HAM Radio 101

Tips on Prepping for Your Ham Radio License Test

Study for two minutes. Get a cup of coffee. Study for two more minutes. Browse Netflix. Study again for two minutes. Check email. Study for another two minutes. Get lost in video games indefinitely. Sound familiar?

If this describes your typical study session, you’re certainly not alone. Most people need a little help to kick their motivation into high gearespecially if there is a test coming up. Maybe reading this blog is your next form of procrastination. If so, at least you’re on the right track.

Stick to a Schedule

As an ARRL Volunteer Examiner over the last decade or so, I’ve had conversations with a number of test-takers. Those who passed license exams shared one thing in commonthey had a solid study plan and they followed through.

When you have a lot going on and don’t have a lot of spare time, you need to become laser focused. Schedule a specific time in your day to sit down and studywriting it on your calendar makes you less likely to put it off. You don’t skip your tee times, doctor appointments, or daughter’s soccer matches, do you?

Once you’ve scheduled study time, it’s important to stay on that schedule. Continually challenging yourself by studying the course material on a regular basis will make you much better prepared in a shorter time. However, if you take several weeks of break time during the course of your studies, you will forget material and need to spend additional time reviewing.

Commit to a date for taking your test. You need to pace yourself and work within a reasonable timeframe toward getting your ham radio license. Find the tests available near you and pick a date you think you’ll be prepared to take your exam. You’ll find them posted here.

If you live in a larger metropolitan area, you may have a multitude of possibilities. In a rural area, you may find that the closest test session is hours away and only offered a few times a year. Another alternative that’s becoming more common is online testing, meaning you may not have to leave home.

Once you settle on an exam date, you can backtrack and decide how much time you need to invest on a daily/weekly basis to ensure you are ready to go on test day.

Give Me a Break

No matter how much material you need to study, you should take frequent breaks. Don’t try to slog through the material for hours on end. Every 20 minutes or so, get up to stretch and drink some water. Rinse and repeat. If you’re constantly staring at a screen during your test prep, it’s important to relax your eyes and focus on other objects in your room intermittently.

There are variations of this technique, and you might find that you like shorter study intervals. No matter how you customize it for yourself, when you know a break is coming up, it makes it easier to study for longer periods of time.

To help keep track of time and make sure you’re not constantly watching the clock, set a timer for both your study sessions and your breaks. You can make the most of your breaks by getting up and doing something physical that gets your blood pumping or grabbing a snack to keep you fueled.

External Motivation

To encourage yourself to do well, try creating a reward for yourself if you pass the exam. Maybe your XYL or parents would consider chipping in (or buying) an HTor something more extravagant. Or maybe a dinner out at a nice restaurant would be your choice. Whatever it is, that reward should help motivate you.

As the song goes, “Everybody needs someone to lean on . . .” Look for a local club that’s sponsoring a class, either in person or online. If there isn’t one available, consider forming a study group with others interested in getting their licenseget the word out on social media. Support can help get you through the process and you can make each other accountable.


The good news is that the question pools used for the tests are in the public domain and include the questions, answers to choose from, and the correct answers (when was the last time you knew the answers before an algebra test?) If you study all the questions and remember the correct answers, you’re well on your way to getting your ham license. It really isn’t rocket science, just consistent effort.

Buy the appropriate ARRL License ManualTechnician, General or Extra. It includes the current question pool as well as topics covered on the test. Sometimes a written explanation of a topic will clear up confusion and help you to understand it. If a particular topic is giving you trouble, don’t dwell on it. Move onto areas where you’re likely to have more success.

When you study using the question pool, concentrate on the correct answers and ignore the incorrect answers/distractors. For the Technician exam, it’s easier to remember 423 correct answers alone, without adding all 1,269 incorrect answers. The questions (and answers) appear in the license manuals, and you can print out a paper copy from NCVEC 2018-2022 Technician Question Pool Release. This can be handy for making notes and tracking the questions you need to review. Download the .doc file (MS Word version) so you can easily organize or modify the list.

There are plenty of YouTube videos that can help you with your study plan. One series done by Dave Casler, KE0OG, the QST answer columnist, has a complete series of videos explaining topics that will appear on the exams. They closely follow the ARRL License Manuals, and he has a great way of making difficult concepts easier to understand.

There are additional online sources to help you, and many are free. Use your favorite search engine and find study materials and check out this list from the ARRL’s Tech Prep Resource Library.

How Well Are You Doing?

The question pools are the basis for several online practice tests that will help you track your progress. If you take it multiple times, you will be able to experience what the real test offers. There are several sites offering free practice exams, such as QRZ.com, as well as some offering paid versions. The paid versions often keep more detailed records and track the questions you miss.

You need feedback to learn and get better. Try to do at least one or two practice sessions a day after you’ve studied. Don’t get discouraged by low scores when you’re starting out. Keep at ityou’ll quickly see your scores improve as you get more correct answers. Keep a list of the ones you missed so you can review them. When you consistently earn an average test score of 85% or better, it’s time to attempt the real test. This gives you some margin for nervousness or mistakes.

Are You Prepared?

It’s not always realistic to expect you’ll learn all the content or get 100% on the test. If you’re like me, your brain might go into overload trying to reach a perfect score. The license you receive is the same whether you barely pass with 74% or ace it at 100%. Your primary mission is passing the exam. After all, what good is the knowledge if you’re not licensed to use it? Besides, it’s more fun learning about antenna theory by building one than reading about it.

Consider upgrading while you’re on a roll. If you’ve recently passed your Technician exam, upgrade to General quickly and then study for and upgrade to Extra as soon as possible. There’s overlap in the test material and if you wait, you’ll need to relearn a lot of the content.


Get a good night’s sleep before your exam. Don’t stay up all night crammingtiredness leads to careless mistakes. Relax! Your job and future do not depend on it, so ditch the anxiety. In the very unlikely event that you don’t pass, even after using these tips, there will always be another test session. But if you’ve prepared, you will pass!

There are no bonus points for achieving a perfect score on your ham radio examother than bragging rights. The key thing to remember is that there are 35 questions on the Technician and General class license exams, and 50 questions on the Amateur Extra exam. In order to achieve a passing score of 74 percent or greater on the Technician and General exams, you need to answer at least 26 questions correctly, or 37 questions correctly on the Amateur Extra exam. That means you can get up to nine questions wrong on the Technician and General exams and 13 wrong on the Extra testand still pass!

Start by answering the questions you know for certain. Go through again and answer the ones you’re reasonably sure of. If there are still a few that you just don’t know, take an educated guessleaving it blank gets you no credit. In many cases, you can eliminate one or two of the choices as obviously wrong. That will greatly increase your odds of a correct guess. Even if you haven’t a clue, you still have a 25% chance of getting it right. Finally, go through the test once more and make certain that every question is answered, and that you filled in the answers that you intended.


Believe you can do thisthe exams are not that difficult! If you’re well prepared, you can expect a good outcome.

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