Study Methods

By Dave AD7DB

Revised October 8, 2001

The Basic Attack Plan

Go for your Technician class written exam. This is the entry level now. It will get you on the air from 50 MHz and up.

Although many people will be perfectly happy with the Tech license, I can tell you that getting onto HF is ten times the fun! I should know: I was a ham for over 20 years before I went to General and up. Now that I have full privileges on HF I am having a total blast! You will too!

So, get the Code Quick package, it's the easiest way to learn the code and has a money back guarantee so you risk nothing. Get that 5 WPM code test out of the way, and you'll never have to take another one.

Now you'll have CW privileges on four HF bands as well as some voice privileges on 10 meters. Start communicating across the country or across some oceans! You'll get started on HF this way, and I have no doubt that you'll want to do more.

Once you have the code out of the way, you can start to study for your General class written exam. Get that and you'll have expanded privileges on those four HF bands (80, 40, 15 and 10 meters), plus you can operate on five more bands: 160, 30, 20, 17 and 12 meters.

Now you can start having tons of fun on HF! I encourage everyone to at least shoot for the General level, you won't regret it. It's well worth the effort!

But there's more. Study for the Extra Class, so that you can gain some more operating space in some prime DX-working areas on some bands. And, you can apply for one of these nice short custom callsigns. There are other benefits to having Extra class as well.

So, let's get you going here!

Ham Radio Classes

There are several ways you can study to get your ham license or to upgrade. You can always buy some tapes and books and do it by yourself, or you can take classes.

Some classes are offered free, or at least low-cost, by some of the local radio clubs. You will have to buy the books or study guides they will use. Many classes are somewhat informal, and taught by volunteers who do it just through the love of ham radio. You have many opportunities to have them explain the material in more detail for you and ask questions.

There are commercial classes as well, and the fees can range up to $200 for a cram-weekend. They usually guarantee that you will pass your exam, but you should understand that they will teach you ONLY what you need to know to pass the exam, and you may not be able to ask many questions in the class that aren't relevant to the material you need for that exam element. The result is that classes like this crank out hams that are ignorant in many topics, like the differences between antenna types, what conditions are like on the different VHF and UHF bands, etc. It's embarrassing to get on the air and ask some of these questions. (I've helped out several hams who went to such classes.)

Self Study

If you want to study on your own, here are some of my recommendations.

There are complete study kits containing books and cassette tapes, and sometimes diskettes or CDROMs with programs for your computer. You can also purchase many of these items separately.

I used a study guide published by the ARRL. There are several good books from other places. You need a book to see the graphs and drawings that help explain some concepts.

Theory tapes can be real good. Gordon West's Radio School puts out some excellent ones. Many ham radio stores sell them. You can listen to them while driving in your car, working in your garage, taking a long plane trip, boring meetings at work, or whatever.

I found a story about an 8-year old kid who made it to Extra Class. The article tells how they studied for it too. Although the code test is not a serious concern anymore, the theory test is still just as challenging as ever. They used several good techniques for breaking down the material and had a study plan all worked out.

It is a simple and somewhat sad fact that it's very possible to pass a ham exam without knowing anything about the theory behind the questions. Some ham classes concentrate on that: the object is to pass the exam, not necessarily to learn anything.

Here's how easy it is to pass something without learning a thing. Take question element E5H in the Extra Class exam. You only need to remember the word Thevenin, and to solve any of the questions for it, V2 will always be less than V1, and R3 will always be less than the smaller of R1 or R2! That's it, no calculations, and you've just aced one question that will be in your exam. See for yourself if you want.

There are similar shortcuts in other elements for this exam and those for Technician and General. My personal recommendation is to at least try to learn the underlying material. Then you can answer it no matter which questions you get.

Take a Sample Test Online!

Here are some places where you can try a sample written exam online.
See if you're prepared for it. Avoid the embarrassment of failing in front of a bunch of people. Then on the day of the test, go confidently into that exam room, look those alert and suspicious volunteer examiners calmly in the eye and pass that sucker!

When I did my most recent upgrade, some of the little things that are different from the practice were just slightly unnerving. When you take your practice exams online, they look something like this:

17.  E7C06 What value capacitor would be required to tune a 20-microhenry inductor to resonate in the 80-meter band?
A. 150 picofarads
B. 100 picofarads
C. 200 picofarads
D. 100 microfarads

But when you go to take the test for real, the test sheet must not be marked in any way, and you have to use your pencil to fill in a circle on the answer sheet in one of four circles going horizontally, where the top of the column is labeled A, B, C, or D. And the test sheet does not identify the specific question (E7C06 in this case). And they can mix up the answers!
17. What value capacitor would be required to tune a 20-microhenry inductor to resonate in the 80-meter band?
A. 150 picofarads
B. 100 microfarads
C. 200 picofarads
D. 100 picofarads
    A   B   C   D

17. O   O   O   O

Of course we all know how to calculate this one. 80 meters + 20 microhenrys = 100 picofarads.

Also, be aware that no online practice will be quite as tense as the real thing with those guys over there all watching you like a hawk!

Back to Ham Exams Page

Dave Bartholomew
Copyright © 1997-2001 David G. Bartholomew, AD7DB.
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