This was recently posted in the /amateurradio subreddit, and I thought it was worth reposting.
Thanks to N7SMI for writing it up and giving me permission to repost it here!
Here are 10 tips for hacking the amateur radio licensing exams. Now when I say ‘hacking’, I don’t mean cheating, but I am referring to strategies for passing the test while also learning the necessary material.
- The exams are not that difficult. Having the mindset that you can’t pass them will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- It will take dedicated study time to pass the General and especially the Extra exam. The 35 General exam questions are derived from a pool of 456 questions and the 50 Extra exam questions come from an incredibly large 700 question pool. You can’t pass without putting in the necessary study time.
- Study intensely for a few weeks and then take the test. Get it over with quickly. If you drag it out, you’ll forget things or get burned out.
- Upgrade quickly. If you’ve recently passed your technician exam, upgrade to general quickly, and then study for and upgrade to Extra quickly. There’s much overlap in test material. If you wait, you’ll have to relearn a lot of the content.
- You will never learn all of the exam material. If your goal is to know all the content or get 100% on the test, you will be studying for a very, very long time. If you’re like me, my brain just isn’t that big. The license you receive is the same whether you barely pass with 75% or ace it at 100%. Your primary goal is passing the exam, your secondary goal is learning the content. After all, what good is the knowledge if you’re not licensed to use it. And it’s more fun learning about impedance by building your first HF antenna after you pass the test than it is by studying for the test.
- Simplify the important formulas so you can remember them. I used the easier-to-remember VCR and PVC. VCR is Ohm’s law: Voltage = Current X Resistance. PVC is the power law equation: Power = Voltage X Current. Of course you must know how to change sides of the equation (e.g., Current = Voltage/Resistance, etc.). These strategies can help you remember much of the test content.
- Don’t try to memorize all the math formulas. I passed all 3 tests without having any previous amateur radio or electronics experience by memorizing I think 5 formulas (see below). In fact, you can just skip all the math questions entirely and do just fine. Statistically, you will have 3 math questions on the General exam and only 3 or 4 on the Extra exam. You can maximize your results by focusing on memorizing other content and answers, not complex formulas that you’re unlikely to see on the exam.
- Take LOTS of practice exams. In fact, you can pass the tests and learn a lot by never studying material, but only by taking enough practice exams. I recommend hamstudy.org.
- Study the correct answers and ignore the incorrect answers/distractors. For the Extra exam, it’s very difficult to remember 700 correct answers, but it’s impossible to also remember all 2100 incorrect answers.
- Look for patterns in questions and answers. See examples below. Learning these types of patterns and strategies can make acing the tests much easier.
Extra exam math question tips:
“2, 4, 6, 8, the last three do a dipole make!” 468 / desired frequency in MHz = 1/2 wave dipole length.
Gain/Loss Questions (Section E9H)
There are 5 questions that ask about gain and loss that involve remembering complex formulas. The correct answer to each question is always the one closest to, but NOT equal to 300 watts.
Half-power Bandwidth (E5A10 – E5A13)
This is an easy formula to remember: Half-power bandwidth = Resonant frequency / Q Just mind the MHz to KHz conversion (multiple the answer by 1000).
Resonant Frequency of RLC Circuits (E5A14-E5A17)
The formula is not too difficult: Resonant frequency = 1 / (2 * Pi * sqrt(L * C)) or Resonant frequency = 1 / (6.18 * sqrt(L * C)) Just remember that you can ignore R in the question – it’s irrelevant to the answer. Or, you can just remember “5 MHz” – the correct answer to these four questions is always the value closest to 5MHz.
Phase Angles in RLC Circuits (Section E5B)
There are 5 math questions in this group. The formula for determining the phase angle is Phase Angle = tan-1(abs(XL-XC)/R). You trigger inverse tangent (tan-1) on most calculators by selecting Shift + tan. But it’s actually much easier to find the right answer – all of them contain the number 14. Knowing this eliminates two possible answers giving you a 50/50 chance. You can find the correct answer by knowing if XL > XC, then voLtage leads (is greater than) Current. If XL < XC, then voLtage lags (is less than) Current. So simply remember “14” and that voltage leads if XL is bigger than XC to ace this section.
Polar Coordinates (Section E5C)
There are 11 questions about polar coordinates which involve several very complex formulas. However, 9 of the 11 answers to these questions can be found by simply remembering the following: -45, 45, <45. If a listed answer contains -45, that’s the correct answer. If more than one answer contains -45, the correct answer includes “141 ohms”. If -45 isn’t an option, then the correct answer contains 45. If neither -45 or 45 are options, then the answer contains the number closest to but less than 45. This will give you the correct answer 82% of the time.
How many turns…? (E6D11 – E6D12)
Too much math! Just remember “Do a good TURN daily for one month”. The answer is the one closest to 30 or 31 (the number of days in a month).
The one final comment we have on this is on the recommendation to “take lots of practice tests”. This is good advice, but make sure the practice tests are used as part of your strategy to track your progress, not as a primary study method. HamStudy.org’s flashcards are a far more efficient way to study questions because they are intelligent! (See our FAQ)
By Frank Jameson May 5, 2015 - 18:25
I am studying for the General exam and have reviewed all of the questions/flash cards.
Now when I want to review the questions again the answers are all highlighted
How to I get rid of the answers and revert to the original questions requiring me to click on the correct answer?
You have a really fine study website-the best. The ARRL one is useless.
By kd7bbc May 5, 2015 - 18:32
The flashcards should keep giving you new cards forever; if you ever hit “the end’ then there is a problem with the system. New cards will never have the answer highlighted. Try refreshing your page and it’ll probably fix itself.
The flashcards are designed to intelligently keep you going through them for as long as you need to make sure you learn them all. See our FAQ for more details.
By Chris Campbell August 5, 2020 - 15:44
On hamexam. There is a box to check tononly show correct answers, show question numbers, etc
By kd7bbc August 5, 2020 - 23:15
Excellent =] I wasn’t aware of that. HamStudy.org has that feature as well — “hide distractors” in the top right corner of the screen when reading questions.
I’ve been very impressed with HamExam; while I have an obvious preference for my own tools and believe we’ve done an excellent job with them, HamExam is the tool that I would recommend if you for whatever reason don’t like hamstudy.
By N4HEY May 6, 2015 - 09:15
Very helpful and spot-on advice. The real challenge on the Extra is the sheer volume of questions in the pool. And, unless I’m missing something, a great deal of the material is based on things that there’s probably little need for a ham operator to carry around in his/her head. Right now, I’m hitting 85-88% on practice tests, so I’ll likely pass if I take the test fairly soon, but I will promptly forget most of this material. Fully agree that some of this information need to really be grasped, but there’s just too much–so don’t feel bad about using the hacks!
By Robert Neff April 17, 2017 - 06:06
Whole heatedly agree with your assessment. I had one very astute teacher in my Communications Electronics college classes. He held a GROL (as I do), and was a chief engineer at a TV station before deciding he’d rather teach.
I remember his words to this day. “I really don’t care if you can memorize “all” this stuff. All I care about is if you’re smart enough to know how to look it up when you need it.”
Too bad the Ham and FCC world doesn’t think that way. I’m not saying you don’t need to memorize anything. Otherwise, Ham radio would go the way of CB. But it seems with the General and above licenses, you need to memorize a lot of stuff that you’re not going to remember a year down the road. But if you do need to look one of them up, you’ve got countless ways to do it.
By Thoughts on the licensure tests | Central Alabama Ham June 1, 2015 - 12:11
[…] I made extensive use of some memorization “hacks” & tips” in this article. http://localhost:8080/2015/01/hacking-the-general-and-extra-exams-from-n7smi/. […]
By szamba na kloaka zbiornik betonowe tam June 29, 2015 - 10:56
Hi! Quick question that’s completely off topic. Do you know how to make your
site mobile friendly? My site looks weird when browsing from my iphone4.
I’m trying to find a template or plugin that might be able
to correct this problem. If you have any suggestions, please share.
By kd7bbc July 11, 2015 - 11:59
Do some research on “responsive web design” — and if you use wordpress (like this portion of our website does) look for a responsive theme.
By Jim October 16, 2015 - 09:07
I plan to take all three tests in one sitting. I have read about 2/3 of the Amateur Extra ARRL license manual so far. I also bought an outdated general Q&A book, and a 20 year old Radio Shack “Now You’re Talking” book and read parts of those. In addition I read FCC section 97, which I strongly suggest doing.
With that, on my first try on the ARRL site, I got 91% on the technician, 91% on the general, and 80% on the AE sample exams. I definitely need to read the rest of the AE chapters.
Read FCC section 97.
It’s OK to buy the cheaper expired ARRL license books and study from those. The license classes, frequency and power privileges will change a little, so study FCC section 97 there, but the technology information is the same.
Learn the latest frequency privileges for the classes, power, and data rates.
Learn about modulation, RF propagation, and antennas.
Learn a couple basic ‘Q’ codes and how to interact on the air.
Even though I am an electrical engineer, I got questions wrong because they were asked in a weird way. Reading the question pool helped with that. There are sections of transistor design in the ARRL AE manual that are flat out wrong. I have submitted corrections for them.
Read the entire questions pools a couple of times treating them as the test. The ARRL sample tests are fun.
It IS possible to take all 3 tests at once and pass them. I would get the latest AE book, maybe the general book (OK to get an outdated one), and not bother with the technician book. I would read the free No-Nonsense Technician Class License Study Guide by Dan Romanchik on line for that.
I think it’s sad the author doesn’t understand the engineering material, doesn’t appear to want to learn it, and is resorting to memorizing numerical answers to specific examples. The whole point of the tests is to learn the material and gain proficiency.
By Jan February 2, 2016 - 18:37
I am a General license operator & also love Hamstudy.org I’m now studying for my Extra & am very pleased to find these helping hints. It is absolutely true that a test is best passed, real deal comes from hands on feel. It’s much easier to learn as you replace parts, shop for your first radio, build an antenna than to gain & retain the knowledge from testing. Pass it, then experience your hobby without the stress! Thanks a million. KE∅FEQ
By R. Pray April 6, 2016 - 22:19
I used ham study.org exclusively for my tech test and only missed 1. I’m now using it to study for my general, but am also reading books. Thank you.
By Bart Pickens July 5, 2016 - 21:04
Wish I had found this before the exam change on 7/1 on the Extra materials. This looks helpful for one who has failed the AE twice.
By kd7bbc July 5, 2016 - 21:05
Well, the important thing is to keep trying!
By Cameron M January 10, 2017 - 22:51
I passed using HamStudy.org! I had just 9 days to study until the next testing day and I was going for my technician license. After just a few days of studying, I felt I was ready for the technician test and started studying for the General license. It was a bit more difficult, but after another 4 days, I knew I had it in the bag. I spent another 2 days studying to keep the information fresh in my brain before the test. This is definitely the best method for a novice that knows nothing about radio. Thanks HamStudy!
By Ruben Olveda January 24, 2017 - 13:15
Hi, This is the best page to pass the tests of radio amateurs, I study several times and I already have the technician, and I hope to pass the general too soon now, Thank you very much for everything you do to help us who we started.
By Aipinge Heikky February 19, 2017 - 23:50
May I please be helped with the South African new Radio License Syllabuss….Thank you
By kd7bbc April 2, 2017 - 18:50
We’re happy to add pools for other countries but unfortunately we just don’t know anything about how they work! Many of them don’t have published pools. If you can find and send me the questions for study then I’m happy to put them up!
By Cynical Daryl March 10, 2017 - 09:22
It’s a lot like Algebra in High School… you’ll never use it again. I for one am glad they don’t make it easy as it would just degrade the value of ham radio. Look at what has happened by giving everyone a camera on their phone. We’re all professionals. Imagine if we made the test easy or not even required?
By jim June 1, 2017 - 18:09
I am learning to make sure you carefully read the question and all answers before answering. I am finding on the ones I miss are ones I would have recognized the correct answer if I had read it instead of picking the first one that sounded close.
By KT0G June 4, 2017 - 09:50
While studying for the Extra I came across several hacks that gave me confidence and helped pared down the question pool. While I memorized the content needed to pass, a lot has developed into knowledge as my radio hobby was expanded.
By Darg September 4, 2017 - 22:52
Regarding your formula for the resonant frequency of RLC circuits, I merely wish to point out that (Pi * 2) should be approximated on the hundredths scale as 6.28, not 6.18.
By Pat Bonanno February 3, 2018 - 20:36
Here’s my 2 cents on memorization vs actual knowledge of whatever the heck it is you’re attempting to learn.. if that makes any sense.
I never finished high school, know practically ZERO about electronics, especially radios and drove big truck most of my life.
I studied hamstudy.org Q cards and practice tests just 6 days and passed the Tech test. I got all of them correct except for 1.
Now I’m going for the General.
After reading a tip that Pool Group 1, 2, and 4 contain 5 questions each on the General test I decided to study those question pools first and get em knocked out. That’s 15 questions on the test so staring yesterday I have studied for about 4 hours on those 3 pools/groups of questions and my progress so far has been unreal.
I have all 3 groups basically in the bag.. in the 90% correct bracket on all 3.
I couldn’t be happier with hamstudy.org
Thank you very very much for helping me accomplish something I never thought I’d accomplish.
At 67 yrs old.. you turned me into Einstein over here!
Pat – KC1IYG
By Shawnna Conner April 7, 2018 - 13:23
I just passed my Extra and didn’t really do many of these suggestions. I didn’t even take a lot of practice tests. I know everyone learns and studies differently. I guess I’m an odd ball. Well, I think I’ve known that. I’m sure these steps will help a lot of people so I really appreciate you taking the time to post this!
By kd7bbc April 7, 2018 - 16:45
Indeed everyone does things a bit differently =] The important thing is to find what works for you and do it. When you think about it, practice exams shouldn’t ever be anything more than helping you check how close you are; they’re a ridiculously inefficient way to “study”. Random fact: on the 2014-2018 tech pool it takes an average of 80 random practice exams before you see every question at least once. That being the average, you gotta figure that roughly half of all people will be more than that, law of averages being what it is.
Our philosophy on hamstudy.org is to try to provide what tools we can to help people intelligently study — flashcards (which we will be renaming as study mode), read questions (often underestimated), and practice exams. Everyone studies different, so the goal is to provide whatever is needed.
At the end of the day, though, it’s just one tool — there are a zillion (exactly a zillion, I counted!) different ways you could prepare for the exam, and as long as you got it you Did It Right! =]
73 and congrats
By Joel February 15, 2019 - 02:58
Thank you for suggesting hamstudy.org
By Shawnna October 4, 2019 - 22:02
Been awhile since I saw this post! I will say that hamstudy.org is fantastic!! I recommend it to everyone wanting to get into HAM radio! I took four practice exams prior to taking the test, but I went through every single question and read every card prior to any practice test. I also took section quizzes after I finished a study section just to instill the card info. After the first question run through and test, I then went through the questions again especially on the sections I struggled with the most. I took another test to track my progress, and course corrected as needed. Every person is different, but perhaps this technique will help someone. Thank you for all you do!!!
By Ryan May 17, 2018 - 20:22
just saw this article and agree with a lot of your tips. I took my Extra exam a couple of weeks ago after having an Advanced class license for about 45 years. Got 100%. That wasn’t necessary, but I just did it for fun as a challenge to see if I could. Spent more time studying than I needed to to make it happen.
By Ryan May 17, 2018 - 20:31
Oh my! I apologize. I’m on my smartphone and didn’t realize I was posting on the hamstudy.org site. I had just found this thread accidentally while doing a Google search. Now that I know I want to commend you! I used your site to prepare for the exam. It is an outstanding resource… Better than any other one I found! Thank you very much for your superb work!
By Ed Schack February 15, 2019 - 18:43
I have my General class and getting ready to study for my Extra, I cant believe the number of questions on the test. I have read a number of posts and have to say agree about the number of questions. It was last year I studied for my state and the national building codes to become a town or county inspector. The book that covered the information was three times the size of the study guide for the extra class. The difference was you didn’t need to remember everything just know how and where to find that info. Maybe the FCC should think about something along those lines? Someone said without the test we would go the way of CB, But without changes we may go the way of other hobbies, and there is a decline in our hobby already, we need to find something that will keep everyone happy.
By kd7bbc March 14, 2019 - 11:02
Note that the FCC does not select the questions, the NCVEC does
By Kenny August 9, 2019 - 08:39
I did 0 to extra in three months…..perfect scores on all three exams. Its not difficult if you put you time in to study. I had a commute on the train so I used that time. I was in and out in less than an hour.
By WD4ORM August 23, 2021 - 08:11
Thanks for the advice and aids. I studied for a few weeks and just passed the Extra at the Hunstville Hamfest in the first try.
By Vince December 18, 2021 - 13:23
I am a blind ham student. Where is the ” Novice” class five words per min?
By Steve January 14, 2022 - 11:44
I have been using online tests to study gor my Amateur General test only to learn that these online sample tests are wrong! Apparently they hive you many wrong answers to confuse you into thinking tgat you need to sign up gor their classes. What has this world come to? This is certainly not in the dpirit of amateur radio! Get the ARRL book and study. That is it. If you need help seek the help of a local club.
By kd7bbc January 14, 2022 - 13:40
I’m not sure what you’ve been studying, but anything on HamStudy.org is absolutely the real exam questions — the US question pools are public including the answers. I guarantee you that the answers on hamstudy.org are not wrong — and since we don’t have classes or sell materials we would have no incentive (even if we were dishonest) to release anything wrong.
If you have any questions about how it works feel free to reach out to us via email (email@example.com) — but the questions you find in the ARRL book are the same as the ones we use on the website and come from the same source.
By How I Passed the Extra Exam - And How You Can, Too – Discovering Radio January 18, 2022 - 21:25
[…] around the web, I found several sites with study hacks for the exam like “Hacking” the General and Extra exams (from N7SMI) These gave me several additional insights into the exam. For example, despite the seemingly large […]
By Marc August 6, 2022 - 14:22
My advice is to read the arrl study guide for extra. Take a month or or three. Do practice exams with apps, all the time when your going over 74% take the test. Reading their explainations really sets the meaning into your head so know why the answer is what it is. You will also be proud of yourself for really learning the things you thought were impossible to learn without an engineering degree!