QUICK STEPS TO YOUR AMATEUR RADIO (HAM) LICENSE.
The ham radio license seems one of the bigger preparedness mysteries. Communications will be very important in any event, whether a local event, a regional event (usually weather), or an all out, nationwide event. The previous requirement of knowing Morse Code was enough to scare many away. Fortunately things have changed for the better, at least for Private Defense Network (PDN) purposes.
An amateur radio license is really a license to experiment. This does not concern us, initially. Many of you will get hooked and go on to experiment, and we encourage that. There is much to know about ham radio and best learned on the job.
This article is designed to get you on the air in a week or less, with a radio, for around $100. Usually less.
Since we are taking a different approach attaining your ham radio license, we suggest you first get a radio. You’ve seen this if you’ve been looking: The Baofeng is probably the best beginner’s radio. Well, it’s cheap and it works well enough for a first time user. After you get your license you may find yourself in a spiral of more capable and expensive radios, but the Baofeng will work. Breaking a thirty some dollar radio is much better than breaking one that costs several hundred dollars. (Trust us: We’ve done it.) Buying the Baofeng will give you something tangible to play with while studying for the test. You can program it and listen to radio traffic. Instructions and videos are available on the net. It’s cheap, you’ll outgrow it quickly, but it will make an acceptable start and an adequate backup when you upgrade to an ICOM, Yaesu, Motorola, etc.
How and where to begin
Earning your license requires you to pass a test. There are three different licenses available. This study method works well for the first two, the technician and General license. The third, the Extra Class license, is its own animal. The technician license will get you talking regionally and will be most useful for local communications in a disaster: Getting news in and out of the area or communicating with family members in a bad situation. The General class license opens up regional and worldwide communications, independent of infrastructure.
The tests are structured to help you earn your license without spending months or years understanding the subject. The technician test consists of 35 questions from a pool of 426. Each question has four multiple choice answers. Passing the test requires you to answer 26 of these questions correctly. These tests are administered monthly by Volunteer Examiners from the American Radio and Relay League (ARRL). There is no charge for the license, but the ARRL charges $15 to cover the costs of administering the test. That $15 and the $50 or so dollars you spent on the Baofeng and accessories gets you to the “100 dollars or less”.
Step 1: Finding a testing location
Finding a test in your area is quite simple. Go to ARRL.org, enter your zipcode, and pick a convenient location and time. Some tests require pre-registration. Pick a test that is a week or more out and commit to it. Note that DSI can administer the test at your location.
Step 2: Finding the questions
There is an excellent resource out there that will be the focus of your study: hamstudy.org The site is easy to understand and contains all of the questions on all of the tests. We will focus on the technician exam. Selecting the technician section will yield three choices: study test questions, read test questions, and practice test.
Step 3: Familiarizing yourself with the questions
Some with an electronics background might instantly recognize the answers to the questions. For others, it might seem like gibberish. We’ve personally directed people to this site and all who have committed to the test have passed. For some it took a just a few hours of study, for others it took up to a week, but that was for the general exam. (Note that you must pass the technician exam to take the general, and so on.). Assuming you can dedicate an hour or two a day for a week, spend the first study period using the read question option. You will quickly determine whether this will be easy or require more effort. All of the questions are presented with the answer as well as the incorrect answers. You should be able to read through the all of the questions in your first study period.
Step 4: Flash Cards
After your first study period, move on to the flash card section. The questions presented to you cover the different subject areas of the test. You can click on the answer you think is correct and it is graded, the correct answer shown, and context. Your progress will be shown on the right side of the page.
Many of the questions fall into the common sense category. You will also notice that the questions that directly concern ham radio such as specific regulations, frequencies, and schematics will present an obvious answer with three not so plausible distractors.
On the last two study sessions before the real test you to want to move to the practice test section. These questions are specifically chosen from the pool as they appear on the actual test. You will be presented with 35 questions. Each question is selected from the different subsections, so this is more accurate in predicting your score on the actual test.
Each exam is graded upon completion, with the questions you missed linked to their sub section. You have the option to review the test: Please use it. The question you answered incorrectly will be shown with the correct answer. Remember, you must answer 26 of the 35 answers correctly on the exam. Before grade inflation, we called this a C. For the last two study sessions, take the tests over and over until you can pass 9 out of 10. We haven’t had a person who followed this method fail, yet.
Step 5: The Test
If you’ve diligently put in seven honest days of study, you should recognize the correct answers. You may have found that a few nagging questions you can never seem to get right, but for the most part you can answer the questions by just seeing the first few words of the question. Please read the entire question anyway. It helps with nerves.
Don’t forget to bring your $15 IN CASH with you to your test. When you arrive, you will be greeted by three Volunteer Examiners. These are three fellow amateur radio operators that have taken time to administer your test. You will be handed a booklet containing the questions, and a bubble sheet for answers.
We recommend you take tests, especially multiple choice tests, in this fashion: Sit down, relax, organize your scratch paper and pencil (It helps to jot down any formulas.), and take a look at the first question. If your studying has produced an amateur radio expert, the answer should be readily apparent. If it isn’t, don’t despair: SKIP the question. Move on to question two, same here. Ensure you don’t mark a skipped question inadvertantly. It helps to check every five or so questions. Answer the questions for which you are POSITIVE and SKIP the ones for which you are not sure. Do this all of the way to the end of the exam. When you get to the end, go back and count the number of questions answered. Our observation is most of people answer at least 26. Go back and make you best guess on the remaining questions. Even if you weren’t POSITIVE of at least 26 you are close, and logic will get you over the hump. You may wish to look online for test taking strategies. Our goal is to get you licensed, then trained, not to make you engineers.
Your test will be graded by each of the Volunteer Examiners. If you breezed through the technician exam, you can take your general exam on the same day if you wish. You won’t have to pay an additional $15 (cash) to take it. Many take all three exams in one sitting.
Getting a license isn’t difficult. If you are willing to put in a few hours over the course of a week, you are on the way to a stronger PDN. We realize this article is more about studying and test taking than amateur radio, but the resources listed tell you everything you need and take the mystery out of the process. Becoming a skilled ham is a lifelong process.
Don’t forget to join a local club. This is fun, as well as important, and hams love to help.