From books, to Youtube videos, to online classes, there is a lot of information out there. So how do you make sense of it all and finally get your license? It’s easier than you think. Follow these 3 steps to finally get your license and get started in ham radio.
In this article:
Step 1: Choose the Level of License
There are three classes of licenses that are offered by the FCC (The Federal Communications Commission, the branch of government that controls ham radio licenses). You have to pass a test for each level, and you have to start at Technician and advance upward.
If you’re new to ham radio, then you have to pass the Technician License first. You can take the General License test the same day without any extra fee, if you’re feeling confident. It really depends on how to plan to use amateur radio. To find out which level of license will best suit your needs, check out our post on the Technician License vs. the General License.
Step 2: Study For The Exam
Now that you have decided which license is best for you, you need to start preparing for the test.
The entry level Technician License Exam requires around 10 hours of study for most people. The Technician and General License exams each have 35 questions, and the Amateur Extra has 50. In order to pass the each test, you must get at least a 74%. For Technician and General, this means you must get 26 questions right out of the 35 questions. When it comes to ham radio, you could say that “C’s are for degrees” (see our detailed guide on how many questions are on the ham radio license exams).
As far as study materials, there are free options as well as more premium paid options. Considering that study materials will greatly enhance your experience and actually teach you a lot about ham radio, most people decide to invest at least a small amount into study materials. Overall, we estimate that the Technician License will cost you $85 when you take into account the cost of study materials, the FCC license fee and the cost of actually taking the exam (see license cost article for full breakdown). Let’s take a look at some of the study options to get ready for the exam.
Take An Online Class
It’s now possible to learn everything you need in an online class from your phone, tablet, or computer. You also get nice bonuses like videos and exams that track where you’re having trouble. Since access to our online class never expires, you can also go back and reference the material at any time. Not sure if an online class is right for you? Try a free lesson and see if you can pass the sample questions directly from the real FCC test.
Some people prefer having study materials they can put their hands on – and we don’t blame them! If you prefer a book, we converted all of the knowledge we’ve acquired from running an online course into the book, The Ham Radio Prep Technician Class License Manual available on Amazon. There are no shortage of different books with different learning styles. For example, the ARRL has manuals which are more dense and take longer to read, but many hams buy them to keep as a reference.
If you’re looking to study on your phone or tablet, a mobile app could be a great addition to your study materials. Ham Radio Prep offers a 100% FREE mobile app for both Android and iOS!
Step 3: Take Your Exam In-Person or Remote
The moment of truth arrives – you must now take the test by an FCC accredited Volunteer Examiner Coordinator (VEC). VECs are the only organizations legally allowed to conduct ham radio license exam sessions in the United States.
In-Person Exam Sessions
For most people, the easiest way to take the exam is with a friendly local ham radio club. Many local clubs are ARRL affiliated. You can search for an in-person exam with one the ARRL exam search page. It’s easiest to search this page using only your zip code. These exam sessions are run by friendly local ARRL affiliated clubs who want nothing more than to see you pass!
Remote/Online Exam Sessions
What if an in-person exam session just isn’t available? According to a recent notice by the FCC, it is now 100% possible to take the exam online, and there are several VECs that offer remote exams, such as the Anchorage Alaska Radio Club VEC and the Greater Los Angeles Amateur Radio Club (aka GLAARG). If you would like to take the test online, check out our page about ham radio online testing to see what are the best options and how to get registered.
Congratulations, You've Earned Your License!
The volunteers examiners will give you an official signed paper saying that you passed on the spot. Your official license with call sign will arrive to you in a PDF to your email so you can print it out to put in your wallet or frame on your wall. Actually, you don’t even have to wait for your license to arrive to start transmitting – you can begin as soon as your name appears in the FCC database. Then you can begin practicing for disasters, or just chat with other amateurs and explore your new hobby.