About taking the amateur license exams . . .


Preparation: the key to success.  If you ask someone how long it takes to study for the exams, you are liable to get a host of different replies. One month, two months, six months.  Hey, if it took you six months to prepare for a fundamental class license exam, I hope you passed!  Most would probably say one to two months.  My experience: I had a week off for Christmas and nabbed a couple of introductory books; after reading both, I was ready for the exam in two weeks.  I was also able to track down a copy of CQ's video Ham Radio Horizons, which was good introductory material.  I passed both the Novice and Technician elements without flinching.

Suggested preparation resources:

  • This web-based tutorial.  Other resources, such as books and videos, can be purchased at ARRL and Radio Shack.  To study code, you can purchase audio tapes to help you along the way.
  • Find an elmer: an experienced ham, preferably of higher license, who is willing to help you along the way.  They can be very helpful to your cause.  If you can, get your elmer or another ham pal to lend you a radio FOR LISTENING ONLY while you are preparing for your exam.  That way, you'll be well prepared to ragchew by the time that you get that ticket.

Use this site to locate an elmer near you.

  • Check out the exam questions: most old-time hams think that this is a sham, but this generation of newcomers has access to the question pools for all of the amateur radio license exam elements.  The way I see it, as long as you are truly learning the material, SO WHAT - use whatever means are available to arrive at the end!  Study them well.  Since they are public domain, we have them right here on this site:

Novice and Technician Exam Question Pools

  • Take practice examinations: this site doesn't have them, but the least I can do is provide you a link to web-based practice exams.  You must get at least 70% correct to pass both the practice and actual written exams.  After thoroughly studying this tutorial, you should have no problem accomplishing that.  Visit either one of these great sites:

AA9PW's Test Site

Ham Exam Version 2


  • If you need more information, I suggest purchasing a book that you can keep and reference when needed.  Check out Amazon:
Search: Enter keywords...

Amazon.com logo

Amazon has over 200 books addressing ham radio.  A great selection, and anything purchased is usually delivered to your doorstep within three days.


The first thing you'll have to do is find out where a test is going to be given near you.  You can accomplish this simply by checking out the ARRL site:


Just plug in your state/country or zip code; the query will return a number of locations, dates, times, and contacts for tests given in or near your area for the next 3-4 months.  You probably won't have to drive more than 30 minutes out of your way.


  • A calculator - there is a good possibility that you will run into a question or two requiring its use.  I messed up by not bringing mine.
  • A driver's license or other form of ID with your picture on it.
  • Your FCC Amateur Radio License hard copy or proof of examination completion, if you are upgrading to another level.
  • A pencil and pen, just in case the VE's forget.
  • A little money for an exam fee.


When you get there, you will be greeted by some volunteer examiners which will instruct you on what to do next.  At least three are required to be present for the exam; all are required to be at least Advanced class-licensed.  Count on having to do the following:

  • Fill out a Form 610, the FCC License Request form - it will probably take you less than five minutes.
  • Pay a nominal fee to your volunteer examination staff.   At the time that this was written, the maximum allowable fee was $6.45.  The FCC allows this fee to cover the cost of the materials that must be provided for the exams.  Lesson learned: bring exact change, if you find out ahead of time how much the test fee is.  My volunteer examiner laughed in my face when I pulled out a $20 bill to pay my $6.45 test fee.  At that point, I felt like I wasn't off to a very good start, but I survived.
  • Spend anywhere from one to two hours taking the Technician and Novice element exams.
  • Being very quite - try not to get engaged in interesting conversation - you may interrupt others taking there exams, and will surely be bombarded by an onslaught of your basic library "SHHHHH's" from the examiners (another lesson learned).

Depending on your test-taking abilities and how well prepared you are, the Novice and Technician elements take anywhere from 15 - 45 minutes each to complete.  But don't worry, you will be given as much time as you need to complete the exam.


Rule #1: Don't be nervous.  That's the worst thing you could do.  This isn't like taking a test at school.  If you flub this one up, you can take it again with no repercussions.  But you won't, so I'm not going to put that idea into your head. 

Rule #2: You have paid your way for the day.  You can keep taking exams until you flunk one.  You'll find out on the spot which elements were passed, so if you feel froggy, take the next exam (i.e. if you just passed the Technician element, go ahead and take the General element).  After passing the Tech elements, I took the General License written element.  I failed it miserably, but I took it.  You have nothing to lose, and who knows, you may pass a test that you haven't even studied for.  At least you'll get an idea of what the next level test is like.  And you will be given proof of completion for all exams passed, so even if you don't complete all criteria of the next license class, you can complete the remainder later on.

Also, visit this site - it is helpful:

15 Tips to Passing the FCC Amateur Radio Exams

By (the late) Larry R. Luchi, W7KZE


The examiners will file your test results with the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania office in short order - they can even file electronically now.   Whereas it takes a week or two for license processing now, it used to take at least 90 days or longer until you found out what your callsign was. 

And as soon as you get your callsign, you can start transmitting.  Just don't run anyone over getting to ham supply store to get your gear.  I had my callsign within a week of taking the exam.  After taking the exams, you can use one of the following sites to find out if your callsign has been generated:

You will be getting your hard copy license in the mail within 1 to 1 1/2 months (depending on amount of database backlogging by the FCC).   Remember, this is a government institution, so be patient.


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