Guide To Passing Amateur Radio Exams

Original ©1992-3 Andrew R. Funk
Updates © 2013 Andrew R. Funk

This was developed between 1992 and 1993, and is signinficantly out of date in some respects, but the overall concepts are still valid. I may completely update the guide at some point, but don't hold your breath… Howver there are a few adjustments, indicated below with [2013 kb7uv]. And while it’s written for people trying to get their “ham” radio license in the USA, the principles apply to most, if not all, multiple-choice exams.


Everyone getting involved with Amateur Radio is advised to read the book “Now You're Talking!” [No longer in print - replaced by the Ham Radio License Manual published by the ARRL. 2013 kb7uv]   Even experienced “hams” are advised to pick up a copy of this book and go through it.

There you will find the question pools (complete with correct answers) for both the Novice and Technician Amateur Radio examinations[2013 kb7uv]  “Now You're Talking!” The Ham Radio License Manual [2013 kb7uv] explains the radio theory, regulations and operating practices you will need to know—not just to pass the test but also to make your Amateur Radio experiences much more enjoyable and rewarding.

“Now You're Talking!” is published by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL).  It is available directly from the ARRL (203–666–1541) and at most Radio Shack stores. [2013 kb7uv] 

All Amateur Radio tests are given by volunteers.  Exams for Technician and higher class licenses are given at scheduled Volunteer Examination (VE) sessions by certified Volunteer Examiners.

Don't think that this means the examinations aren't well run, however!  VEs take pride in their exam sessions.  Improprieties are not tolerated.  You will find your examiners to be courteous, and the examinations administered professionally.

Before You Take The Test

Make a “non-cheating, cheat sheet” of all the information you have found difficult to remember.  Bring it, and a blank sheet of paper, with you to the testing location.  Copy your “cheat sheet” over to the other paper while you are waiting to get your test.  The act of writing will help you remember the material, and doing it right before taking the test will keep it fresh in your memory.  Do not take either copy of the “cheat sheet” with you when you actually take the exam!  To avoid any appearance of actual cheating it is suggested you hand both copies of your “cheat sheet” to the examiners before they give you your test.  (In no way do I advocate dishonesty or cheating on Amateur Radio, or any, exams!)

The tests are relatively inexpensive.  If you have the chance, take the exam before you're really ready—just for the experience.  There will be no pressure, as you won't be expecting to pass, so you should feel very relaxed.  Who knows, you might even pass!  If not, when you take the test “for real” you will have already gone through the process, so you should be more relaxed (and do better) than if it were your first time. [I did this with the Amatuer Extra class theory exam, took the exam without specifically studying, just to get experience taking a VE-administered exam — and passed! 2013 kb7uv]

At The VE Session

Unless you are under time pressure, check the box for the “Amateur Extra” test where it asks you which exam you will be taking.  


The Amateur Extra exam is all–inclusive—it begins with the Novice Technician [2013 kb7uv] written test and goes on from there.  You will be able to take written tests as long as you keep passing, and will receive credit for each exam passed so you won't have to sit for that section again.  (Exam credit is valid for one year.)  When it comes time for the Morse code test they will begin at 20 words per minute (wpm), then go down to 13 wpm and finally end with 5 wpm.  With the code exam you stop taking tests once you pass, as passing a higher speed exam credits you for slower speeds.  As with the written exam you will receive credit for whatever speed you pass. [2013 kb7uv]

If you are technically inclined you may find that you have passed the theory required for the Advanced class license, but no Morse tests.  You will walk out with a Certificate of Successful Completion of Examination (CSCE) for the General and Advanced written exams, and will receive a Technician license from the FCC.  Or, if you are a Morse expert but not up on the theory, you may leave with a CSCE for 20 wpm and receive a Novice license from the FCC.  In either case, to upgrade to a higher license class all you will need is to pass the remaining elements for the license you desire (and present your CSCE). [2013 kb7uv]

Taking the Test

The moment of truth arrives—they hand you your test. Put down your pen and pencil. Also put down the test!  Close your eyes and take a deep breath...  Relax!  Remember, this is only a hobby. (Only a hobby...  Only a hobby...  Only a hobby...)

Take a moment to write down on your work paper as much of the material from your “cheat sheet” as you can.  This way it will be right in front of you, on paper, to refer to—without cheating!

Now pick up the test.  Read it fully, from beginning to end, before answering any of the questions.

It is quite likely that some of the questions will contain the answer for other questions.  By reading through the entire test, before answering any questions, you will easily be able to take advantage of this.

Also, the human mind does something similar to what computer engineers call “background processing.”  By reading all the questions your subconscious mind will start to work.  Because of this, when you do begin to answer the questions you will find many answers seem to just pop into your head, out of nowhere!

After you read through the entire test, go back to the beginning and start answering the questions.  If you can't immediately answer a question just skip it—go on to the next one.

When you've answered all the “easy ones” go back to the “toughies.”  See if some of the answers are obviously wrong, then make your best guess from the remaining choices.

If you have no idea at all pick “C.”  Why?  Well, it seemed to work in high school and college, and it'll probably work here, too!


Frequency and Wavelength

Many of the questions ask about frequency privileges for the Novice class license.  One simple formula, and a little common sense,  will help you answer these questions correctly.

The questions will ask for you to choose the Novice privileges on a given Amateur Radio band.  The band will be given in meters, a measure of wavelength, and the band segments will be given in kilohertz (kHz) or megahertz (MHz), a measure of frequency.  Two of the choices will be on a completely different band.  By getting a “ballpark” idea of the correct frequency for a given meter band you'll be able to eliminate two choices immediately.

There is an easy to remember relationship between frequency and wavelength:

 Frequency in MHz x Wavelength in Meters = 300

But who wants to remember a formula and use algebra to turn it into the form needed for a given problem?  Nope, there's an easier way to remember, and use, this formula.  Look at this circle: 

Frequency - Wavelength Circle

Not only is it easy to remember, it's easy to use.  Say you have the wavelength in meters and need to find the frequency.  Using the diagram, put your hand over what you are looking for, in this case the frequency in MHz.  What's left?  300/meters.  Divide 300 by the wavelength in meters and you will get the frequency in MHz.

If you have the frequency in MHz and are looking for the wavelength, cover meters in the circle and you'll have 300/MHz left.  Divide 300 by the frequency in MHz and you'll get the wavelength in meters.

Once you've narrowed the possible answers down to two choices you can use common sense to (usually) select the correct choice.  The Novice is the “lowest” class of license, so it stands to reason that Novices will have limited privileges.  Choose the smallest band segment and you will likely be correct. 

The 28 MHz (10 Meter), 220 MHz, and 1.2 GHz band questions are a bit more difficult.  While Novices are limited to Morse code (CW) on their other allocations, on these bands Novices have additional privileges.  It is advised you look over the actual allocations for these bands and try to commit them to memory.  (This is ideal material for you “cheat sheet!”)  [Still true but new Novice licenses are no longer being issued  2013 kb7uv]

That circle is an easy to use method of remembering the frequency—wavelength formula.  There are two more formulas that are needed to pass the Technician class exam.  These are known as Ohm's Law and the Power formula.

Ohm's Law

Ohm's Law relates voltage (E), current (I) and resistance (R).  The equation for Ohm's Law is:

 E = I x R

where E is the Voltage, in Volts (V); I is the current, in Amperes (A); and R is the resistance, in Ohms (Ω).  (The symbol for voltage in an eqation isn't “E” just to be confusing.  E stands for “electro–motive force,” which is another term for voltage.)

Yes, there is an easy to remember and use circle for this formula:


This circle is used the same way as the other circle: Cover what you need and what's left is the formula to use.  For example, say you have the voltage and the resistance, and need to determine the current.  Cover the “I” in the diagram (current), and what's left is E/R.  Divide the voltage (in Volts) by the Resistance (in Ohms, Ω) and you'll get the current in Amperes.  Using numbers, if you have an electrical circuit with 12 V across 6 Ω the current will be 12/6, or 2 A.

Power Formula

The Power formula is:

 P = E x I

where P is the power in Watts (W), E is the voltage in Volts (V), and I is the current in Amperes (A).

Here's the circle:

Power Formula circle

As with the other circles, cover the symbol of what you need and you'll see the formula to use.

For example, how much current flows through a 60 W lightbulb when plugged into a 120 V electrical outlet?  Cover the I in the circle any you'll see that the formula is P/E, the power in Watts divided by the voltage in Volts.  So, divide 60 W by 120 V  (60/120) and you'll get the answer of ½, or 0.5 A.


Electrical values, such as Volts, Amperes, Ohms, etc., are metric units.  This isn't very important by itself, but as metric units there are prefixes which are used to indicate different size units.  For example, the prefix milli-  means thousandths, so 1 milliampere (1 mA) is one–thousandth of an Ampere (.001 A). 

Here's a chart with some common prefixes you will run into:

Prefix Symbol Power of 10 Multiplication Factor
giga G 109 1,000,000,000
mega M 106 1,000,000
kilo k 103 1,000
milli m 10-3 0.001
micro μ 10-6 0.000001
nano n 10-9 0.000000001
pico p 10-12 0.000000000001

© 2014 Andrew R. Funk   ·   Pease see Site and Contact Info