Over the years, the FAA has attempted to create a framework of realism, around the concept of scenario-based training, as the main focus of practical tests. Examiners are encouraged to focus on evaluating higher levels of learning, rather than rote memorization. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure the pilot possesses satisfactory knowledge to manage and mitigate risk. As an applicant preparing for a practical test, it is imperative you take ownership of the preparation process. Rather than relegating such responsibility to your flight instructor, you should be personally involved in making decisions.
Examiners are required by the FAA to prepare a plan of action (POA) for the different practical tests they are authorized to administer. The POA is entirely based on the Airman Certification Standards (ACS). As the applicant, the ACS is your best friend. Though by some it could be viewed as a testing document, it truly is a preparation guide. The FAA has made clear that instructors shall not wait until later stages to introduce the ACS to their students. Waiting contradicts the premise of providing students with all the available tools at their disposal. Delaying also adds to the mystery of the practical test, rather than reflecting a transparent process.
Establishing the importance of familiarity with the ACS is just the first step, however. Reading and interpretation are next. The original intent of updating the ACS with the Practical Test Standards (PTS) was to emphasize risk management. As a student, you should be aware each area is divided into three core elements: skill, knowledge, and risk management. The key to success is integrating those three elements into a whole unit. For example, while performing a traffic pattern (skill), the examiner may ask about the risk of uncoordinated base to final turns, while evaluating knowledge regarding cross-control stall awareness, and prevention strategies (risk management). Never neglect any of the three core elements, as examiners are required to evaluate all of them. Hence, while you study, create your own scenarios and incorporate your ideas into these three pillars. Clearly, scenarios open the window for various interpretations and answers, but the best answer is one that demonstrates adequate decision making and views safety as the most important priority. As long as you demonstrate systematic and coherent thought processes based on accurate knowledge, your answers will be satisfactory.
Finally, be aware the ACS lists a number of FAA handbooks and manuals as study references. Ensure that you familiarize yourself with each of those, including advisory circulars. Ideally, the preparation for your practical test will be an enjoyable and ongoing journey. The journey starts from the first day your meet with your instructor and continues until you sign your temporary airman certificate. As your progress in your training, the building blocks continue to be added. You will encounter obstacles along the journey; overcoming those obstacles along with the guidance of your flight instructor, are key to your success.
Assuming a proactive tactic is the best way to approach your checkride. Just remember it is a shared goal and responsibility. Relegating all the work to your instructor is not smart and will ultimately harm you financially while delaying your progress. Acknowledge your difficulties, if any, and seek guidance when needed. Be confident. Confidence, in conjunction with robust preparation, will guarantee your success and allow you to ace all of your upcoming checkrides. Best of luck!