The Ham Radio Exam

I've been thinking, for quite some time, about getting a ham radio license. I've been going to hamfests (mostly for the computers) since middle school, but never knew anybody well who had an amateur radio license.

The Technician class (entry level) exam consists of 35 multiple choice questions from a pool of 424. You must answer 26 questions correctly to pass. There is no longer any Morse code requirement at any level. The exam changes every four years, with the next change occurring on July 1, 2018. In 2015, I bought the ARRL Technician License Manual. Not wanting to waste the money I spent on it, I finally decided to read the book and take the exam this month.

The exam turned out to be a lot easier than I expected. I approached this with some background in electronics, but very little familiarity with radio. My first practice exam, before I even opened the book, I passed with exactly 26 questions. I tired twice more to see if that was anomalous, and unfortunately it was. I started reading the ARRL manual and was impressed with it. The manual explains concepts clearly and gives a review at the end of each section with the actual questions from the exam.

Exams are offered at most hamfests, and I was planning to attend the Hagerstown Hamfest on May 5, so I decided to take the exam while I was there, even though I had only made it through half the book. The test is $15, and you can retake it for an additional $15 in the sitting. Since I'd passed a practice exam before reading the manual, I figured I had a decent chance having read half of it, and it worked out. I didn't think to ask what score I got, but I did try the General exam (next level up) after that, and failed by 17 out of 35.

I received my call sign on May 10: KC3LKE. That got my wife excited, and she decided she wanted to get licensed also. I finished reading the Technician manual, and started to realize that most of the stuff that sounded interesting required a General class license, so I ordered the manual for that level.

I mistakenly thought the questions changed in June, not July, so Emily crammed to take the exam on May 15 at the local amateur radio club's meeting. Since I was going along, I decided to take the General exam then, too. I started reading the General manual, but this time only made it a quarter of the way though. Then I spent about five hours doing flashcards on May 15th, and passed with 33/35. My wife, who has no electronics or radio background, passed after doing flashcards for one week and not even opening the manual.

I regret waiting so long to take the exam. I kept putting it off because it seemed like it was going to be a much bigger deal than it was. Anybody reading this site could study the ARRL manual and pass without difficulty. If you're interested, but don't know anybody who's a ham, you're welcome to post here or in the forums.

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yes, the technician license is pretty basic, main thing to learn is some of the FCC regulations. However it's limited quite a bit. With a bit more study, I recommend trying to upgreade to the general license, then you really have a lot more options with digital modes, which is very relavent to vintage computer folks. The Expert license requires a lot more theoretical knowledge.

Tom Owad's picture

I did the General exam a week after I got the Technician license. I got an antenna and an HF radio at last weekend's hamfest, but I haven't gotten it set up yet.

macnoyd's picture

I got a Technicians license 25 years ago, renewed it once, then let it lapse. Back then you had to pass the code test to get a Tech license.
That was easy for me because I learned Morse code at 12WPM in high school and passing a 5wpm test without practice was a no brainer.
I let it lapse because I just didn't have the time or ambition to chat with other enthusiasts any more. That, and technology seemed to
leap past all that with the internet. Communicating over radio is cool, but for me lost it's luster. I still know the code, but being out of it for
so many years, knowing it is about all I can say at this stage. Blame it on the Apple ][, that took all my ambition and time away from radio.

FWIW, I got my first Apple II (Rev 0) after a fellow ham asked me to help him write a radio logging program. This required that the computer have a real-time clock card. I had been working with digital clocks for quite some time and the Apple II slot architecture made this seem like it would be quite easy to build. And it was. A few days later we had circuit boards for the AppleTime, my first commercial product for the Apple II. I would go on to design many other Apple products and run a small company that kept up a small but steady supply of cash to support this wonderful hobby.

I got my Novice ticket as a teenager back when talking to someone halfway around the world for free was pretty neat. Eventually I worked my way up to the Extra class license which I now hold and occasionally use to reach new countries as they come on the air (still hope to contact all of the 340 or so different entities before I'm gone). More importantly, the interest in radio prompted me to also get my First Class Radiotelephone license. This opened up the door to working in the broadcast industry and indeed I have spent the last 40+ years working for one of the major television networks.

I may have started with just monitoring transmitters (which required the license), but guess what I do now. Everything is digital and file based and I now spend 90% of my time coding. So ham radio also led me to a successful and fulfilling career (and brought me to sunny California out from the Midwest winters!) All in all, I believe amateur radio provided a great launching pad for me to do other things. While the luster of "the good ole days" may have lost some shine with the internet, there are still lots of fun things to do with radio. And when that next earthquake comes here and all other forms of communication are knocked out...