Getting Started in Amateur Radio

Amateur Radio is a worldwide network of people united by a common interest in wireless communications. There are nearly 700,000 licensed Amateur Radio operators in the United States and nearly three million people around the world who call themselves “hams.”
The most powerful and versatile communication service available to the private citizen anywhere on Earth —or even above it, is the Amateur Radio Service.

Being an amateur radio operator is a fun and a very rewarding hobby. In the US, you start with an “Amateur Technician Class” license issued by the FCC after passing a basic test. Enjoy clear 2-way FM communication using repeaters, in some cases hundreds of miles away, or around the world with an inexpensive hotspot and portable radio. You may even talk to astronauts on the International Space Station. Ham radios are often used during disasters or other emergencies and for many special events, such as the Boston Marathon. Join us!

Step One

It takes a bit of commitment to study and pass the exam, so you need to understand your own personal motivation to succeed.Some hams have specific objectives related to emergency teams, search and rescue, Skywarn weather spotting, perhaps animal telemetry systems, or a general interest in radios and meeting new people with similar interests. 
No prior experience with radios, electronics, math, science or FCC regulations is required, but you will need to learn (or memorize) at least some of the basics in order to pass the exam.

Step Two

Find the dates, times, and locations of upcoming license exams in your area. MCARS tests on the second Thursday of each month except for December. We do accept walk-ins but prescheduling is prefered. Plan to take a test that is not less than three to four weeks away. This should provide enough time to prepare for the exam.Regardless of which type exam it is, if you have a disability, be sure to inform the contact person so that s/he may make arrangements to accommodate you for this test.

Furthermore, realize that the exam is not given by the FCC or its agents, but rather it administered by VE’s or “Volunteer Examiners”. The VE’s are hams that hold licenses that are at least one grade (up to Extra Class) higher than the test they are administering. VE’s are not compensated for their time and do this work for the benefit of the community and hobby.

A small fee (determined by the FCC) is collected by the VE to cover the costs of the testing materials, rental of testing space, etc. Ask for a list of items that will be expected of you to furnish on the exam date such as suitable forms of ID, etc. Some clubs offer monthly exams. Others might only offer exams annually or when there are enough requests.

Step Three

Obtain the latest test question pool for Technician Class examination. Download from the National Conference of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators or elsewhere online, or purchase a softcover copy from your local radio supplier or bookstore. Make sure the book contains the current “Technician Question Pool”, because they are updated every four years. The current pool as of this writing for Technician exams should be identified for use during the period between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2022. Print out the pool questions if there isn’t an electronic device available for use when you have the opportunity to study. If the test date chosen falls after the current test question pool expires, ask which pool the test will be based upon.There are also many online apps you can download to help you study and even take practice exams.

Step Four

Prepare for what is expected. The test itself is highly structured. It consists of 35 questions, selected from each topic area, and is a multiple choice format. The questions come from the pool of about 424 questions. Each question has four possible answers. Only one answer however, is correct. A passing score requires that 26 of the 35 questions be answered correctly. The question pool (downloaded or purchased in book form) lists every approved question and all four possible answers for each question, word for word. Study the question pool to prepare for the test. Pool questions describe the correct answer letter in a “key” at the top of the question. Read the question. Review the answers and select the answer that you feel is correct. Check your selection against the answer provided in the key. Highlight the correct answer (or strike through each of the three incorrect answers). As mentioned above, the actual exam poses the questions and answers “word for word” as the pool questions. The only difference is the order of the questions and the answer choices. Do NOT try to learn by associating a question number to an answer letter: “question 46 is answer b, question 211 is answer d” and so on. After highlighting the correct answers, during subsequent reviews, read the question and only the highlighted answer. Do not read the incorrect answers. This will assist associating the correct answer with each question.

Dedicate time each day reading the questions and only the correct answers. Studying twenty to 30 minutes once or twice a day should be sufficient preparation an exam that is 3 or 4 weeks away.

Take practice examinations online or in a downloaded app. It’s free and an excellent method to determine if you’re ready for the test. Some exam sites to check out: http://www.aa9pw.com/radio/ (look for the technician Exam link on the left side), http://www.radioexam.org (tests you section by section), http://www.eham.net/exams/ and http://www.qrz.com/testing.html. The QRZ site exam gives INSTANT feedback as you answer each question. Try them all and use those you like best. When able to score 80% or better CONSISTENTLY, you are ready. If you can’t score 80% or better, either wait until you can, or take the exam as practice anyway. This will let you know what it is like when you are ready. Who knows, you might just pass!

Step Five

Contact the VE (Volunteer Examiner) giving the test a few days before the scheduled exam. Use this opportunity to verify location, time, etc. of the exam. Make sure the VE’s have been able to accommodate any disabilities you informed them of in the first contact with them weeks ago.

Step Six

Take the exam. Bring the required documents (identification and any certificates if upgrading) and exam fee to the session. As of this writing (2020), the exam fee is $15 (fee may vary from VEC so it’s also best to ask the VE what the fee is to confirm a exact amount).If you fail, you can take the test again right away – no need to wait for the next exam session. A second testing fee may be required, however. If you miss it by more than a couple questions – it might be best to study a bit more before retesting.

You may also want to be prepared to take the General Exam, which may be offered to you immediately after you pass the Technician Exam. Some examiners allow you to take Technician, General and Extra examinations at one sitting, with one fee.

You will be notified by email (or by letter, if you have arranged that with the VE) when your license and callsign have been issued. Print out a copy and keep it in your possession to show you are now a licensed ham.

Step Seven

CONGRATULATIONS!!! 
See you on the air.