My videos are enjoyed by both amateur radio operators and prospective hams alike. So much so, that I repeatedly get similar questions and inquiries on how to get your ham radio license. So today we are going all the way back to square one and I’ll outline the five easy steps to take so you too can get your amateur radio license. But first, are you already licensed? Well don’t stop watching, as I’d love to hear your experiences on how your got your license. Please leave them in the comments below.

But first, lets break the process down into five easy steps.

Step one: what do you need to know to get your license.

Getting your ham radio license is not an overly difficult task, although it will take a little bit of work and effort. You will need to pass the FCC’s Technician license exam in order to receive your callsign. The exam consists of 35 multiple choice questions derived from a publicly available pool of approximately 400 questions. Since all the questions are known, although you won’t know which 35 you will receive, it makes the process of studying for the test a bit easier. In order to pass, you will need to get 26 questions correct.

So what will you need to know in order to get your license? The amateur radio license exam covers four main topics: Rules and Regulations, Operating Procedures, Basic Electronics, and Simple Amateur Radio Theory. There are ten topics, or sub-elements that the exam questions are pulled from:

  • FCC Rules and station license responsibilities
  • Operating Procedures
  • Radio wave characteristics
  • Amateur radio practices and station setup
  • Electrical and electronics principles
  • Electrical components
  • Station equipment and basic troubleshooting
  • Modulation modes and operating activities
  • Antennas and feed lines
  • Electrical safety

Sounds complicated? No, it really isn’t. The whole purpose of the test is to make sure you can operate your amateur radio equipment in a responsible and safe manner and have the basic foundation and knowledge to begin enjoying the ham radio hobby. So looking at the topics, you probably identified a couple of subjects alien to you and that’s ok. There are plenty of resources available to get you over those hurdles.

Step 2: Find a study resource that works for you

For a lot of people, the first thing that comes to mind is to memorize the question pool and brute force the exam. But that is an inefficient form of learning and I don’t recommend it to anyone. Fortunately there are many forms of study aids available such as the books by the ARRL and Gordon West. I like books as the paper copy in front of me works well for reference. but books may not be for everyone, so there are plenty of online tools to teach the exam.

First off, the free video series by Dave Casler, break down the exam material in a systematic fashion quite well. If you have the time to commit in watching the videos, this may work well for you. Or an online resources like may be the ticket. Many local clubs also offer free classes or study sessions. Getting connected with a club is a great idea as you may be able to link up with more experience hams that will guide you in the learning process.  I hope you can find a method that works for your particular learning style.

Step 3: Commit to it by setting a date

It’s human nature to put things off unless there is a deadline. So create a deadline for yourself. Find a local exam session and mark the calendar. Give yourself enough time to adequately study, but not so far off that you lose interest or take your eyes off the prize. It is reasonable to assume that you can study and get your license in 4-6 weeks, so find an exam session in your area and register for it. The ARRL has a list of local exam sessions on their site along with contact information. So go over there and register.

Step 4: Reinforce with online resources

Start taking sample exams online once you get a feeling for the material. Your scores will improve with time. Many of the online exam simulators will give you the questions flash card style or as a simulated test. I prefer the simulated test as it generates the 35 questions for a more realistic experience. In my experience teaching classes and giving exams, I’ve found that if you hit the 80 percent mark on the sample exams, you’ll pass the actual test. And you don’t have to ace the exam, just pass.

Step 5: Take the test

Ready for testing day? The amateur radio license exams are administered by volunteers and they are all cheering for you to pass. But they are also serious in their responsibility will also proctor the exam in a professional manner. You’ll need to bring a form a government issued identification: like a drivers license, passport, or current military ID. You’ll also need the testing fee, which is typically $15. Pencils and exam materials will be provided. You can bring a simple calculator to the session, but you need to show that the memories in it are cleared. If you pass your Technician exam, you will be given the option of taking the general. I recommend doing it. while maybe only 20% of people that take the general in this manner pass it, but you will get a good taste of what’s expected for the next level.

Once you pass, your license and callsign will typically be issued in a week.

What are your thoughts? If you’ve taken the test and got your amateur radio license, please tell us about your experience. Or, do you teach and mentor other prospective hams? Let me know about your favorite resources and methods. Please leave them in the comments below. I’ll try to answer them and also highlight a few of the best in my monthly question and answer video.

Links and Resources

ARRL Technician Study Guide

Gordon West Technician Class manual

David Casler Technician License Video Course:

Find an amateur radio license exam session:

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