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What to Expect the Day of Your Ham Radio License Test

In the so-called Good Old Days, the higher-class ham radio license exam sessions were conducted in federal office buildings by FCC employees. These days, exams are certainly more conveniently offered and the examiners are friendlier, but you’ll still have some nervous anticipation as the day arrives.

The best way to do well, of course, is to be prepared — for all aspects of the exams, not just the questions. The more you know, the less you have to worry about.

For some advice on getting ready for the big day, see the nearby sidebar “Taming the test tiger.”

What to bring with you to the ham radio license test

Be sure to bring these items with you to the test session, whether you’re licensed or not:

  • Two forms of identification, including at least one photo ID, such as a driver’s license or employer’s identity card

  • Your Social Security number

  • A couple of pencils

  • A calculator

  • (Optional) Scratch paper (but it must be completely blank)

If you already have a license and are taking an exam to upgrade to a higher class, you also need to bring the following:

  • Your current original license and a photocopy

  • Any original Certificate of Successful Completion of Examination (CSCE) you have and a photocopy

    Note: This certificate is your record of having passed an exam for one or more of the license elements. If you’ve just passed the Technician exam (Element 2), you have to wait for the FCC to grant you a call sign before you get on the air. For any other license changes, the CSCE allows you to operate immediately with your new privileges.

  • (Optional) Your FCC Federal Registration Number (FRN) as a substitute for your Social Security number

You aren’t permitted to use any kind of online device or computer during the exam unless you have a disability (and you must first coordinate the use of supporting devices with the test administrators).

What to expect during your ham radio license test

Each test session involves three basic steps:

  1. Register for your exam.

    When you arrive at the test session, sign in with your name, address, and (if you already have one) call sign. The test administrators review any identification and documents you have. Finally, pay your test fee. (As of early 2013, the largest VECs charge a $15 test fee.)

  2. Take the test.

    When you start depends on how many people have signed up ahead of you and how many types of tests are being given. In a small session, you may start the test immediately; in a larger session, you may have to wait a while until your turn comes.

    The exams are multiple-choice tests. You receive a pamphlet containing the test questions and an answer sheet for recording your choices.

    Each test takes 15 to 45 minutes. The session may be organized so that everyone starts and stops together, or the testing may be continuous. The VEs will explain the process for your session.

  3. Complete your paperwork.

What to do after the test

When you’re done with your exam, follow the administrator’s instructions for turning in your paper, sit back, and try to exhale! Depending on the size of the session, you may have to wait several minutes for the administrator to grade your paper. At lease three VEs verify the grades on all exams.

Passing requires a score of 75 percent or better. (That’s 26 questions on the Technician and General exams and 37 on the Extra.)

In all probability, because you studied hard and seriously, you’ll get a big smile and a thumbs-up from the test graders. Way to go! You can finally, truly relax and move on to the next stage.

If you didn’t pass this time, don’t be disheartened. Many sessions allow you to take a different version of the test, if you want. Even if you don’t take the second-chance exam again right away, at least you know the ropes of a test session now, and you’ll be more relaxed next time.

Don’t let a failure stop you. Many hams had to make more than one attempt to pass a test, but they’re on the air today.

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