Rainbow Dash must pass a history test on the Wonderbolts to become a part of the Wonderbolts Reserves, which will allow her to live out her dream of becoming a Wonderbolt. However, Rainbow is not taking it seriously, to Twilight Sparkle's increased annoyance. While Rainbow is confident, Twilight insists that Rainbow study for her test, and offers to tutor her. In her library, Twilight tries various methods to get Rainbow to learn: they try highlighting key phrases in a history book, but Rainbow highlights every line of text and doodles; Twilight tries lecturing, but Rainbow goofs off behind Twilight's back; Twilight even tries flash cards, but Rainbow just blows spit wads at her. Finally, Twilight gives Rainbow a pop quiz on what she's already covered, which Rainbow bombs, prompting the flyer to finally realize she's in danger of failing.Outside, while Twilight and Rainbow argue about the importance of learning history, Fluttershy appears, offering a different way of studying. She and Spike put on a play about Equestrian history with their pets, which ends in disaster when the stage falls apart. Pinkie Pie tries rapping about the Wonderbolts' history, but Rainbow can't remember anything important. Rarity tries a fashion show of the Wonderbolts' costume history, but it overwhelms Rainbow. Finally, Applejack says that she only picked up her knowledge of apples from a lifetime of learning and doing work in the field, but Rainbow reveals she only has twelve hours before the test. The other members of the Mane Six offer to try their methods again, even arguing among themselves, before Rainbow shouts at them all to stop, condemning herself to failing and flying off.Twilight follows Rainbow Dash, trying to convince her to not give up, when Rainbow suddenly shoves Twilight through the air, out of the way of a passing helicopter. Rainbow reveals that she constantly scans the area around her while flying, careful to pick up any sights and sounds around her, in order to be the best possible flyer that she can be. Twilight gets a sudden inspiration and flies off, leaving Rainbow to sulk on a cloud. At the library, Twilight calls on her other friends to help Rainbow Dash learn her own way. Twilight soon returns to Rainbow, asking to go on a quick fly with Rainbow, who is still sulking and resigned to failing. Upon landing at Rainbow Dash's house, Twilight asks what Rainbow remembers about the flight. Rainbow doesn't remember anything particularly notable... except all of the history of the Wonderbolts that she'd been unable to learn up to that point. Twilight had enlisted the help of the rest of the Mane Six, as well as all of Ponyville, to put on a demonstration of Wonderbolt history on the ground while she and Rainbow flew, which helped Rainbow learn.Twilight writes in the Mane Six's journal that everypony is unique, and thus has to learn things in their own unique way. Rainbow Dash takes her exam and is ecstatic to receive a perfect score.
Absentee Actor: Though Spike makes several appearances in this episode, he never speaks a single word, despite Cathy Weseluck being credited.
Twilight becomes absolutely giddy at the idea of teaching Rainbow Dash a history lesson.
The look of sheer glee on Rainbow's face while she's rocking on the stool. She's like a little child at this point.
Adult Fear: Rainbow is afraid of having her career choices closed up.
An Aesop: Everyone has their own way of learning something, but that doesn't make them better or worse than the other.
Artistic License - Engineering: Cherry Berry's pedal-powered helicopter is an exceptionally glaring example, even in a series rife with Schizo Tech and Magitek. A human-driven pedal copter has actually been built, but it required four massive rotors on an ultralight scaffolding to lift a trained cyclist three meters off the ground for one minute; a single tiny rotor lifting a full helicopter canopy would take much more power than a single pony - even an Earth Pony - could produce for any significant period of time.
Artistic License - Military: A General, as the second-highest military rank, would never be in direct command of a platoon, the third-smallest of unit formations, no matter how elite it is (and for that matter, neither would be a Colonel). And Admirals or Commanders would never have command over the same troops as a General or a Colonel, for obvious reasons (Navy not being Army). On the other limb, the Wonderbolts were a performance team rather than a standard unit, meaning that even the original group was not a part of the normal command chain.
Lampshaded by Rarity; she points out that the early Wonderbolts uniforms were attractive but very uncomfortable and made of itchy fabric. And, while it isn't mentioned in the episode, they also don't look very aerodynamic.
Rainbow Dash requires the entire town, acting out rehearsed playlets, to learn about five sentences worth of history.
Back to School: Rainbow really doesn't want to be in a classroom setting with Twilight, and does everything she can to disrupt it, including fidgeting and shooting spitwads at Twilight.
Big "NO!": Rarity's rendition of Nightmare Moon's banishment, and a bit more on the Large Ham side.
Book Dumb: Rainbow, obviously, but Applejack is even more so than her. She doesn't even have a suggested study method like all the others; all Applejack ever needed to know she learned on the job, working at her family's orchard.
Break the Haughty: An unusually early case, as by the end of the first act Twilight has thoroughly disabused Rainbow of the notion that she already knows everything she needs to about the Wonderbolts.
Brutal Honesty: Pinkie's assessment of Rainbow's attempt to imitate her rap...
Rainbow Dash's difficulty with traditional study methods, first referenced by one of the pegasus bullies in "Sonic Rainboom", is the major plot element of this episode.
The Wonderbolts' Big Entrance in "Sonic Rainboom" ends with a shower of fireworks. Twilight's chalkboard depiction of the "magical lightning" that helped earn the inaugural squadron of Wonderbolts their name shows that the fireworks are an in-universe allusion to the flight team's history.
Rainbow Dash: (to Twilight) Yeah, well, I'm sure you'll become a good flier in no time. After all, you're good at everything.
Chekhov's Gun: A very quick one in the first flyover of Rainbow Dash and Twilight as a seemingly normal overview of the town is later showcased to show how Rainbow is good at observing things as she goes about her flight duties.
The fact that Rainbow learns by her acute awareness is hinted in the Cold Open, when she claims Twilight is sneaking up on her and points out all the things Twilight did wrong in doing so.
Elements of the study methods favored by Twilight, Rarity, and Fluttershy appear during the flyover. Even Applejack puts her learn-on-the-job attitude to use by trimming hedges and grass into the Wonderbolts' various logos.
Class Clown: Rainbow Dash acts like one during Twilight's lecture, with some musical assistance from Owlowiscious and Spike. She also admits to having been the class clown during her time at an actual school.
Classical Mythology: Twilight mentions Princess Celestia's favorite flight pattern as the "Icaranean Sun Salutation," a reference to the story of Icarus, whose waxen wings melted when he flew too close to the sun.
Comically Missing the Point: While Twilight, Fluttershy, Pinkie and Rarity are trying to make Rainbow choose their studying method, Applejack just spouts random facts about apples.
The instructor who oversees the test is one of Spitfire's assistants from "Wonderbolts Academy".
The CMC repeat their "Earth pony, Unicorn, Pegasus" chant from "Flight to the Finish", but here to help Rainbow remember what EUP stands for.
Cool Shades: Rainbow Dash when she's trying to sleep in Twilight's class and Twilight in full aviator gear.
Crazy-Prepared: Twilight already has a chalkboard and school desk set up in her library as she takes on Rainbow Dash as an impromptu student.
Despair Speech: Rainbow Dash's side of the conversation between her and Twilight during their flights.
Diegetic Switch: As Twilight teaches an antsy Rainbow, she wobbles back and forth on a squeaky stool to a regular rhythm. Soon, Spike with a drum and a hooting Owlowiscious appear near by, filling out a drum beat to the Wonderbolts theme music which begins to play over the scene. Spike and Owlowiscious make themselves scarce when Twilight realizes what's going on, leaving Rainbow in an awkward position.
Door Stopper: In-universe, the history book Twilight offers to Rainbow Dash for her studying.
Twilight Sparkle: This is the most complete... Rainbow Dash: And ginormous! Twilight Sparkle: ...book on the history of the Wonderbolts.
Dropping the Bombshell: Rainbow is unaware the critical nature of this test, figuring the Wonderbolts will accept her on her flying skills alone, until Twilight tells her that passing the test is a requirement for the Wonderbolt Reserves.
Empathic Environment: The cloud on which Rainbow Dash rests upon to mope darkens into a rain cloud, mirroring her mood.
In the Cold Open, Rainbow Dash easily sees Twilight trying to sneak up on her from a mile away, which is quickly forgotten as Twilight tries to get Rainbow to study. She later showcases how her keen eyesight helps her memorize anything without thinking about it, which is what ultimately helps her pick up on the Wonderbolts' history.
From "Wonderbolts Academy". When the recruits are participating in a Capture the Flag training exercise, Lightning Dust keeps her eyes fixed on her previous flight path before sharp turns, while Rainbow Dash pauses to look at her new flight path before making the same turn.
Furry Confusion: Just how can a pegasus use a straw for spitballs, let alone load the thing?
Gale-Force Sound: Rainbow Dash's scream of "Enough!" has this effect on her friends, instantly putting a stop to their bickering.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: The doodle Dash draws of Twilight folds out in much the same way as the centerfold image in many adult magazines.
Gondor Calls for Aid: Twilight manages to gather the whole town together to help Rainbow Dash study, banking on Rainbow's Hyper Awareness to watch over the town without realizing what they're doing.
Gratuitous Rap: Pinkie and DJ Pon-3 try to help teach Rainbow Dash via "The Rappin' Hist'ry of the Wonderbolts".
Gray Rain of Depression: After being bummed out over the thought of giving up on her dream of joining the Wonderbolts, she lands on a cloud to sleep. The cloud turns into a dark rain cloud to mirror her mood.
Growling Gut: Obviously, Rainbow Dash suffers one of these when she had breakfast on her mind.
Heroic BSOD: Rainbow Dash suffers one when it becomes painfully clear she can't learn anything despite her friends' best efforts, convinced that all her life's aspirations are over.
Hurricane of Puns: "Granny Smith discovered the first granny smith in Fillydelphia, when she was just a filly!"
Hyper Awareness: Rainbow Dash reveals that she can subconsciously remember everything around her as she flies. Twilight plays on this skill to come up with a plan to help Rainbow learn what she needs.
Inferiority Superiority Complex: Rainbow's comes up again: at first, she's overconfident and calls Twilight an egghead, but as soon as she notices the studying methods don't work for her, she breaks down.
I'll Pretend I Didn't Hear That: Rarity blatantly says she'll ignore Rainbow Dash's insult to her old-fashioned Wonderbolt uniform out of her desire to help her friend.
Just for Pun: During Rainbow's second flyover, the Cutie Mark Crusaders, one by one, shout "E!" (Earth Pony), "U!" (Unicorn), and "P!" (Pegasus), followed by Big McIntosh lifting them up with his trademark "E-yup."
Last Minute Project/Ridiculous Procrastinator: Rainbow did not study for the history part of the Wonderbolts entry tests, and has to get help from her friends with only a day to go to learn as much as she can. It's implied that she either didn't because of her learning problems, she just didn't retain what she learned, or that she simply discounted the test as a formality and she'd qualify on her flying skills alone.
Pinkie introduces the rap by appearing to reach out to the edge of the screen and "swing" the frame around, transitioning to the 4:3 aspect ratio that the rap is shown in instead of the normal letterbox.
Twice again, when Rainbow and later Twilight discuss Rainbow's acute awareness, the show literally rewinds with effects as seen on VHS tapes to show all the events that Rainbow saw during both flights.
Musical World Hypothesis: Rainbow Dash states that Twilight Sparkle's "The Failure Song" in "The Crystal Empire - Part 1" was diegetic. However, this brings up another question about Musical World Hypotheses: how does a character know how to sing a reprise of a song ("The Success Song" in Part 2) if she wasn't present the first time it was sung?
Mythology Gag: The name of the Wonderbolts' founder, General Firefly, is an indirect nod to G1's Firefly as it was picked in homage to Lauren Faust's online username "fyre-flye".
Never My Fault: When Rainbow Dash fails Twilight's lessons, she tries to invoke this trope by blaming Twilight for it.
Rainbow Dash's test anxiety and difficulty paying attention are surprisingly realistic and accurate portrayals of students with learning disabilities such as ADD or ADHD. Once again, the writers have Shown Their Work.
Just like the Wonderbolts, many Real Life military organizations place a great deal of importance on new recruits knowing the history and heraldry of the unit they're joining. The reasons for this being succinctly outlined by Twilight:
Twilight: Knowing their origin and being able to properly represent them for all of Equestria is just as important [as being a good flier].
Even discounting learning disabilities, teachers are aware that everyone thinks and learns differently, from the visual (Rarity) to the verbal (Twilight), or from the imaginative/hypothetical (Fluttershy) to the hands-on/practical (Applejack). And then there's Pinkie's use of mnemonics via song.
When Rainbow Dash pushes Twilight out of the way of Cherry Berry's pedal copter, she says that her Hyper Awareness helps her stay safe in the air. This is similar to the situational awareness that safe drivers refer to as "defensive driving", and is what separates them from drivers that get into accidents.
Your real brain can indeed work on problems subconsciously when you eat lunch or walk home. The pre-internet snowclone "I do my best thinking [anywhere but at work or at school]" came about for a reason.
Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Twilight calls the other ponies and tells them she has a plan to help Rainbow Dash. The audience (and Rainbow Dash) don't get to hear what the plan involves until after it has been successfully executed.
Unusually Uninteresting Sight: During the second flyover Rainbow Dash doesn't seem to find any of the strange things her friends and the town folk are doing as worthy of mention, especially the fireworks display at the end.
Whoopee Cushion: The squeeze horn Rainbow places on Twilight's seat is a G-rated stand-in.
World Building: Though it flies by quickly for the viewer, we learn a good deal of the history and purpose of the EUP as a force founded after Nightmare Moon's banishment to help protect Equestria, and that the original Wonderbolts were founded by an EUP general a year later. We also learn that, judging by the Wonderbolts test, grades in Equestria are percentual and not letter-based.
You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Once Rainbow Dash realizes that her dream of joining the Wonderbolts might not come true if she goofs any further, her spirits are crushed. Luckily, Twilight has a pep talk with her that shows just how amazing she can be if she sets her mind to something. She, and the rest of the town, also manage to sneak in the Wonderbolt history material for Rainbow to absorb while they're flying over Ponyville.