A friend of mine recently noticed my call sign license plates and backpack patch and asked, “Are you a ham radio guy?” When I answered yes, he said, “I’ve always wanted to get in to that.”His response reminded me of myself in the not-too-distant past. I was in exactly the same boat for a long time. For years and years, I would stop at the local State Fair and talk to the guys at the booth from the local ham radio club. I’d pick up the brochures, and look at the radios on display and say ‘someday’…
What kept me from actually doing it? A lot of things, actually. Raising a family, lack of funds, apprehension over learning Morse code (news flash: it’s no longer required) and a lot of fear of the unknown. If any or all of these symptoms sound like you, let me encourage you that you can do it! Join the ranks of the licensed amateur radio operators of the world. I promise you that if you get in to the hobby, you will be amazed at just how wide, diverse and varied the world of ham radio can be. There’s no better time in my opinion to get it done. As the title says, “Do it now!”
How and why did I (finally) get started? Well, I was reading a blog about emergency preparedness (prepping) and heard about the $35 Chinese handheld radios that were getting so popular. I decided that since I could afford that much of an investment, and since I no longer had to learn Morse code, I would git ‘r’ done once and for all. There are a lot of ways to learn the license material. I can’t tell you what will work best for you. I can just tell you what I did. Your mileage may vary.
First off, know that there are currently 3 levels of amateur radio license exams: Technician, General, and Amateur Extra. The questions for all the exams are taken from a published pool of questions. If you take enough practice exams, or study flash cards, you will eventually see all of the questions and there won’t be any surprises on the exam! I don’t recommend trying to memorize the questions and answers. That’s just like trying to cram for an exam without actually learning the material. After all, if you’re going to spend time enjoying your new hobby, it’s to your benefit to learn as much as you can about it, not just memorize answers and regurgitate them on the test.
OK, let’s get to studying. For the technician level, I almost exclusively used hamstudy.org.This website worked very well for me. set yourself up there with a free account, and track your progress! HamStudy.org has a great system of flash cards that help you not only see all the questions, but explain the right answers for you. After you’ve studied the flash cards for awhile, take a practice exam and see how you do. You might be surprised at how well you do!
Another great site is qrz.com. You can take practice exams here as well as look up information about the ham radio operators you encounter. I took a lot of practice tests here when I was studying for the Extra class exam. My instructor told us that when you can go to qrz.com and consistently pass exams with a score of 85% or better, you are ready to take the actual exam.
One more online exam site I’ll mention is HamTestOnline. In order to use this site for full lessons and studying, there is a fee, but there are no fees to just take practice exams. I have to say, though, that the fee seems quite reasonable, and I have considered purchasing a subscription to this site for friends of mine as Christmas gifts…
OK, you’re reading over all this material, and you are perhaps struggling a little bit trying to grasp a particular subject. What helped me immensely in this regard was to head over to Dave Casler’s site. Dave does an amazing job of explaining the material in a way that makes it easy to understand. More than once when watching on of his videos, I had an “AHA” moment as something I had been reading about suddenly made sense to me. Look over the rest of his website as well. There’s some great stuff there.
OK, enough reading here. Get out there and dive in to the material! Once you are doing well with practice exams, you’re ready to test for real. I’ll talk about that in a future blog post.