How to Become a Licensed Ham Radio Operator

BULLETIN: IT”S OFFICIAL! The Morse code requirement ended Friday, February 23, 2007. This means there is no need to take the Morse code exam since new licensees can begin operating once they have satisfied the written exam requirements and have been issued a call sign by the FCC. It applies to all license levels and permits even the lowest level operator privileges on the 40, 15 and 10 meter high frequency bands. That means anyone can enjoy the fun of making contact with other licensed operators (and even unlicensed people as long as a licensed operator is at the controls) world wide!

ATTENTION U of M STUDENTS: Copies of all the ARRL Amateur Radio License Manuals are available for overnight checkout at the 2nd floor Reserve desk in the Duderstadt Center (call numbers PC 10, 9 & 8). The most basic manual, PC 10, is an excellent place to start learning about and preparing for the FCC licensing requirements.

Obtaining a Ham license is really quite simple – If you can read (and especially if you are in school and taking exams on a regular basis) you should have no difficulty with the easy Technician exam. Many UMARC members have done so by following four easy steps:

  1. Read a recommended short “How To” book (see the Technician webpage)
  2. Scan the file (available from the Technician webpage) containing all test questions used to make up the exam
  3. Schedule the exam
  4. And take the short, multiple-choice exam

Some members have even skipped the “How To” book and simply studied the questions and answers. Either way, they’ve done it in a surprisingly short period of time (in as little as one evening of study). You can do so, too! Just review the following hints and then turn to the Technician page and study using the suggestions given there. Return to top

Who is eligible for a Ham license? – Almost anyone can be licensed as an amateur radio operator. You can be of any age, female or male, and a citizen or non-citizen of the United States. Special arrangements are provided during the exam for anyone with disabilites so they can easily become hams as well. About the only restriction is that a ham cannot be a representative of a foreign govenment. Return to top

Types of License Classes – The first thing to know is that there are currently three levels (or classes) of amateur radio operator licences that one can presently obtain. In ascending order they are:

  • Technician Class
  • General Class
  • Extra Class

You will meet other Hams who have Novice, Technician Plus, Technician with Code and Advanced licenses, but they are no longer awarded.

Each level has an exam associated with it and the requirements for each level include satisfactory completion of all requirements for lower levels, i.e., you must qualify for the Technician license before the General, and the General before the Extra. Note this does not mean you cannot take more than one exam during one exam session. The only requiremetn is you must successfully pass each lower level exam before you will be premitted to take the higher level one.

As you might guess, higher class levels entitle you to greater operating privileges, privileges such as additional frequency bands and more operating modes. As you venture into Ham radio you’ll soon learn that there are decided advantages to the higher levels, but even with only a technician class license you can have all sorts of fun and it is an excellent way to begin learning the more intricate aspects of Ham radio. Return to top

The FCC Exam – The questions on the exams are selected from the list of multiple-choice questions provided on the Technician, General and Extra pages referenced on this website. The Technician exam you will be asked to complete will contain 35 questions, the General 35 questions and the Extra 50. To pass, you must correctly answer at least 26, 26 and 37 questions, respectively. The questions are organized into a number of supplements (topics), each contains a number of groups (subtopics). There are at least ten questions associated with each group and one question from each group is randomly included on the exam.

For easy study reference, the questions are numbered to show the groupings, for example question number T1A04 is for a Technician (T) question from the 1st Supplement (1), Group (A) and the 4th Question (04). Return to top

How to Prepare – As stated in the “Obtaining a license is really quite simple” paragraph above there are several no-work approaches to studying for your license, especially the Technician and possibly the General license.

  • The easiest method, that is if you’re good at taking exams, is to read through the questions a few times and then simply take the exam. But even if you decide to do more, the following are some hints that will help improve your final score:
    • Many of the questions have one, or sometimes two, obviously incorrect answers that can be recognized by applying a little common sense. Eliminate them from further consideration.
    • Two choices differing in only one small detail often is a clue that one of them is the correct choice. If you have no other idea as to which of the four choices is correct, guess that it’s one of the similar ones.
    • Use logic where possible. Even if you know very little about a subject, there is often a reasonable choice.
    • Unfortuanately some answers simply require memorization. (This is a good reason to study the “How To” book since studying makes things much more understandable–but of course you know that.) As you study the questions, make a list of the ones requiring memorization and concentrate on them. The list may not be as long as you might think. And look for memory ‘tricks.’
    • As you study the questions read all four choices – As you progress you will become smarter and answers that at first seem obviously wrong may no longer be so obvious. Knowing what’s wrong as well as what’s correct improves making a correct choice.
    • Do not memorize the position of the four choices, although the text of each choice will always be exactly the same as written in the printed lists, the order of the choices will be different on the exam.
    • If you have no idea of which of the four choices to make, guess. There is no extra penalty for an incorrect answer.
  • A better way is to supplement your study with one of the excellent self-study books (You’ll find references to these on the Technical, General and Extra class license pages.)
  • Don’t be afraid to seek the help from a mentor (Hams call them Elmers) from either UMARC or ARROW. You’ll find Hams a friendly lot, always glad to help someone. The ARROW Elmer program will be found at the ARROW Elmering website.
  • To learn more about Ham radio aimed at the material needed to pass the license exams, and arguably the most conducive to learning and ultimately becoming a good Ham, you can enroll in an ARROW license course in Ann Arbor or at other Michigan locations. (Information on the Ann Arbor courses can be found by clicking on ARROW Classes website, and to find other locations, going to the ARRL Classes website.)

And above all, don’t be afraid to surf the Internet. You’ll find all sorts of information and help. The best palce to start is by clicking on the National (ARRL) and Ann Arbor (ARROW) website links found at the top of the lefthand column on this page. If you search long enough you will find almost everything we cover (and in more depth) in this and the following pages of this website. Return to top

Study Resources – There’s a wealth of information available to help you in your quest to learn more about amateur radio, most of it on the Internet. Listed below are references to a few of these resources. You’ll also find links to these resources in the right-hand column of this page. As you reach some of them you’ll see links to other resources. Make use of these additional links to pursue whatever interests that strikes your fancy. It’s an excellent way to increase your knowledge about Ham radio.

Books & Courses


Digital Modes

  • Echolink – Using Echolink is good place to start your Ham experience. (Ask one of the UMARC members, many use Echolink and can help you get started.)
  • PSK31 Home Page – Contains a wealth of information about PSK-31, one of the most popular HF digital modes these days.

More links to come – return often

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Where to take the Exam – When you are ready to take the FCC license exam it will be administered by Hams who have been qualified as Volunteer Examiners (VEs) by a Volunteer Examiner Coordinator (VEC) who, in turn, are approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The exams are given locally by the ARROW Club and also at various Hamfests and Ham Conventions.

The ARROW exams are usually conducted on the second Saturday of the month at the Washtenaw County Red Cross, 4624 Packard Road, Ann Arbor, MI. Preregistration is required. To arrange an appointment contact Mark Goodwin – W8FSA (734-994-0730) at least one week prior to the test session. For the latest information go to the ARROW Testing page. Be certain to obtain the following information when you register:

  • The nominal fee (The exact amount in cash please)
  • The sort of identification required
  • What to bring with you (pencils,
  • The time to appear
  • And the location of the testing site.

Remember, the VEs are volunteers who give generously of their time, so please be prompt and only register when you are certain you will keep the appointment.

If you prefer to take the exam at some other time or location, consult the ARRL Exam Sessions and Hamfests & Conventions pages. Sometimes one of these contains a location nearby.

And don’t forget the special one-day classes offered at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, which also includes the Tech exam at the end of the day.

But whenever and wherever you choose to take the exam, UMARC wishes you “Good Luck and many happy years with the amateur radio hobby.” Return to top

Now that you have an idea of what the testing procedure is, please turn to the “Tech Exam” page to begin preparing for the Technician license exam.

Go Blue!

73 de W8UM

Last updated: 1/12/16

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