A careful review of the previous year's log before a contest can help you in a number of ways. In addition to revealing a scoring target to beat, it can be helpful to make a list of the Top 10-15 actions you could have taken to improve your score that year and place it in front of you as a reminder for this year's contest.
Even though there seems to be a focus on the "band edges," don't be afraid to use the high end of the bands as well. In one hour during a run in the 1992 CQ WW SSB Contest, I had HS, 8Q7, 4S7, TL8, and 9K call me while operating on 14318 kHz!
Avoid the temptation of diving directly into a pileup after first hearing the frenzy. Take the time, especially when using a smaller station, to listen to the operating style of a needed multiplier before calling. Adding a planned delay of two or three QSOs to learn the DX STATION'S techniques will usually reduce the time needed to get him into YOUR log.
I'm sure you recall the technique entered during a contest when you are "looking for multipliers?" As you tune up and down the bands, don't forget to call ANY needed station -- even if he's not a new multiplier. Maybe I'm the only guy who does this (although I doubt it), but it is easy to get into multiplier mode and skip calling the easily workable stations. The extra effort could mean an additional 20-30 QSOs in your log!
This may sound like common sense, but it's worth a try. When calling in a big CW pileup, don't be afraid to move your transmit frequency a little off the center of the chaos. If you put yourselves in the shoes of the DX station, it begins to make sense. Except from the biggest stations or rare propagation advantages, brute force calling almost never pays off!
How's your Spanish? If you are like me, you know most of the numbers and can "fake" your callsign. With that knowledge, you can be amazingly effective at calling CQ with the beam South during slow hours and work an remarkable number of casual QSOs (and passable mults) to the South. Try it ... as of late, it's never been better!
Does the physical size of your QTH limit you from erecting 500+ foot beverages? I have discovered that there are times when existing antennas can enhance receiving quality on 80 and 160 Meters. For example, try using your 40 meter antenna on 80 or 160 as a receive array. If stations are loud enough, improved signal-to-noise ratios can more than compensate for reduced signal strength levels and heighten your ability to copy low-band signals - - without a beverage!
Here's an idea for that 2nd VFO in your transceiver. When you're in "search and pounce" mode, try searching with both VFOs. While waiting to work one station on VFO "A", you can use that idle time to find another needed QSO with the second VFO. Try tuning up from the bottom with one and down from the top of the band with the other. If you are using a multi-band antenna, you can even try this technique across two different bands!
Improve your contest score by being aware of when you send unnecessary information during contest exchanges. CW examples include: Sending a leading "0 or T" in front of your single-digit CQ/ITU zone, ending a CQ with a "K", starting an exchange with "UR" 59905. SSB examples include: "QSL...QRZ," K1AR, "UR" 5905 "OVER," etc. If you think these illustrations are insignificant, trying sending "UR" on CW 200 or more times and imagine working stations during that same time period.
You will often find that rare DX does not want to be passed to another band. A last resort is to make a schedule with the station. The secret is to make multiple schedules with as many stations as reasonable for the same time/frequency. With 10-15 schedules arranged, the odds are good that two or three will actually show up, making the effort worthwhile. Nothing beats having a mini-pileup of multipliers calling you!
Maybe this is an idea that David Letterman (U.S. TV talk show host) stole from me. For years, before every contest, I compile a "Top-10" list of strategies/events that I executed well and those that needed improvement based on the previous year's contest. What's different is that I have begun saving them, compiling a multi-year set of lists. The "well-executed" list can be a source of encouragement, while the areas needing improvement gives you something to shoot for each time you operate. This technique can only improve your score!
Here's one for the multi-ops! Have you tried every filter technology known to man and still have interference between stations? Try looking outside for the source of your troubles. A long-standing inter-station QRM problem was recently fixed at K1EA's station by tightening the back stay hardware on one of Ken's 20 Meter yagis. The S-8 interference it had previously generated on 15 Meters went completely away!
Back to 1992