Reference: Ham Radio License Study

Ham Radio License Study

by Mark Forbes, January 2002

There are several different resources for the ham radio license exam, and I’ll give you my opinions of them.

First, there are printed study guides and audio tapes. Don’t use an old study guide from your buddy; they revised the tests extensively in the last couple of years, and the question pools are different now. For a good selection, check out Ham Radio Outlet (on Hwy 99 in Portland, between 217 and I-5 across the parking lot from Arby’s). They’re on the web at

A book’s probably a good idea, but as I’ll show you later, you can get to all the official rules and the question pool on the Net. As far as the tapes go, I’d pass; the ones I’ve heard sound like they were narrated by a Mr. Rogers clone smoking Brylcreem-laced hashish. Putrescent, excreable, intolerable…I survived about six minutes of the first tape. Gaack.

These same nice people will also sell you software tools to learn the test material, but it’s produced by the same clueless clowns so I wouldn’t expect much better. And they want *money*, which would be better spent on a new radio or spare batteries. Free is better.

The Net turns out to be a better place for learning, in my opinion. Here you can find a variety of sample exams that you can take over and over until you’ve got all the questions and answers memorized. The way the real exam works is that there’s a question pool (200 or so?) from which they select a random 30-ish questions that go on your exam. Learn the answers to 70% of the question pool, and you’ve got it aced. You don’t need to be perfect; no brownie points for getting anything over a passing score.

Here are some pointers to exams and the question pool: (question pool, FCC rules)

In case you’ve got some burning desire to learn Morse Code, here’s a link:

For the sort of radio communication we do, a Technician license is all you need, and you do NOT need to learn Morse Code. It’s only useful if you’re going to operate on a few low frequency bands where that’s common. We don’t need it at all. The higher licenses give you more frequency privileges in the lower bands, but we’re just doing this to get legal for flying, so it doesn’t matter to us. A call sign is a call sign, as far as we care.

A lot of amateur radio seems to be focused on radio-as-a-hobby, while we’re really interested in radio-as-a-utility. Strangely enough, I can’t think of any activity that actually *uses* ham radio for something useful, more than ours. We’re just not into jabbering for jabbering’s sake, at least mostly.

So here’s what you do: get a book (Radio Shack has one too, I think) and read through it to get the general idea of the stuff you need to know. If you’re really cheap, just surf over to the FCC rules link and print out the stuff there. Fire up the old ‘puter and take one of the on-line exams, or download one of the runs-on-your-machine exam programs. Take the exam repeatedly until you’re passing it every time. Go and take the "real" exam, and get your license issued. Many of the links above also have search boxes where you can find a local exam that’s upcoming.

For most folks, it’ll take about a week of after-work sessions with the test software before you’ve got it nailed. Lots of the questions are pretty simple, and you can even guess the right answer without studying. Just for fun, go take a practice exam "cold" and see how well you do…chances are good you’ll probably score 30-40% right off, and that’s halfway to passing!