The practical exam is the exam a pilot applicant takes when sitting for a certificate or rating. It is most commonly referred to as a checkride or simply ride (although the FAA does not use these terms). It is made up of two portions: the oral portion and flight portion.
The day of your practical exam, you will sit down with the examiner where he or she will review your training documents, logbook, and results of your written exam to ensure you’ve met the requirements to sit for the practical exam. After which, the oral portion will begin, which is generally designed to be a conversational question/answer session. Some questions may not have a correct answer—not because they’re trying to “get you” (they’re not allowed to do that) but, because just because something may be legal doesn’t necessarily make it a safe or a good idea—especially for a new pilot—and they simply want to talk about it. A variety of topics are covered, such as regulations, weather, flight planning, and aerodynamics. They’re similar to the written exam, but more in-depth. A typical oral exam will last about two hours but will vary depending on how prepared you are.
After successful completion of the oral portion, you will take the flight portion. This is where you and the examiner fly together, and he or she will evaluate your skills as a pilot. Most, if not all, of the maneuvers you’ve trained for will be evaluated and will generally take 1.5 to 2 hours.
Once both the oral portion and the flight portion are satisfactorily completed, the examiner will issue you a temporary airman certificate for the certificate or rating sought, with the permanent certificate to arrive in the mail in a few weeks’ time.