Many are intimidated by instrument flight and especially instrument approaches. Understandably so as it involves the opposite of initial training focusing on instruments and the sensitivity of it and ignore our physical signals and limited visual cues, (Not even mentioning those horrible glasses or hoods those mean instructors make you wear!)
Many have written/videos/powerpointed to us about the narrowing tunnel, the glide paths etc, etc of some most technical and engineered drawings imaginable. Sometimes we need something else to help our brain understand what we are trying to do. Lets keep it somewhat simple, and something relevant to what we might already understand how to do.
Imagine being in a room, maybe the toolshed, garage or even bedroom. Its a dark night no streetlights and now no power either. Your in the middle of this room, (work with me here, toolshed - the door suddenly shut on you). Your first reaction, surely not panic (ok maybe a few gasps or tiny yelp at the sudden darkness), but your adrenaline has likely perked up some, and likely you haven't moved yet though part of you says get to light now! Now most would likely move carefully to a wall then follow the wall to the door where you'll find that dead battery holder, I mean flashlight even your phone. That doesn't mean you didn't bump into the bed, a chair, or that table along the way, but you also knew it was there somewhere so it wasn't all that scary, probably more painful to the toes though.
Now consider the instrument approach path the dark room your leaving. (tables, chairs those markers, and that lego is turbulence). Your just guiding yourself with the plane out of that room (clouds or hood) to the door. You know you cannot get out early (descend too soon or might impact something). Many pilots have made news by trying to descend too quickly or too soon, often to get under the weather so they can visually see to fly to the airport. At night this is very dangerous, plus sometimes the cloud layer is lower than that ATIS mentioned further out than at the airport. Slow the plane down, just similar to making your way slowly through the room so you don't hit that table at full run (ouch). Don't worry that you are holding up other planes, you have to go as safely as you can handle. Granted I find places to practice real slow when very little traffic or not busy time, but in real life an unexpected hard IFR approach is very stressful you can only think one thing at a time and do one thing at a time when that stressed.
Practicing on a sim even the desktop style is helpful. Yes its not the same as flying the plane, darn thing is super sensitive all the time! But part of the lesson is learning to listen to the instruments not the body. Body may give clues, but always check those instruments to see if it even close to correct! The sim is also about becoming familiar with what you need to do at various points of your approach, step downs, checklist (gear down, flaps, heading change) or timer start/stop. then you take that knowledge and practice in the plane with a better idea of when and what to expect before it happens, much like knowing the chair is along the wall and having your hand out to feel it before your toe does (staying one step ahead of the plane theory).
So now I've disappointed everyone as I didn't have that magic answer to make you do the perfect approach and pass your checkride. What I have given you is a tool to help you make better judgment call and one last thing one never chase the needle, and if you do get too much deflection and even start to chase, stop and start the missed approach procedure (if talking to ATC announce going missed as soon as able). You can go missed even bore the final fix, I have done this when had a bad case of vertigo as single pilot flying freight. (plane and approach was fine, but I was not and needed to go hold and calm my inner ears down).
Ok some other little tips. If using a paper approach chart (especially if printed it out! Write your notes on it!. Mark you favorite acronym checklist at whatever point you need that reminder, like flaps, gear down points.)and this can be done on the ground briefing! Its your paper and can always print a new one for the next time. even write the ATIS info or your clearance on it. These days with all the internet filing, you can even on some sites like www.Fltplan.com and see the expected route prior to going out in the plane, This works in some places but not all airports. Also FlightAware to preview some of the departure routings or arrivals commonly used. Listening to clearance delivery to others getting their instructions, This even works using LiveATC or similar programs. Also if using a desktop sim and have internet look into programs like Pilot Edge, for radio practice with your pretend flying, without fear of making controllers mad or other pilots while you learn. And also that is more Ego when we don't want others to hear you make mistakes, because even your instructor has probably made every one of those mistakes in their training, and more since then. Controllers make them to. We are human. (well least 99.9% of are)
Now go fly the plane, and have fun!
Tamara Griffith is the main writer of the blog Gift of Wing and all of Gift Academy's media, yet much of the lessons, and thoughts are from all experiences of Mary and Lawrence Latimer, Tamara Griffith, and everyone else and the aviation community we feel needs expressing.