My Take On It and How I Did It
Getting your Amateur Radio license has never been easier than it is now. As of 2007, the FCC removed all requirements for learning Morse Code. This opened the ability for licensees to test all the way to an Extra class operator without having to learn Morse Code and has made it easier than ever to obtain full operating privileges on all Amateur Radio bands. As long as you’re willing to study a bit, getting your license is fairly easy now. And that’s what this post is about, pointing you to the resources YOU need in order to obtain your Amateur Radio license, all the way to Extra class if you so desire. I went from no-class to Extra class in just two weeks, and there’s no reason you can’t either. Granted, I had a Technician’s class license that expired 12 years ago, I already knew most of the electronics portion from tinkering, and am a knowledge sponge who loves learning.
First things first. If you’re already here, I assume you already know what Amateur Radio is. If not, the ARRL and Wikipedia will help fill you in. More than likely, there was one aspect in particular that drove you to this great hobby. And that’s one of the great things about Amateur Radio. Whether it’s the social aspect, fellowship, tinkering, engineering, emergency preparedness, community involvement, antenna building or any other of the aspects of this hobby, we all seem to find a common ground. As you delve deeper into your Extra class studies, you may find that ground can often be misconstrued, but you get the point 🙂
Licenses, Requirements and Privileges
As of 2015, the FCC offers three different classes of Amateur Radio licenses for US citizens. The license classes, requirements to obtain them, and operating privileges are listed below. Once an exam is passed, you may continue taking exams in the same testing session until you fail one.
- Technician Class
- Must pass a 35 question written exam (Exam Element 2) with a score of 74% (26 of 35).
- Privileges for all modes of communication on all VHF / UHF Amateur bands (above 30MHz).
- Privileges for CW, voice, and digital modes on a limited portion of the 10 meter band.
- Privileges for CW on limited portions of the 80, 40, and 15 meter bands.
- General Class
- Must pass Technician class license requirements.
- Must pass a 35 question written exam (Exam Element 3) with a score of 74% (26 of 35).
- All Technician class privileges, with the addition of most HF privileges (10 – 160 meters).
- Extra Class
- Must pass General class license requirements.
- Must pass a 50 question written exam (Exam Element 4) with a score of 74% (37 of 50).
Here’s a list of the tools and resources I used to obtain my license. There’s no magic here, just read the study guides, do the practice tests, and learn the math. If you are already involved in a local club or have an Elmer, you’re already ahead of the game. The following tools are meant to provide you the knowledge to pass the test, not the wisdom that comes from an Elmer or being involved with a club.
No-Nonsense Study Guides by KB6NU
The first thing you need is a good study guide. The study guides by KB6NU are essentially the exam element questions written as statements and wrapped with supportive text. They quickly describe what the answer is with a little of the why. The text will not be as explanatory as the ARRL License Manual series, nor is it meant it to be. His guides are straight and to the point, telling you just what you need to know in order to pass the given element. KB6NU offers free versions of the Technician and General class guides on his site, and the Extra class guide is available for $7.99. His guides are also available below as Amazon Kindle eBooks. Highly recommended if your goal is to learn the material in the shortest time possible.
- No-Nonsense Technician Class Study Guide
- No-Nonsense General Class Study Guide
- No-Nonsense Extra Class Study Guide
Practice, Practice, Practice tests!
Take them and keep taking them until you’re scoring a consistent 85% or higher. Unless you choke for some reason, you’re pretty much guaranteed to pass at that point. Thanks to the proliferation of smart phones, you can quickly knock out a test or two anywhere now. Below are the practice test tools I used.
- HamExam.org – Flash cards, practice tests, element filtering, and stats tracking. All for free! Hands down my favorite site for practice exams.
- Ham Test Prep (Android) – Many many practice tests were taken with this after my morning coffee routines 🙂 I tried a few, but liked this one the best. Another free tool that does an excellent job.
Learn the Math
This is pretty straight forward for the Technician class element, however its gets a little more involved for the General and Extra class elements. The following resources should contain everything you need to know.
- Math for the General Class Ham by N9XH – Slide deck that covers all the math you should need to know for passing the General class exam.
- AD7FO 2012 Extra Class Syllabus – Excellent guide in general for studying the Extra class material, and specifically it includes all the equations you should know for passing your Extra class exam. The math specific stuff starts at Page 111.
Taking Your Test
Finally, payoff! First thing you need to do is find a local VE team that administers exams. A local club should be able to assist with when / where exam sessions are, or you can try the ARRL Exam Search page. The club or VE team should tell you what they need, but in general you’ll want to do the following.
- Request your FRN – This is your FCC Registration Number and will be required to be submitted with your paperwork after you pass your exam.
- Pre-Register with the VE team – If possible, pre-register with your VE team. It lets them know how many testers to prepare for and makes the paperwork flow a little easier.
- Complete Form 605 – The FCC’s version of Form 605 is a little lengthy, so I would check with your VE team for the appropriate form to complete as they are usually simplified.
- On exam day, don’t forget the following!
- Two forms of ID
- Your FRN
- Completed Form 605
If you followed everything above, chances are your license will appear in the FCC database shortly after. Depending on your area VEC and the VE team, this could be anywhere from that night to two weeks. Thankfully, we have a great VE team where I live, Lowcountry VE Team, and my paperwork was processed in short order (had my callsign in just 3 days).
You can check the status of your license by searching for your FRN. Once your Amateur Radio callsign is listed in the FCC database, you’re free to operate!
What now? Get to know some hams! Find a club! Ham Radio is a social hobby and it’s great to cross ideas against like minded people. Tinker, experiment, build stuff! Building antennas is a great place to start, and you likely need one now. Learn Morse Code, the original language of ham radio! I’m still working on the later part and will post my experiences on that as well in the future. Until then, 73 – KW4FB.