Super long post. Your warning has been issued.
So now to go a little more in depth about how my checkride actually went.
My flight instructor actually brought the examiner and me lunch, so I got to attempt to eat for a while. My advice is to eat a decent breakfast without overloading yourself, and then maybe have a snack just before you go in case you're still partially hungry. The last thing you want to be thinking about on short final is cheeseburgers.
I flew with Summer Martell. I heard a lot of great things about her before we went, and I realized I had actually met her once before when she was doing an instrument checkride with another student at my school a few weeks ago or so. I got to the airport about two hours early because I worry that I'm always going to be late, and I probably would have been fine showing up later, but in the end my first flight instructor showed up unexpectedly and I got to give him a hug, so that made me feel a lot less nervous about everything. :)
Anyway, I went over the maintenance logs and kept a checklist for each thing I looked through, but in the end she went through them herself and didn't ask me about anything inside the books. Jesse went over them quite thoroughly with me, though, so it's good to know where to find things just in case you do get asked about them.
Before we started the oral, she went over how everything was going to work. She explained her fees and what would happen if I ended up having to do a retest, as well as what would lead to that. She told me a few reasons why most people end up failing a checkride, usually lack of checklist use and failing to keep watch for traffic. First we were going to go through the oral portion, which was not just a bunch of random things she was going to pull out of the air; she had her own PTS book plus a few pages of notes just so she would't forget what she wanted to ask me about, and she said I could look at them if I wanted to. They were covered in drawings of horses, which made my entire day. Then she said that assuming I passed the oral, I would have however much time I needed to get the plane ready (someone had used it just before me, so I couldn't preflight or get the weather and do my weight and balance before the whole thing, but if you can at least do the preflight and weight and balance and get a forecast, then just update the information just before you go, you can save some time) and we would fly. "There are no do-overs on the maneuvers except if we have to cut something short because of traffic or other extenuating circumstances." I definitely remembered that.
The oral was a lot easier than I was expecting. Not because she asked easy questions, but because she could tell right away if I knew something as far in depth as she needed me to know it, and we would move on to the next thing without spending an hour on it. She definitely wanted me to pass, and she was totally cool about taking short breaks so I wouldn't get overwhelmed. Whenever I asked her to rephrase a question, she could tell that I had just learned something from a different angle than she was asking it, but she was really accommodating and helped me out. She said she didn't expect me to know everything because it's all so in-depth.
When I was planning the cross-country she gave me beforehand from Auburn to Spokane, I planned it so it wouldn't go over the mountains, and it ended up being a 435-mile trip spread across 4 pages of navigation logs. She thought it was actually interesting and different because most people take I-90, so even though I took a much less direct route, I was able to explain that I chose it because there are more airports that way and a lot of good visual checkpoints, so I was more comfortable doing that than flying over the mountains in the summer. I also called to ask her whether I needed to figure out the most up-to-date winds for the entire trip with it being so long, and she said I could just do it all the day before and then update the first checkpoint or two with that day's winds because those were the only ones we would actually be flying. I would definitely make sure you clear that with your examiner, because they're not all the same about things like that.
The oral went really fast, and she said it went really fast because I studied. And I did. A lot. I was not born knowing any of the information; I studied it in pieces over weeks and weeks and tried to use as much of it in the plane as I could so I would understand it better. You can't cram it all into your brain in one night, so don't try. Just brush up on the things you know you don't know so well - for me it was basic aerodynamics, sadly enough, as I learned on my final stage check - and bring your books in case you want to look something up. We ended up having to check something in the FAR/AIM because she forgot whether it was 2500, 1500, or 1200 feet. I said it was 1200 and I ended up being right, so I guess the moral there is don't be afraid to defend your answers when you know they're correct. Just be absolutely sure of it, though, because if you're wrong then...well, you're wrong, but at least you're confident, right? :P
We took a break to let me deal with the plane, and I was nervous enough that I tried to put my jacket on upside down, but I calmed down once we were in the plane. Definitely use your checklists; they're not just there to impress the examiner, they're there to lighten your workload so you don't have to memorize four hundred steps. She offered to hold anything for me that I needed, but I had everything organized enough that it wasn't necessary. She told me we'd be diverting pretty quickly, so I was ready for that. I had my plotter, E6-B with the current wind dot marked on it, A/FD, and sectional in the side pocket next to me, and my kneeboard (from bottom to top) was notepad, terminal chart, checklist, and passenger safety briefing list, with two pencils clipped on the side. I am not an organized person by trade; my mom can attest to that. So if you're like me, make it a priority to give yourself enough time to get sorted before the flight. I didn't learn it overnight; I had to fly a few trips with everything shifting all over my lap before I figured it out.
I did ask Summer if we could work on our soft field stuff at Tacoma because I wasn't comfortable doing normal and soft landings at Auburn. Our runway is 2200 feet instead of the usual 3400 because they're working on the lights, so it's a bit shorter than I'm used to. She was totally fine with it because she just wanted me to be comfortable with the flight. She diverted me to Tacoma after my first checkpoint, and just after I called them up and said we were ready to land, she told me to get my Foggles because it was unusual-attitudes-under-the-hood time. We did two of those, then I did some turning climbs and descents under the hood, then she told me I could take it off and pointed me over to Tacoma. She pulled my engine abeam the numbers and had me do a go-around just before landing in an effort to combine as many things as possible and save on flight time. The second time around, she had me do a slip on final and a soft field stop-and-go (and it actually turned out to be a touch-and-go but she told me to do it so it was okay). We left Tacoma and headed for Vashon Island.
She intentionally put me under the 3,000-foot shelf there so I would be more careful about not breaking it, but she did remind me it was there more than once. She wanted me to be aware of it but not afraid of it. I did steep turns first, and she had me specifically do them in a figure eight shape, one right after the other, and let me choose the first direction of the turn. Jesse told me that's what they have you do, but another instructor said that's only in commercial, but either way I was ready for it. It went fine. Remember to be looking outside, and when you hear someone nearby report their position and you don't see them right away, it's okay to ask if they see the traffic. The point is to be safe and use the resources available to you, not prove that you absolutely have to do everything yourself and let your passengers be useless.
We did slow flight, which started to get interesting because it was a little windy, but she didn't hold it against me. Power-off and power-on stalls were fine, and I was really happy with my power-on stall because it was the one maneuver giving me a ton of trouble up to that point. The ground reference ones were a little rushed in the interest of time; she picked a road and told me where the wind was coming from and then said I could go ahead and start turning at that moment. It wasn't perfect, but it was good enough, and she was asking me what I would do if I wanted to go closer to or further away from the road. We did turns around a point next, and for that one she let me set it up however I wanted, so I took my time doing the entry and everything. I ended up being too close to it, and she asked at one point if we had flown over it, but we hadn't, it was just hiding under the wing.
So we headed back to Auburn. I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing. Throughout the whole flight, if there was ever some lag time (like when Tacoma made me do a 360 for spacing or on our way back to Dash Point), I got to just talk to her like she was just a passenger. She was really cool and I was completely comfortable flying with her. I ended up doing a go-around on my first landing back at Auburn, and she just looked at me and said, "What was that about?" I said I just didn't feel good about touching down late with the short runway and I hadn't done my crosswind correction well enough, and she said the important thing was that I was confident about my landing, so it was a good choice. Jesse told me if you ever get to the point where you THINK you need to go around, you do.
The next one was fine, and she reminded me to step on the brakes a little more firmly, but we didn't have to backtaxi or anything, and then we went over and parked. My flight time was only 1.2, and she told me I passed as soon as we got our headsets off. She headed inside to finish some paperwork while I cleaned up the guts of my flight bag from the inside of the plane, and Jesse came outside, followed by both of my parents. I guess the line guy waiting to fuel up the plane was actually the first one to learn that I passed my checkride, but hey, he's cool.
Summer is going on vacation and won't be back until the beginning of June, so she's not free for checkrides for a while, but if you ever get the chance to fly with her, I highly recommend it. I would definitely like to go with her again.
Yesterday, Jesse had me help another student figure out performance numbers, density altitude, etc. Jesse told him it's really important to get it right because the examiner looks at the weight and balance sheet very closely, and I said, "I guess I won't mention that mine didn't do that, then," and he rolled his eyes and said "You didn't give her a reason to. If you're smart, they leave you alone. If you give them a reason to dig, they will dig." True statement.