Becoming a HAM
Even though a ham radio, also known as amateur radio is easy to operate, it requires a license that allows users to transmit on a ham radio. The current license classes are; Technician, General, and Extra. There are a few legacy license classes such as Novice, Tech Plus, and Advanced, but they are no longer issued. Ham radio licenses are progressive. In other words, the Technician license is required before you can upgrade to General, and a General license is required in order to upgrade to Extra.
1. Technician class license
The Technician class license allows all amateur privileges above 50 MHZ, voice and data on a small portion of the 10 meter band, and the transmission of Morse code on some HF bands below 30 MHz.
If you are a first-time amateur radio service user, you must go for the Technician license first. You cannot skip over this step and go straight to the General license or Extra license. Many people just obtain the FCC Technician’s license and stick with it for a while. Depending on your personal needs, some may not find it necessary to get General or Extra class certification.
2. General class license
The General class license adds access to the HF bands and lower frequencies, which is commonly used for worldwide communications.
Since you are moving up in FCC privileges, the General class license for amateur radio is a little harder. You get to operate on new additional frequencies and transmit at a higher power level as well. We’re talking about up to 1,500 watts!
3. Extra Class License
The Amateur Extra class is the highest level for an amateur radio user. Expert Morse code operators use this license. This provides you access to new segments on the HF bands.
Studying for the exam
Just like with any other exam, you need to study. Getting a ham radio license is easy, but you must study for the exams. In general, studying will take about 10 hours.
There are numerous ways to study for the exams. The best way is to attend a class with other prospective ham radio operators. The Norwood Amateur Radio Club and EMARG VE team highly recommends the classes offered by Ross Hochstrasser in Whitman Mass. Ross and his team cycle between the Technician, General and Extra class license classes. His classes are usually held at the Whitman Police Department training room and meet weekly for 5 to 8 weeks. Each of the classes culminate with a VE Testing Session provided by the Eastern Mass Amateur Radio Group VE Testing Team. Pass rates for people attending Ross’s classes are outstanding! Ross’s contact information can be found at the bottom of this post.
If you would prefer a highly successful web based self study program that is also highly recommended by the Norwood Amateur Radio Club and EMARG VE team, you should look into HamTestOnline™. Note that HamTestOnline™ does not administer the amateur radio exams, and the price for the course does not include the fee for taking the exam. Contact information can be found at the bottom of this post.
Finally, for a self study (book) solution, the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) offers study guides for all of the license classes. Note that the cost of the study guides is about the same as the cost of a HamTestOnline™ subscription. Links for the ARRL study guides can be found at the bottom of this post.
The first 2 elements of the FCC Amateur license (Technician and General) will each have 35 questions. The Amateur Extra license will have 50. In order to pass, you must have at least 74% correct on the amateur radio service test.
Use a free online testing tool like the one at https://www.hamradiolicenseexam.com/ or https://hamexam.org to get an idea on if you are ready for the real thing. If you are seeing consistent 85% or better pass rates, you are probably ready.
ham radio license faqs
What questions will I see on the Amateur ham radio license exam?
Just like a driver’s exam, it’s hard to know what exactly which questions will be asked of you during your ham radio license exam. The ARRL website contains the entire question pool for each of the exam elements. The questions are word for word what you will see on the exam. However, and this is very important, the multiple choice answers to each of the questions although word for word are not in the same order they will appear on the test. In other words, don’t try to memorize that answer ‘A, B, C, or D’ is how it will appear on your exam. Again, and I can’t stress this enough, you must study to increase your chances of passing.
Most if not all of the questions on the exams are multiple-choice.
Some common questions in FCC licensing exams include:
Which agency regulates and enforces the rules for the Amateur Radio Service in the United States?
When is an amateur station required to transmit its assigned call sign?
You will see these questions combined with many other ones about frequencies and more.
How to take the exam
Exam sessions for FCC radio licenses shouldn’t take too long since there are only 35-50 questions (depending on which license class you are testing for). When you pass, you will receive your FCC ham radio license online.
Remember to get your FCC Registration Number (FRN) from the FCC website before you sign up to take a test.
The testing fee you pay (currently $15.00) is for the entire session. If you pass the Technician exam, you may try the General. If you pass the General, you can try the Extra. There is no additional cost. Re-takes of any failed test will incur an additional cost (currently $15.00).
The Eastern Mass Amateur Radio Group holds monthly testing sessions in Mansfield Mass where you can take any license class test at night, during the week.
To find additional testing sessions in your area, you can go to the ARRL website and search for upcoming testing sessions.
how to get your ham radio license
Finally, how do you get your ham radio license in your hands? You will know the good or bad news right on the day. When you pass, the volunteer examiners will hand you a signed document (CSCE) telling you where to go to download your license from the FCC. It normally takes 3 or 4 days for the ARRL to process and enter it into the FCC database.
For those who start with the Technician exam, you will have to wait to transmit until your license (and callsign) show up in the FCC database.
If you already have a callsign, and have passed the General exam, you can immediately transmit on the new bands and frequencies by appending /AG to your callsign when you ID. For example, KC1XYZ/AG.
If you already have a callsign, and have passed the Extra exam, you can immediately transmit on the new bands and frequencies by appending /AE to your callsign when you ID. For example, KC1XYZ/AE
Once you get your license, it is good for ten years.
Is the Ham Radio License Expensive?
At this time, The ham radio license itself is free. The testing fee is currently $15.00 which covers all the processing and registration into the FCC database by the ARRL.
Is it Hard to Get a Ham Radio License?
Choose the study method that works best for you, be it an in person class, online training program, or book.
Study and take some online practice exams. You should be getting consistent 80 to 85 percent passing scores on the practice exams.
Locate a VE testing session that is convenient for you. I recommend the sessions provided by the Eastern Mass Amateur Radio Group. You can find a comprehensive list of sessions on the arrl website.
Although the Eastern Mass Amateur Radio Group sessions do not require any sort of pre-registration or reservations, many other groups do. If you use one of them, follow their instructions to reserve a spot.
Before attending the VE session, make sure you get your FCC registration number, (FRN), from the FCC website and bring a copy to the VE session.
Be sure to bring your drivers license, or any other government issued photo ID with you to the VE session
If you are upgrading your license, make sure you bring a copy of your current amateur radio license and copies of any CSCE’s you have earned that are not reflected on your current license.
Bring $15.00 in either cash or check to pay for your test(s). Most VE testing groups can not accept credit or debit cards, paypal, venmo or bitcoin.
There are either 35-50 questions, which also shouldn’t take too much time out of your day. You will know if you passed right on the spot and be able to download your license shortly after. The process is quite straightforward and easy.
contacts and resources
Ross A. Hochstrasser, W1EKG – (781) 447-9104 – firstname.lastname@example.org
HamTestOnline – https://www.hamradiolicenseexam.com
ARRL Study Guides – http://www/arrl.org/shop/Licensing-and-Education/
Eastern Mass Amateur Radio Group – http://www.emarg.org
Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) – http://www.arrl.org