“Hacking” the General and Extra exams (from N7SMI)

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.

  1. The exams are not that difficult. Having the mindset that you can’t pass them will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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:

Dipole Formula

“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)

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