A Career in Diving / Carl's Tips

How to study for the PADI Instructor Dive Theory Exams

Dive Theory Study Tips

I am lucky enough to get to watch lots of new PADI Instructors successfully pass their Instructor exams each year. As a Platinum PADI Course Director, working in Australia’s busiest PADI Career Development Centre I get to work closely with each candidate. I help each person individually, to prepare them for their exams and to troubleshoot any areas that need attention, prior to the ‘Big Day’! I get to witness the stress and emotions associated with this PADI Instructor Exam and sometimes unfortunately it isn’t pretty. If you are prepared and ready, and have done the work prior you will really enjoy the experience. To help reduce this stress; Don’t be lazy, put the effort in now, and study, study, study…


Below are some cool tips to help you smash your PADI Instructor exam and pass.

  1. 1.     Understand what to study.

After the last revamp of the PADI Divemaster Program, PADI reduced the level of in depth dive theory required for the DM qualification. Instructor level dive theory however, has remained the same. So this leaves you with a knowledge gap that needs to be filled.

Understand, that there are now two different areas that you will need to study for when preparing for your Instructor exam.

  1. First you have General “Dive Theory” (Which includes topics like Physics, Physiology, Dive Equipment, Recreational Dive Planner, Skills and the Environment).
  2. You also need to complete the pre-study for the PADI Instructor Development Course. Here at our facility every candidate is given access to the PADI IDC online e-learning. This is expected to be complete prior to the first day of the Instructor Course. This is separate to the Dive Theory study that you are required to do in your own time.
  3. 2.     What tools are available?

To study for Dive Theory you have several tools you can use which can help you study.

  1. Dive Theory Online – Awesome tool that will help you learn the base concepts.
  2. Encyclopaedia of Recreational Diving – Book with all the info about all the topics. It is very in depth and covers background knowledge of the topics as well as the core knowledge required to pass the exams.
  3. Diving Knowledge Workbook – This is a quiz book with questions basically exactly the same format as the Dive Theory Exams in the Instructor Exam. Great to test if you have
  4. Study sheets supplied by your Course Director – All our candidates are supplied with abbreviated study sheets. These sheets contain all the key information out of the Encyclopaedia of Recreational Diving. Awesome to use for a pop quiz amongst other candidates. J
  5. Old Pre-November 2010 Divemaster Exams – The old Divemaster curriculum included exams on all the 5 dive theory topics. It is the perfect study tool to test yourself when you think you have mastered all the required info for a given topic.
  6. 3.     Start early.

Don’t wait for your Course Director to tell you to get into gear. As soon as you think you might be going through to instructor level, get into the books and start to review the Dive Theory we spoke about earlier. You will have some of the study tools from when you did your Divemaster Course, and you can also simply purchase the PADI Dive Theory online at any stage. The sooner you start the more prepared you will be.


Once you have contact your PADI Course Director and book your PADI Instructor Course you will sent an access pass to your PADI IDC Online e-learning. Remember this is different to the Dive Theory, and needs to be studied separately. So as soon as you are sent the access pass, start going through the chapters. Make sure you take your time, don’t rush and have your PADI IDC Crew Pack with you while doing this. The e-learning will ask you to looking things up and reference the materials in the pack. So you will definitely need it to do the e-learning effectively.

  1. 4.     Develop a System to ensure there is no knowledge gaps

With so much dive theory to go through, it can be a little over whelming particularly if you are not used to studying. There is a lot to go through and you really need to develop a plan. All of the training materials and study tools are set up in topic sections to help you break it down in to bite size chunks. Like I said earlier, there are 5 different sections. So just concentrate your focus onto one area at a time.

To kick start your study, you can either use the PADI Dive Theory Online or the encyclopaedia. Either one is fine, it just depends on what you prefer to use. Select a topic and go through the chapter. If you are using the Dive Theory online, just start at the start and finish at the finish. If you are using the encyclopaedia then I would go through slowly read through the chapter and highlight any key information you think you should remember.

PADI Dive Theory Online TipMake sure you hold off doing the online test at the end of each chapter. Once you have done it, you can’t re-do it! So I would wait until closer to your PADI Instructor Exam to do this. In the meantime however, just use the Diving Knowledge Workbook you received in your IDC Crew pack to test yourself. Make sure you use a light pencil when doing the tests in the book so that you can rub it out and do it again later.

Dive Theory Online

When you have finished reviewing the section (Either on the e-learning or the Encyclopaedia) read through the section on the GoPRO Study Sheet supplied by your PADI Course Director. This sheet will help quickly refresh your memory about the key information you reviewed previously and reinforce it all.

Once you think you have understood the topic, quiz yourself using the Diving Knowledge workbook. Don’t cheat and use the workbook to see how you would go at the exam. Once you have finished one practice section, correct yourself. If you got some questions wrong then look back in the study tools and re-read over that section to make yourself remember it better. If it is just a simple piece of info you didn’t know, then highlight that piece of info on your GoPRO Study Sheet. This will allow you to really concentrate on remembering that info when you review it again at a later date.

Keep repeating this until you have covered all 5 dive theory topics, and until you are getting confident in your ability to pass an exam.

Now that you have a good base knowledge of all chapters, test yourself using one of the Old Pre-November 2010 Divemaster Exams. Your PADI Course Director should have a library of these that you can borrow and use to practice. Remember that there is Exam A & B, so only use Exam A at this stage and keep exam B until you master all the questions in Exam A. Do the exam in ‘exam like conditions’, so dedicate 2 hours of your time and sit down in a quiet room with a calculator, blank paper & a eRDPml & RDP. Do it from start to finish exactly like you would in an exam. When you finish correct yourself and see how you went. The pass mark on the theory exams is 75%. To be confident going into your PADI Instructor Exam you really want to be getting in the 90% range on all sections. If you are lower, then there is a good chance that you fall short on one or two of the sections, and either need to re-sit a section or come back at a later date to do the exams again, which I am sure you don’t want to do.

Keep folding back to the original study technique to review any missed questions. When you are confident that you know it all, then do Exam B to do a final check on how you will go.

  1. 5.     Lets others help you.    

Your PADI Course Director and PADI IDC Staff Instructors are extremely valuable to you in your preparation for your Instructor Exams. If there are any portions of the dive theory that you just don’t get, then approach them for additional guidance and help. Your PADI Course Director should offer to run a few study sessions leading up to your exams, so this is the perfect time to bring your list of things you have identified as ‘Problem areas’. They will be able to tailor what they cover during these sessions based on your lists.

During the Instructor level programs here at Abyss Scuba Diving we run weekly study sessions for all our Internship candidates. We also run a PADI IDC preparation program prior to the first day of all our Instructor Courses. This involves a mock Dive Theory Exam followed by a tuition session on the missed questions. To be successful your program you must ensure that you have prepare for this using the tips in this blog.

Good luck, and we wish you the very best of success. Put the effort in early and will reap the rewards when you walk confidently into your PADI Instructor Exam and pass without doubt.

Carl Fallon