Sunday, February 22, 2009

How I passed the Ham Radio Technician's Test

[2011 UPDATE: the current test book does NOT look like the one pictured here. If you buy a test book, make sure it's the most recent version.]

I took the test last Thursday. Andy went with me and also took it. I had been discussing some of the technical stuff with him, because of the training he had in the Navy. Eventually I said "You know half of this stuff already. Why don't you study a bit and take the test too?" So he did.

We both passed the test, and both scored 100% correct answers.

I couldn't have been more pleased. I'd been doing practice exams on-line for weeks, and often did well but seldom got 100%.

Andy had less study time than me, but he also got the highest score. How did we do that?

Well, when I determined that I wanted to get a Ham License, I decided to study for the Technician's license. I started off by buying the ARRL's Technician's Training manual:

ARRL Ham Radio License Manual: All You Need to Become an Amateur Radio Operator (Arrl Ham Radio License Manual) (Arrl Ham Radio License Manual) (Paperback)
Product Description

Get your FIRST ham radio license! Easy-to-understand bite-sized sections. Use this book, and pass the 35-question license test. Includes the latest question pool with answer key, for use beginning July 1, 2006. Designed for self-study and for classroom use. Intended for all newcomers, instructors and schoolteachers. This is the most popular introduction to Amateur Radio!

The ARRL Ham Radio License Manual is your ticket to joining the ranks of amateur radio operators. Use this book to discover the appeal of ham radio. The Amateur Radio Service offers a unique mix of technology, public service, convenience and fun. Some hams enjoy communicating across the country and around the globe, making new friends over the airwaves. Others like to build and experiment with electronics, experiencing cutting edge technologies.

Some use their radios and skills during emergencies or disasters when all else fails. And, today's ham radio gear offers possibilities for getting started at any level. Your first radio station might be at home, in the car, or small enough to take with you on the go.

I enjoyed this book a lot, I thought it was a great introduction to Ham Radio for anyone who doesn't know much about it. Andy, on the other hand, thought it was poorly written and badly organized. But then he knew a lot of the stuff already, so I think he was impatient to get through it. I was familiar with some of the content, like basic electronics, but I hadn't used that knowledge for many years, so I needed the refresher that the book provided.

I read through the book, completing the questions for each chapter as I went along. I tried to do one chapter a day each evening, but for the longer chapters I sometimes took two days. When I finished the book, I passed it on to Andy.

Then I began taking practice exams, on-line. The site I started with was at Ham Exams

It's presented in a format much like the actual exam you take. You have to answer all 35 multiple choice questions, before you can check the answers. You need a score of 74% or higher to pass.

I did fairly well with it, when I consistently got a passing score, I figured I was ready.

Andy found a testing site he liked better, at

QRZ's Practice Amateur Radio Exams

This site presents questions one at a time, and tells you right away if the answer you choose is right or wrong. If it's wrong, you can go back and tackle the question again till you get it right. Here is what the question box looks like:

Your score is kept at the top of the page for each test question. Wrong answers still count against your score for that session, but at least you can find out what the right answer is without waiting till the end of the test. Like Andy, I came to prefer this test site too.

Due to several events at work that came up and cut into our time, Andy wasn't able to finish the Technician's Manual before the test. He needed something faster to study, so I gave him a copy of a study guide that summarized the material: AH0A Technician Class Exam Study Notes, which I was able to download and print up from AH0A.ORG.

So between the book, the summary study guide, and the on-line testing, it was pretty easy to prepare for the test. It just required making time to read the materials, and to keep taking the on-line tests until we consistently got passing scores.

One of the secrets to getting high scores is to take advantage of the simple math "formulas" the study materials give you for calculating things like Watts, Voltage, Current, Ohms, Amperage and Resistance.

One of the things that was hanging me up was identifying band frequencies. Andy pointed out that I had overlooked the formula for calculating the frequencies to find which meter band they belonged to (300 divided by the frequency in MGz will give you the antenna in meters). Once I understood that, everything was easy, and my scores improved. All these things combined helped us to ace the test.

Now we are just waiting for our call signs to be assigned and appear in the FCC data base. Then the real fun will begin... applying what we have learned!


ZZMike said...

FB on the license (as they used to say).

Next step: General, then Amateur Extra.

Chas said...

Yes Mike, I already have the "General" study manual on my Amazon Wish List. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I'm new and just begining to study. I travel for work and dont have time to take a class. Thanks that was really helpful; much appreciated!

Randall said...

Study books are good.

I like software to study for missed questions.

Not to drill you on questions you already know the answers to.

Online study sites can have internet lag and lag badly.

You might have to wait a few seconds to see if you got the answer right.

Or the internet connection can crash all together.

Or your browser can crash on you.

Chas said...

I never had any trouble with the on-line tests. Software like yours is another option too, of course, and might be preferable for some folks.

I'd also like to point out, just for general information, that the book I posted about here is now obsolete, and has been replaced with an updated version, in June or July of 2010.

So if anyone reading this is looking for the book, the one you want now won't look like this one. Buyer, beware.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic info.. I already have the ohms law down but calculating frequencies was such a big help going for my test in one month ..mike