*Taking Your First Ham Radio Test*
So you want to get a ham radio license and have been studying the Technician Class manual. During the course of your studies you've contemplated the horror of having to go take a test and you worry about passing it. Honestly, the Tech class test is a piece of cake. My mom isn't a techie nut by any means and she passed it AND the Morse Code test years ago when she was sick. If you study the material and take online practice tests until you regularly pass with ease you'll do fine at the real thing. You can practice for free at http://www.qrz.com/
Keep an eye out at www.arrl.org for an exam session near you. Once you decide to go to one, show up a few minutes early. Be sure to have ID and your $15.00 exam fee. ID requirements can be found here- http://www.arrl.org/arrlvec/examsearch.phtml?State=ME#what2bring/
The Technician test is a simple test and you might wonder why you have to pass it to get a ham license. To my knowledge the test isn't to see how 'smart' you are, it's to show that you know about radio frequency safety and how and why Ham Radio works. If the tests became a thing of the past, ham radio would turn in to super CB's and there'd be no rhyme nor reason behind anything. If our bands turned in to "CB trucker's trash" hams wouldn't fund and support repeater systems, satellites, ARES, RACES, etc and you could kiss a lot of what we do good bye. When disaster strikes and comms are down ham radio wouldn't be nearly as efficient because there'd be no procedures, guidelines and rules. "Free for all" doesn't work out so well.
When you show up you'll see some people running around with ID tags, they are the Volunteer Examiners (VE's). By now the reality of "OMG am I gonna pass?" is really going through your head. Just relax it's really not that bad. In fact it's likely that there'll be coffee and donuts on hand. They kind of help make for a better testing enviornment. The VE's are the ones to direct any questions to. Once everybody is seated and settled in they'll usually introduce themselves and explain the test procedure. Everybody will be given the "605" form to fill out and then the VE's will collect them and very you filled in all the boxes that you need to, verify your ID and collect the fee. You'll all be given the test booklet and an answer sheet and a piece of scratch paper.
Make sure, make absolutely sure that on the answer sheet you fill in ALL of the blanks for information. If you don't write in the element number and test version there is no way to grade you if the booklet gets separated from your answer sheet. Your test will be void and considered a fail!! You'll have to pay the fee again if you want to retest.
Personally when I pick up a completed test, I double check to make sure that information is there and correct. Some VE's might miss that especially if they're busy.
If somebody next to you is taking the same element as you, the VE's will give them a different version. There's no time limit so take your time. Be sure to answer all questions.
If you pass the VE's will ask you if you want to take the General test. Go for it! It's free! My recommendation is study for Technician and General at the same time so that you'll pass them both and you get the General for nothing. If you pass General and want to take a whack at Extra... all the more power to you. That'll be free too.
So the way it works is, if you pass an element you can take the next one for free. If you fail an element you have to pay the fee again to retake it. Then if you pass you get to move on for free. It's not the VE's rules.
Once you're done, the examiners will collect your booklet, answer sheet and scratch paper. Three of them will grade your test and inform you of the results. If you pass you'll be issued a CSCE (Certificate of Successful Completion of Examination). This is your proof of the element(s) you took and passed. You should be seeing your callsign online in less than 2 weeks and your license will be in the mail not far behind. http://www.qrz.com/, http://www.fcc.gov/, http://www.arrl.org/ is where you can look.
I sat as a VE today at a testing session. A lady who tested came in and passed her Tech and then took and passed her General! Another guy took his Tech test and aced it. I walked over to him with the "you failed" look on my face and asked "So... you wanna take your General?" His facial expression was priceless until he realized that he passed or else I wouldn't have asked that question. He took and passed his General too! We had 2 people earn licenses and 4 upgrade.
The mistake I mentioned above about not filling in the element number and test version number happened today. A particular (adult) individual apparently couldn't follow simple directions and only wrote his name on the answer sheet and absolutely nothing else. If we didn't see him bring it to the table and set it down and immediately pick it up to look at it he would have failed, when indeed he passed. Then he wanted to know what questions he got wrong, which the VE's are not permitted to discuss. That avoids disputes over the answers. Disputes can be handled with the big dogs at the VEC.
Being a VE is fun. Watching people earn licenses and being one of the ones to sign off is so cool. It's an awesome feeling to tell somebody they passed, however it sucks to tell somebody, especially a child that they didn't make it. :(
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