their collision.

Additionally, you’ll have arithmetic problems that you must solve simultaneously while preventing collisions.


ATSA Test Prep ATC Radar Simulation Example

What Makes This Section Difficult

The fast speed at which the dots are moving and the fact that you must solve math problems simultaneously make this section extremely difficult. In fact, it’s almost impossible to ace it without prior preparation.

Moreover, you must work accurately with your keyboard. The Numpad numbers are used for choosing the plane numbers to prevent collisions, and the “ASDF” keyboard letters are used for solving math problems.

Under pressure, it’s very common to miss a key or press the wrong one, but in this test, any miss could result in a collision.

Prepare for the ATC Radar Simulation section with dozens of realistic practice tests.

Logical Reasoning


This test assesses your deductive reasoning skills and ability to quickly understand and extract information from texts or charts.

You’ll see three question types:

  • Graphs and charts
  • Seating arrangements
  • Syllogisms


Morning shifts are 7 hours long, and after-noon shifts are 8 hours long.
Stella works morning as well as afternoon shifts.
Jane never works morning shifts.
Jane is a saleswoman.
Stella called in sick this morning.

Which statement must be true?

A. Salespersons never work seven-hour-long shifts
B. Stella sometimes works in the morning, but not Jane.
C. Jane had a morning shift earlier this month.
D. Stella is a saleswoman.
E. Stella woke up with a fever today.

The correct answer is B.

Since we are told that Stella works morning shifts and that Jane never works morning shifts, the statement in answer choice B must be true.

Let’s go over the rest of the answer choices:

Answer choice A – we know that morning shifts last 7 hours, that Jane is a saleswoman, and that she does not work morning shifts. However, we cannot deduce that this also applies to every other salesperson. The fact that Jane does not work morning shifts does not mean salespersons do not work morning shifts, as a rule.

Answer choice C – since we are told that Jane never works morning shifts, this statement must be false.

Answer choice D – all we know about Stella is that she works both morning and afternoon shifts and that she called in sick today. There is no information regarding the nature of her work. Therefore, we cannot say whether she is a saleswoman or not.

Answer choice E – the fact that Stella called in sick does not necessarily mean she was telling the truth. Therefore, we cannot tell whether or not she is really sick. Plus, even if she were sick, this still would not necessarily mean she was running a fever.

What Makes This Section Difficult

Three things make this subtest hard:

  1. You have only 80 seconds per question, and most of the questions are quite complex, so it takes time to analyze and answer them.
  2. You can’t go back to previous questions. This means you can’t leave questions for later and must answer them one by one.
  3. You’ll be penalized for not answering all the questions.

Useful Practice Resources to Help You Pass With a High Score

As you can see, the Air Traffic Controller Test is a tough assessment that is almost impossible to ace without thorough preparation.

The questions are nothing like other pre-employment tests and demand very sharp skills to succeed.

To help you get started, here are 7 helpful preparation tips for the test.

And if you’re looking for an accurate and realistic practice, check our guide in which we reviewed the best ATSA test prep available now.

Skip the review and head to the test prep site to start practicing instantly.