The sale is over; it ran Nov 24, 2023 through Nov 28, 2023. You can still find great products that support HamStudy and ExamTools at https://signalstuff.com !
Thanks for your support!
The sale is over; it ran Nov 24, 2023 through Nov 28, 2023. You can still find great products that support HamStudy and ExamTools at https://signalstuff.com !
Thanks for your support!
With 2022 in the books, we thought it’d be nice to see the impact that ExamTools has had on the overall amateur radio community. While the ExamTools software has been around for well over a decade, its usage picked up strongly during the pandemic in 2020 with optimizations that were made to support different exam formats and, importantly, digital paperwork and signatures. In the first year of the pandemic, ExamTools was used for roughly 20% of all amateur radio licenses granted by the FCC in that time frame (see earlier blog post from 2021).
In 2022, ExamTools adoption continued to grow, with more VECs coming onboard and using the system for both in-person and fully-remote exams. Many teams that were on-hold during the pandemic are restarting in-person exam sessions and realizing how much ExamTools helps them administer exams. We now have 8 VECs using the software including W5YI, ARRL, GLAARG, Anchorage, Laurel, SANDARC, Jefferson, and W4VEC. These VECs realize the tremendous value of using ExamTools to not only streamline their exam administration, but also the submission process for their exam teams and the FCC database. Teams using ExamTools love how all the paperwork is now electronic, including application registration, notification, and signatures. Sessions that used to take hours to process can now be completed and fully submitted to the VEC in minutes. It’s truly a game changer for volunteer examiners, their VECs, and the applicants who all benefit from faster and more accurate processing of their exam sessions.
Many people don’t realize that using ExamTools doesn’t automatically mean giving exams on a computer or tablet. In fact, ExamTools supports a variety of exam formats including existing VEC’s paper exams, GradeCam paper exams, tablet/phone/laptop computer-based exams, and fully-remote exams using software like Zoom. GradeCam is a exam-grading technology that is incredibly powerful for exam teams and so easy to learn. It uses the camera in your laptop, cell phone, or tablet to quickly and accurately grade the applicants’ bubble answer sheet at your session. For many teams where using paper exams is the right choice for them, GradeCam offers a fantastic way to modernize and optimize their exam process, freeing up precious volunteer time to interact with the applicants and not waste time manually grading exams multiple times.
To celebrate the year, let’s take a look at some of the numbers from 2022 compared to 2021.
And now for some fun VEC awards for the 2022 Honor Roll:
To look at the data yourself, feel free to check out the awesome Stats Page that Richard KD7BBC created!
It’s always a good time to remind folks that ExamTools is offered at no cost to VE Teams. In fact, ExamTools is funded entirely by donations and with proceeds from HamStudy.org and SignalStuff.com. Signal Stuff makes the Super Elastic Signal Stick antenna that is a popular high-gain antenna for handheld radios and has been breaking sales records again this past year. ExamTools is also supported by a number of illustrious volunteers that are online day and night to help provide tech support, approve accounts, and answer questions for any teams using ExamTools. These Experience Support Volunteers include: Nick N1CCK, Mitch N2YIC, Grant W4KEK, Jason WX2Q, and Marcel AI6MS. Additionally, there is an online Discord server with over 1000 verified volunteer examiners from across the globe engaging in discussions and helping each other out to deliver the best examination experiences for the new and upgrading hams we support.
Thank you to all the Volunteer Examiners that make amateur radio continue to grow every year! Here’s to celebrating a successful 2022 and for an even better 2023! 73!
SignalStuff is now running their “I can’t believe we missed Black Friday!” sale! Check out the details here! Begins Dec 2, 2022 and runs through Dec 6, 2022.
Sales on SignalStuff.com directly support all HamStudy and ExamTools development. Thanks for your support!
We get this question a lot. People often wonder why they can’t just take practice exams to learn the material. In theory, you can do this, but let’s take a look at the numbers! We ran 10,000 simulations of randomly-generated practice exams for each exam’s question pool, and then calculated the number of practice exams one would need to take to see every single question at least once. Note that is just to see every question, this doesn’t mean you’ve actually learned it. Here’s what we found:
For the 2022 Technician Question Pool:
For the 2019 General Question Pool:
For the 2020 Extra Question Pool:
As you can see, you’d need to take between 44 and 246 practice exams just to see each question at least once! Using a study method like the one we’ve designed in HamStudy’s Study Mode is a great way to get exposed to all the questions and get refreshed on questions you need to study more. Check out the HamStudy FAQ for more fun details on how the Flash Card method works and how your aptitude score is calculated: https://blog.hamstudy.org/faq/
Did you know that over 16 volunteer examiner teams are running sessions at the annual ARRL Field Day this weekend using ExamTools? If you’ve been studying using the HamStudy app and are ready to go, then it’s a great time to find a session to sign up with. You can find teams holding both in-person and remote exams using the handy session finder at: https://hamstudy.org/sessions/
And don’t forget, the current Technician Exam question pool expires on June 30, 2022, so if you take the exam after then, be sure to use the new question pool when you study.
If you’re not looking to test, but want to find a local field day event to participate at, then check out the Field Day Locator here: http://www.arrl.org/field-day
For Black Friday this year we’re offering 25% off the regular price (
$3.99 $2.99) for our app on both the Google and Apple app stores! This sale will start on Friday, November 26 2021 and run through Monday, November 29 2021.
Over the last year HamStudy and ExamTools have come a long ways! Did you know that 30% of all ham radio examinations in the US went through ExamTools? HamStudy and ExamTools development are supported primarily by SignalStuff.com.
SignalStuff will be holding a black friday sale over the same time period!
One year ago, on March 26th, 2020, the first-ever fully-remote amateur radio exam was held to demonstrate the capabilities of online exam methods (1). Just two months later, on May 26th, a new version of the ExamTools software was released, enabling dozens of Volunteer Examiner teams to come on board and expand both their online and in-person amateur radio exams. By the end of 2020, fully-remote amateur radio exams were the new norm, with teams throughout the US running exams every single day. In 2020 alone, over 10,000 exam elements have been administered through the ExamTools platform, which included 7,163 newly licensed operators! This means that fully-remote exams accounted for over 20% of the total number amateur radio licenses granted last year.
In the twelve months since that first exam was demonstrated to the W5YI Volunteer Examiner Coordinator (VEC), over 1,300 Volunteer Examiners (VEs) have been on-boarded to the ExamTools system. Together, these dedicated volunteers help run daily exams all around the United States, including Puerto Rico and Alaska! ExamTools is now used regularly by teams from W5YI, ARRL, Anchorage, Laurel, and GLAARG VECs.
Not everyone knows this, but ExamTools is offered at no cost to VE Teams. In fact, ExamTools is funded entirely by donations and by proceeds from HamStudy.org and SignalStuff.com. Signal Stuff makes the Super Elastic Signal Stick antenna that is a popular high-gain antenna for handheld radios and has been breaking sales records throughout the past year.
While online exams in the US are not a new thing, many hams and prospective operators aren’t aware how easy it is to get tested online. Please help to spread the news to your local club mailing list, online group, chat rooms, or on your local net (2). Simply send people to https://hamstudy.org/sessions/online to find exams being offered daily!
2020 has been quite a ride for all of us, and we here at HamStudy/SignalStuff have had quite an interesting time as well. Though it’s come with a lot of hard times for a lot of people, a lot of good things have come this year.
For Black Friday this year we’re offering 25% off the regular price (
$3.99 $2.99) for our app on both the Google and Apple app stores! This sale will start on Friday, November 27 2020 and run through Monday, November 30 2020.
Edit: We had some issues with setting up the sale on the Google Play store; it will still be happening, but will run from Nov 29, 2020 through Dec 2, 2020 and be $2.75. The Apple app store will still run according to the original plan.
Do you know how HamStudy is supported and funded? Though Icom’s sponsorship is valuable and appreciated, it mainly just helps defray most of (not all of) our hosting costs — HamStudy and ExamTools (which is used for administering exams by nearly all teams doing remote exams and many who do in-person exams) are supported by a lot of volunteers, but are done primarily by Richard Bateman, KD7BBC — and this year it has moved from being a side project to taking enough time to be a part-time job. The money which makes that possible — as well as many other projects we support — comes from Signal Stuff and sales of the antennas there. While we don’t want anyone buying things they don’t need, please keep them in mind for your next HT antenna, vehicle antenna, or portable base station antenna =] They (we) also have some excellent adapters with quality that is hard to beat for the price.
SignalStuff is running a Black Friday sale with 20% off of adapters, Signal Sticks, and Signal Stalks (NMO mount), 10% off of the OSJ. Read more here and spread the word!
So you want to take a remote US Amateur Radio License Exam? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Since the lock-downs with COVID-19 started the world of Amateur Radio testing has nearly turned on its head, and the HamStudy.org team has been at the center of most of it! If you read our recent press release then you already know about the group that grew up to take on this new challenge and it has been our privilege to provide the software that nearly all of them use.
It has been an interesting challenge, but I think we can definitely say at this point that fully remote examinations are a well defined thing — and still following all of the same rules and regulations as in-person testing have followed for years. In the last few months there have been over 1200 fully remote exams administered through GLAARG, W5YI, and ARRL (in order of how many each has done) and in the last few weeks the number of teams able to administer them have really picked up.
In short, it’s finally a good time to start looking for a remote exam session!
So here is what you need to know, and please read this list carefully — you wouldn’t believe how many people don’t read and how much trouble it causes those working to make this happen!
To find an exam session, go to https://ham.study/sessions/online
Finally, keep in mind throughout the entire process just how much time and effort your exam team has put in to make this possible! Be patient with them if some things don’t go quite to plan =] They want you to pass and will do everything that the rules allow to help you succeed!
73 and good luck!
Contributing Authors: Marcel Stieber AI6MS, Sterling Mann N0SSC, Nick Booth N1CCK, Lucky225 WA6VPS, Richard Bateman KD7BBC
Absolutely! The primary ExamTools developer, Richard (KD7BBC), is working on software updates and does not have time to walk everyone through, so for now please join the Discord Chat Server and get help getting started there. Please don’t contact ExamTools support until you’re actually ready to get started. Note that you need approval from your VEC to administer remote exams as well.
The process we recommend is: (last updated Dec 21, 2020)
The good news is there are exam sessions going on most days! The bad news is they are still a little slow and there aren’t enough groups running them yet. You can look for sessions at https://hamstudy.org/sessions — make sure you read the instructions! — and contact the VE team linked on the page not HamStudy.org with any questions as HamStudy.org does not run the exam sessions!
As of yet there aren’t a lot of sessions open, but we are doing our best.
Amateur radio license exams typically involve local, in-person sessions run by Volunteer Examiners (VEs) to provide supervision and coordination of the FCC exam with respect to the Part 97 regulations. A limited number of remote exam sessions have been done in areas like Alaska, Hawaii, and Antarctica, but all of these still relied on an in-person proctor to be on-site with the examinee. While the COVID-19 shelter in place guidelines have certainly brought this issue to the forefront, the need for testing applicants with limited mobility or access to physical exams has been a longstanding problem for making amateur radio accessible to everyone. There are many anecdotal examples of VE teams and applicants going to great lengths, visiting applicants to provide exams in places such as nursing homes, or applicants traveling hundreds of miles to attend the nearest exam session. The need for fully-remote sessions is now stronger than ever.
Remote and fully-remote exam administration has been permitted by the FCC since the rule change in 2014 explicitly authorized remote exams per FCC Report & Order 14-74. Since that time, both Anchorage ARC VEC (Volunteer-Examiner Coordinator) and ARRL VEC have been offering remote sessions with on-site proctors for extenuating circumstances. Under this rule change, the W5YI VEC recently allowed for limited trials of fully-remote exam administration methods that do not require an on-site proctor. The fully-remote exam administration leverages popular video-communications technologies such as Skype or Zoom to allow for exam sessions to be held in full compliance with both FCC and VEC requirements while maintaining the highest exam integrity and applicant experience.
On March 26th, 2020, the first-ever fully-remote amateur radio exam was held to demonstrate the capabilities of these technologies and align with the needs of the W5YI VEC that authorized the trial. This session resulted in a former ham radio operator, Joseph Talbot, passing his technician exam. The FCC issued him his new call sign KJ7NNU within 24 hours of the exam thanks to digital paperwork and speedy processing by W5YI. This exam was performed using Zoom video conferencing and ExamTools.org, a computer-based testing platform developed in 2014 by Richard Bateman KD7BBC with sponsorship and support from Icom America. ExamTools was originally designed for testing, grading, and exam administration of traditional in-person exam sessions on computers, but lent itself very well to fully-remote testing. Richard led this fully-remote session under the supervision of the National Conference of Volunteer-Examiner Coordinators (NCVEC) Chairman and W5YI-VEC President Larry Pollock, NB5X.
Since this time, several other VE Teams have begun administering fully-remote exams using ExamTools.org along with video conferencing systems. The Greater Los Angeles Amateur Radio Group (GLAARG) VEC started administering fully remote exams the following week, led by GLAARG VEC Team Lead Norm Goodkin K6YXH with the approval of Adrienne Sherwood WA6YEO. GLAARG VEC has administered over 100 individual exams in the first half of April. ARRL VEC also has a limited number of VE Teams running fully remote sessions per Maria Somma AB1FM (ARRL VEC Manager and NCVEC Vice-Chairman).
While many VECs and VE Teams are excited and willing to offer fully-remote exams, the tools and methods are extremely cumbersome and difficult to administer consistently. Challenges include signing and managing all exam paperwork, verifying applicant identification, observing the applicant reliably throughout the exam, actual taking of the exam, exam booklet and question management, and confirming exam payments as required by the VEC. In order to streamline these processes for both fully-remote and in-person computer-based testing, Richard Bateman KD7BBC is enhancing the existing functionality of ExamTools.org to integrate many of these features into the tool and greatly improve the exam experience for all those involved. Since March 2020, a small team of amateur radio enthusiasts has been supporting Richard’s efforts to develop, test, and document the improved tool and the best practices around administering such exams. In the FAQ section of this release, several documents are provided as resources to the VECs and VE Teams for them to modify and incorporate into their own fully-remote exam procedures. The improved ExamTools.org system is currently in beta testing with several VE Teams and will be made available for wider release soon. Stay tuned for the updates on this blog.
Special thanks to the following individuals for their contributions to the fully-remote exam administration process, either those contributing directly or otherwise supporting the efforts:
And a special thanks to W5YI-VEC and the Greater Los Angeles Amateur Radio Group VEC for believing in the technology to enable more people to experience ham radio!
Many people wishing to get their amateur radio license have expressed challenges with lack of test session availability, especially in remote areas or areas further away from major cities with regular exam sessions from local radio clubs, or the ability to provide an appropriate proctor for the exam. Additionally, there are individuals who may not be able to easily attend in-person sessions either due to disability or other personal reasons.
With the increase in social distancing requirements in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, many VE Teams have found that they are unable to hold their normal exam sessions and are therefore looking for other ways to continue providing exam sessions. Spurred by the pandemic, there has been a massive increase in both desire and demand from the amateur radio community at large for the VECs to modernize their testing capabilities and improve exam access for everyone. Additionally, General class licensees looking to upgrade to Amateur Extra before the question pool refreshes on July 1st, 2020 will greatly benefit from completing their upgrades fully-remotely.
ExamTools is being upgraded to now support:
ExamTools is not currently providing a turn-key video conferencing solution for fully-remote exams, so it is up to each VEC to determine their accepted video conferencing solution based on their specific needs. The fully-remote exam working group has developed standardized documentation for supporting VECs and VE Teams with these tools.
ExamTools is still being offered at no cost to the VECs, VE Teams, and Applicants but does welcome voluntary donations from users if desired. ExamTools is a sister project to HamStudy.org and shares its sponsorship from Icom America and support from Signal Stuff.
Test integrity is one of the most important parts of any exam run by Volunteer Examiners. The fully-remote exam administration was developed in direct correlation with various existing VEC standards, with cooperation and input from many key stakeholders in the VEC community.
During the session, VEs will first examine the working area around the applicant by having the applicant show the room and working area using his or her webcam, checking that all writing materials and calculators meet the exam requirements. During the entirety of the testing process, VEs will monitor the applicant’s microphone, face, and screen (all of which must remain on throughout the session). Several additional checks and requirements are also in place – see the guidebooks linked below for more information.
The video conferencing solution should allow for VEs to be muted and have their videos turned off to prevent the applicant from getting any clues or hints from the VEs. The applicant’s video and audio will need to be on for the duration of the exam. Based on the feedback from the over 100 fully-remote exams offered so far, the VE Teams have provided extremely positive feedback and expressed their strong confidence in the exam integrity of this format. As opposed to an in-person exam, where dozens of applicants can be spread throughout a large room being loosely monitored as a group, in the fully-remote format a single applicant is being actively watched by 3 VEs individually. This means that the VEs are incredibly aware of the applicant’s activities at all times, to the extent that the VEs can observe the applicant’s eyes as they read and answer each question. This level of detailed observation is unprecedented in the existing exam formats and provides high confidence in the integrity of the fully-remote exam process.
Finally, all session audio, video, and screen-share contents for any fully-remote exam session should be recorded by the VE Team for both session integrity, training, and auditing purposes. This allows the VE teams to review any test anomalies before certifying a CSCE and also allows the VEC to audit any exam for both applicant and VE integrity.
Applicants in a fully-remote exam must provide a quiet room with a clear desk, computer with webcam and microphone, and reliable internet connection for the duration of the exam. The camera must have a clear view of the applicant and the testing area throughout the exam. The applicant’s full computer screen will be shared during the entire exam. Applicants are not allowed to wear headphones or a headset or use a second monitor during the exam. A detailed Applicant Guidebook with additional recommendations has been developed by the working group and is made available to VECs and VE Teams at: https://bit.ly/3er7ozQ
What are the rules for VEs involved in the session?
All VEs for the session must also have computers with a webcam and microphone. At the start of the exam session, all videos are active to allow the VE Team Lead to verify the VEs and applicants during the exam setup. During the exam itself, the VEs will turn off their cameras and microphones to limit any inadvertent distractions or reactions to the applicant’s exam taking. A detailed VE Guidebook with additional recommendation has been developed by the working group and is made available to VECs and VE Teams at: https://bit.ly/3eB09W3
ExamTools supports sessions of any size. While video conferencing solutions readily available at this time support meetings with dozens of participants, they are only viable to support a single testing applicant per session due to challenges in screen sharing, separating, and observing feeds from each applicant in the video conferencing tools tested to date. It is up to each VEC and VE Team to determine the appropriate size and distribution of their VE teams and applicant ratios, depending on the exam session format and specific tools in use. Generally, this means a team of 3 VEs would be able to observe at least one applicant at a time, but possibly up to three applicants with readily-available video conferencing tools using multiple concurrent meetings. Certain VE Teams have started experimenting with Breakout Rooms and multiple sets of 3 VEs to allow concurrent examinations. In these cases, special care must be taken to ensure applicants are isolated from each other during the exam, while allowing the necessary VEs to observe, manage, and communicate with specific applicants. In the future, custom video solutions may be developed by ExamTools to support larger concurrent exam sessions natively.
Check the public exam listings at https://hamstudy.org/sessions and sign up for any available sessions that work for you. Note that a very limited number of VECs and VE Teams are currently offering fully-remote exams, but any of them that are using ExamTools should be listed as a hamstudy.org session. It is very important to read the special instructions provided within the session information prior to signing up, as additional scheduling steps may be required by the VE Team administering that specific session.
Please contact your VEC of choice to become a VE. A list of FCC certified VECs is available on the FCC website. If you are already a VE, please have your VE Team Lead work with your VEC to determine the next steps for your group. If your VEC is not currently set up to administer fully-remote exams but would like to be, please have your VEC contact person email Richard Bateman, KD7BBC at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are a VE and would like to join the Discord channel for information and discussion around fully-remote exams, please visit: https://discord.gg/CsKrBmA or click connect below:
As of when this release was published, the following VECs have offered official support for using ExamTools for administering in-person and remote exams: