How to Find Study Resources for Ham Radio Licensure - dummies

How to Find Study Resources for Ham Radio Licensure

By H. Ward Silver

If you’re ready to start studying, what do you study? Fortunately for you, the aspiring ham radio operator, numerous study references are available to fit every taste and capability. Common study aids include classes, books, software, videos, and online help.

Before purchasing any study materials, be aware that the test questions and regulations change once every four years for each class of license. For the dates of the current question pools, see ARRL or NCVEC.

Ham radio licensing classes

If you learn better with a group of other students, you’ll find classes beneficial. You can find classes in several ways:

  • Asking at your radio club: You can take classes sponsored by the club. If you don’t see the class you want, contact the club by e-mail, and ask about classes.

  • Looking for upcoming exams to be held in your area: The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) has a search engine devoted to upcoming exams, as does the W5YI test-coordinator website.

    Get in touch with the exam’s contact liaison, and ask about licensing tests. Because tests are often given at the end of class sessions, contact liaisons are frequently class instructors themselves.

  • Asking at a ham radio or electronics store: If a ham radio store is in your vicinity (look in the yellow pages under Electronic Equipment and Supplies or Radio Communication Equipment and Systems), it usually has a bulletin board or website listing upcoming classes.

    Businesses that sell electronics supplies to individuals, such as RadioShack, may also know about classes. In a pinch, you can do a web search for ham radio class or radio licensing class (or close variations) and your town or region.

Other options for finding classes include local disaster-preparedness organizations such as CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams, sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA]); schools and colleges, which often provide space for clubs and classes; and public-safety agencies such as police and fire departments. By asking around, you can usually turn up a reference to someone who’s involved with ham radio licensing.

Occasionally, you see classes advertised that take you from interested party to successful exam-taker in a single weekend. The Technician exam is simple enough that a focused, concerted effort over a couple of days can cram enough material into your brain for you to pass the test.

The good part about these sessions is that by committing a single weekend, you can walk out the door on Sunday night, having passed your exam, and find your new call sign in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) database the following week. For busy folks or those who are in a hurry, this time savings is a tremendous incentive.

Remember when you crammed for a final exam overnight, and the minute after you took the exam, you forgot everything that was on it? The same phenomenon applies to the licensing test. A lot of information that you memorize in a short period can fade quickly. In two days, you can’t really absorb the material well enough to understand it.

The licensing exam isn’t like high-school geometry; you’ll use everything you learn in your studies later in real life. If you have time to take a weekly course, taking it is the better option.

Books, CDs, and websites

You have a variety of options in this category, including the following:

  • Guidebooks and CDs: The best-known guidebook for licensing studies is ARRL’s Ham Radio License Manual. Aimed at the person studying for a Technician exam, it goes well beyond presenting just the questions from the question pool; it teaches the why and how of the material. The CD bundled with the book contains practice software.

    A great companion to the manual is ARRL’s Tech Q&A. Both books are available at ARRL and numerous retail outlets.

    Gordon West (WB6NOA) has also written a series of licensing guides and audio courses for all three license classes. These guides focus tightly on the question pool in question-and-answer format and are geared to students who want to pass the test quickly, so a lot of the background present in the ARRL books is omitted. West’s books and CDs are available at W5YI Group and various retail outlets.

  • Websites: Here are a few good choices:

    • HamTestOnline offers online tutoring and training material that you can access from a web browser.

    • Ham University offers both license exam preparation and Morse code training. An ever-changing selection of ham radio study apps for the iOS and Android operating systems is available as well.

    • YouTube hosts many ham radio tutorial videos. Search for ham radio technician class or ham radio technician study guide, and dozens of videos are yours for the clicking.

      After you get your license, YouTube videos on specific subjects are very useful as well.

      [Credit: Courtesy American Radio Relay League,, and Master Publishing, Inc.]
      Credit: Courtesy American Radio Relay League,, and Master Publishing, Inc.

Online practice exams

Online practice exams can be particularly useful. Because the online exams use the actual questions, they’re almost like the real thing. Practicing with them reduces your nervousness and gets you used to the actual format.

The sites score your exams and let you know which of the study areas need more work. When you can pass the online exams by a comfortable margin every time, you’ll do well in the actual session.

You can find online exams listed at ARRL.

How do you know when it’s time to stop studying and take the actual test? Take the practice exams until you consistently score 80 percent or higher. Also, make sure that you’re practicing with a random selection of questions; you shouldn’t see the same questions each time. Passing the practice exams with a little safety margin will give you the confidence to sign up for your test session.