Studying for Extra Class

Revised January 22, 2001

How I Studied for Extra Class

I used the Extra Class Study Guide by Gordon West. I was planning on buying the theory tapes too, but the local HRO kept horsing around, first saying they aren't out yet (when W5YI said they are), then they were perpetually backordered, then one of their weekend salesdroids told me no such tapes exist, all they have are code tapes. I finally said, "Screw it." At \$6.65 per exam session, I figured I could afford to fail it 4 times and still come out ahead. But I didn't plan to fail even once.

I studied daily from the book and used the book's suggestions. I marked those I had down cold, highlighted all those I was having trouble with and emphasized study on them. "Work your Book!" just like they said to.

In case you think I just memorized all the answers, I didn't. I can't. If I ever had a photographic memory, it's never had film loaded! I made an effort to really learn the material. (Element E5H, however, naturally fell into that no-calculation mode once I noticed the pattern of the answers. I suspect I'm not the only one who passed that question that way.)

I took an online sample test a couple of times a week. They tell you which questions you miss and what the correct answer is. From this, I knew what I had to really work on, such as elements E1C, E5B, E5C, E5D, E5F, E9C, and various others. Especially the ones involving math and complicated formulas, which has always been a weak area for me.

As I mentioned elsewhere, I'm a visualizer. Despite my interest in antennas, the droll question formats about phased 1/4λ verticals in element E9C were confusing to me. So I made a little chart and then suddenly all was very clear. Here's what I made.

Vertical Antenna Spacing:
Phasing: 1/8 λ ¼λ ½λ
In phase
0 °
90° n/a cardioid n/a
180° Fig.8 endfire Fig.8 endfire Fig.8 endfire
The ones labeled "n/a" are simply not asked about on the exam! All the ones that are 180° out of phase are Figure 8 endfire patterns. This leaves just the three oddball answers. 90° and ¼λ spacing gives the cardioid pattern. For the ones that are 0°, or in phase, you have the ½λ spacing that gets you a Figure 8 broadside. The remaining one with ¼λ spacing is an elliptical pattern.

Understanding these kind of relationships made it a lot easier to pass those particular questions (E9C01 through E9C06).

The first practice test results were very encouraging (40 out of 50 or better) but I wanted to increase my error margin to guarantee a passing grade. All I didn't need was to get (by sheer dumb luck) all of the hard questions for each element when I took the real thing.

My VE Test for Extra

After two months of study, I felt I was ready to go for the real thing. So in December 2000 I began looking around for a local exam session. Some were taking place at the end of the month, but I knew I'd be too busy around the holidays, so I opted to go for a January date which would allow me a little more time to study and practice.

The Santa Clarita ARC was going to do one on Saturday January 20th. I contacted them and got a reservation. Then I buckled down and did my final weeks of study to be fully prepared.

A few days ahead of the exam, I was contacted by one of their people and advised that they had to cancel their January test session. But the San Fernando Valley ARC would be doing one in February, and then the Santa Clarita group would be doing their next one in March.

No problem. I searched the list over at ARRL and found that the Associated Radio Amateurs of Long Beach had their session scheduled for the same Saturday at 9:00am. So I phoned them right away, and asked if I could come as a walk-in to their exam.

Their guy said, "I can do even better. I can preregister you now!" So that's what I did.

Exam Day. I left my house at 7:30am to allow plenty of time for the 45 mile voyage from the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach. I got there well ahead of time, scoped out the place (it was at Cal State University Long Beach), went to a local Del Taco for some breakfast, then returned to CSULB parking lot #9. I sat in my truck and read from the study manual for awhile, a final review of problem areas, just looked over lots of stuff. I tried to relax. This was going to be just like the practice exams, only for real. I hadn't failed a single practice so far, and my score had leveled off at 46-47 out of 50, way above the 37 minimum passing score. I had high confidence in success for the exam.

Sometime after 8:30am, people started showing up, so I left my truck and headed over to the building where the exam would be held. I talked with some of the club people and the other half dozen people or so who were there to take tests. I was one of two people taking Extra; the others were taking the Tech and/or General tests. I don't think anyone was taking a code test that day.

I got processed and then entered the exam room and received my test and an answer sheet. I went to a desk and set to work. I went through it very carefully, and after I was done, went through again and read my answer and then the question just to make sure it made sense. I was satisfied I'd done my best, so I turned them in and returned to my seat. It was over, there was nothing to do now but wait.

And I waited. The VEs passed papers back and forth, some mine, some from others. And at 9:45am on the clock, I received initial word that I had passed my Extra exam.

I still had to wait for them to finish triple checking my answers and stuff, then sign the form, and then they had to fill out my certificate of completion. Then they smiled and waved me over to sign it. You will never be so excited and nervous as when you are asked to sign that form yourself that says you passed!

They told me I got a score of 47 out of 50. Just what I'd been doing of late on the practice exams. Only this time, I will never know which three I got wrong. But who cares, I passed it!

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