Getting your Amateur Radio License: Passing the Test is Easier Thanks to Relaxed License Requirements
Amateur radio can be an exciting hobby for those who have even the most basic interest in electronics and radio. The hobby provides many different avenues for those licensed to explore, not just tapping away at key sending morse code as some may have the stereotypical view of what “hams” do.
In fact, morse as a requirement to enter the hobby has not been a barrier since 2000, when the first “no code” license was introduced. This was furthered in early 2007, when the requirement was dropped altogether, making studying for a multiple choice written exam the only barrier.
Intensive knowledge of electronics is by no means a requirement of the hobby. Some may be fascinated by the way radio waves propagate; others may just find the prospect of talking to others thousands of miles away thrilling. However, in all cases, the wanting to at least learn the basics of radio and electronics should be there in order to ease the process.
The easiest way to begin the journey from interested candidate to licensee is probably either purchasing one of the readily available study manuals, such as those available from the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), or using an web-based study guide, such as Ham Test Online.
Either way should make the process fairly simple. Although everybody’s learning curves are different, studying for the FCC tests are not difficult at all and should take no longer than a few weeks.
The Ham Radio License Structure
Licensing in the US is split up in to three tiers. The entry level license is called the Technician Class, and requires passage of a 35-question test with at least 26 questions correct. Examinees can expect questions here on the basics of the hobby, including FCC laws regarding amateur radio, good operating practices, and the basics of electronics. Passage of this test allows use of all frequencies above 30MHz, plus some limited privileges in the worldwide high-frequency bands.
Those who may be looking to talk worldwide will be more interested in the General Class license, which offers operation on all bands currently available to ham radio operators. Here, the test focuses on higher level regulations and electronics theory, which is needed for operation in the high-frequency bands. As with the Technician, candidates are expected to pass another 35-question test with at least 26 questions correct.
Finally, the Extra Class license is the highest available for US amateurs. Here the changes to privileges are more of an expansion of what is available to General Class licensees in the high-frequency bands. The test is also more difficult, requiring 36 questions right in a 50 question test. Radio equipment design is added into the question pool mix, as well as discussions on advanced theory and regulations.
Taking the Test
The ARRL website is an excellent resource to find local testing locations. Tests are given throughout the year by volunteer examiners, which are amateur radio operators trained and certified to administer the test.
At the testing session, the examinee should contact the examiner to ensure he or she brings the correct fee for talking the test. In addition, some form of photo identification is required, or in the absence of that, two other forms of identification. At least two pencils and a pen should be brought along, and a calculator could be useful for some.
Following the test, the examiners will grade it immediately and inform of a passing or failing grade, which leads to the next phase of the candidate’s journey into amateur radio.