Getting Licensed

Before being allowed to transmit on the amateur radio bands, you will need to obtain a license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). To earn your license, you will need to demonstrate an understanding of some operating rules, basic electrical knowledge and a bit about safety.

The test to earn your Technician Class license consists of 35 multiple-choice questions. The questions are drawn from a 428 question pool. All the questions, as well as the correct answers are all publicly available (see link below). The 35 questions you see on the exam are taken word-for-word from this pool of 428 questions.

Here is the pool of 428 questions and answers from which your 35 question test will be drawn.

Preparing to take the test. There are several ways to get ready for the test. Some people take a class, offered by many ham radio clubs. For information on classes, testing sessions and more, visit the ARRL website here. Some people prefer to self-study. There are books, apps, and website to help you self-study. If you are preparing for the test and have a question about something, or you would like a clearer explanation, send an email to AD6QF (at) arrl (dot) net and I’ll be happy to answer your questions.

Here are some test preparation resources to help you get ready…
ARRL Ham Radio LIcence Manual
Gordon West Ham Radio Study Course
Ham Test Online (This is a study site, with practice exams.)
License Study Guide by Dan Romanchik KB6NU

The four tools above have different philosophies about the best approach to becoming a proficient ham.

The ARRL Ham Radio License Manual is a well-written textbook with a list of the test question pool and answers in the back. The intention of this book is to teach you all you need to know to pass the test, as well as additional information to help you get on the air smoothly. In my opinion, this is the best approach from an educator’s point of view. It will also take you longer before you are ready to take the test. If having a deep understanding is more important to you than memorizing the questions, then you might consider this book. When I used to teach an amateur radio class for high school kids, this is the book that we used in the class.

The other three tools are designed to get through the pool of questions fairly quickly, perhaps depending more on memorization than understanding. The idea here is that you will learn all the theory and procedures more naturally once you licensed and get active on the air. If you in a hurry and willing to work toward better understanding after you are licensed, consider this route. You might want to start with Dan Romanchik’s book because it’s pretty good and it’s free. Did I mention that it is free?

The Gordon West book is quite popular. It basically takes you through all the questions, with explanations to go along with each question.

Taking the test. Okay, you’ve read the books, you’re scoring 90% on the on the practice exams, and you’re ready to do this! Now you need to find a testing session. The FCC allows groups called Volunteer Examiner Coordinators, or VECs to administer the tests. There are several groups who do this, but the two largest VECs, with many tests all over the country, are the ARRL and the W5YI group.

What does this cost? Currently, there is no cost for the actual FCC license. The VEC that administers the test is allowed to charge about $15 to cover their expenses. Some testing groups charge less, but they are not allowed to charge more than the maximum amount which as of 2020 is $15.