How did you feel when you stepped into the room to take your ham radio license exam? Were you calm, confident, and ready for the test? Or were you a bundle of nerves waiting to explode when the exam is presented to you? Proper study and preparation is the key to doing well on the amateur radio exam. The Technician license exam isn’t overly difficult, but with almost 400 potential questions, each having one of four potential answers, so can easily fall into information overload. Unless you have a photographic memory, memorizing the pool is not an option.
Fortunately for the rest of us, there are plenty of print and online resources available to help you study for your amateur radio exam. Plus many ham radio clubs periodically hold license preparation classes to give you the in-person instruction that some people desire. In this article, you’ll find some great resources for preparing for the exam and mastering the material.
Amateur Radio Study Resources
It’s no secret of what’s in the FCC license exam question pool. The questions and answers are public record and you can view all the questions in advance. But the format and makeup of each individual exam is kept confidential by the Volunteer License Examiners. That’s part of the reason why the VE team will only tell you how well you did, and not divulge your performance on any individual questions. So don’t try to sit down and memorize the pool, a more interactive approach is better in preparing for the exam.
Back when I started, about 15 years ago, online study aids were a little thin. Most people used the ARRL’s books. They had the test pool printed in the back, so you could read and study the questions and answers, but these books didn’t present the exam in a manner that aided in skills assessment. Back then we used the AA9PW practice exams.
The AA9PW.com site maintained by Simon Twigger is still alive and well maintained. It doesn’t have much for study resources, but it will generate a simulated FCC practice exam, grade it, and tell you which elements you need more study. Back 10-15 years ago, this was my go to site for practice and study. We have certainly come a long way since then.
With that, enter Hamstudy.org. This site offers study aids, flash cards, and simulated exams. I really like the flash card approach to test preparation. As you are presented with a question, you have the opportunity to view an explanation of the correct answer. Sometimes a question may just not make sense, so viewing a complete and succinct explanation really helps in comprehension. Your aptitude in the question pool tracked, and you can analyze which sections or elements you have the more trouble with, giving you the opportunity to individual study on them. When you are ready, the site will deliver a simulated exam to really test your knowledge. Many new hams I’ve talked to give Hamstudy.org high regards, so be sure to make it a part of your studying methods.
Are you more of a book learner than an online studier? Gordon West’s Technician License study guide is probably the defacto standard in preparing your your exam. My wife used a Gordon West book, read and studied it, and managed to ace her Technician exam. His books are comprehensive and no nonsense. Typically ‘Gordo’ takes you through the pool, a question at a time, and gives his explanation for the correct answer to each question. You never see the incorrect answers, or distractors as they are often called, in his books. Each multiple choice question on the exam is made up of three incorrect answers and one correct one, but Gordon West only presents the right answer so you can drill the correct information in your head. The book also comes with a companion CD for listening in the car or on the go. A great way to refresh the information in your head while doing another task.
Of course there are plenty of other study resources online. Ham Test Online is a subscription service that claims guaranteed success with their teaching methods. I think to be successful in getting your license, you need to step beyond the “test and drill sites” and use a system that works for you. So give Ham Test Online a shot with their free trial and see if it’s a good fit for you.
What to expect at your license exam
Are you ready to take the test? If you’ve gone through all the study materials and are confident, go ahead and make those plans to take your test. Most volunteer examiner testing sessions do allow for drop ins, but it’s always best to call or email ahead of time so they are expecting you. If there is no regularly scheduled exam session in your community, contact your local ham radio club to see if they can assist is putting a session together for you. Many clubs have volunteer examiners in their midst, and they will assemble a session on short notice if you ask.
What to bring to your exam: Bring a form identification. One should be a government issued photo ID, like a driver’s license or passport. If you don’t have a government issued photo ID, you can bring TWO forms of identification, like a non photo ID, birth certificate, social security card, utility bill, etc. Students may use a student ID or parents and legal guardian can provide identification of the minor. Bring a photocopy of your license or your CSCE (Certificate of Successfully Completed Exam) if you are testing for an upgrade. Bring or know your social security number. You may bring a calculator, but be prepared to demonstrate that the memory in it is cleared. Bring pencils with erasers. Scratch paper will be supplied by the examiners. Be sure to bring the testing fee (currently $15 in 2014).
Once you fill out the registration form, you will be provided with an answer sheet and a copy of the test. The tests are randomized, so be sure to write the test number on the answer key. When the volunteer examiners give the ok, the room will get silent and you may begin the test. At the conclusion, hand in the test, answer sheet, and any scratch paper. You may sit down and relax while your exam is graded. You will be notified how many you get wrong, and if you passed or not, but the examiners aren’t allowed to divulge which questions you got wrong.
Congratulations, you passed your exam. Did you know that since you passed your Technician exam, you can go ahead and take the General test for no extra charge? Your mind may feel like mush, but go ahead and give it a shot. In my experience, about 30% of new Technician licensees pass their General test in the same sitting, so it’s worth a shot. Even if you don’t pass, at least you get a feeling of the material on the test.
At the conclusion of the testing session, the examiners will pack up everything and mail it off the Volunteer Examiner Coordinator, either the ARRL or W5YI. From there, they will process the exams, and submit the information to the FCC. You can expect to see your callsign in the FCC database in about 6-7 days and your paper license will come in the mail about 10-14 days later.
With a little preparation and study, getting your ham radio can be easy and fun
What was your motivation to get your amateur radio license? Was there an online or printed study resource that you used to get your license? Why not share it in the comments below.