It was September 2012 when I took the second ham radio text (General) and passed, missing only one question. With my General license, I gained access to High Frequency bands (which are the bands that enable you to communicate around the world).
And then most recently, I sat for my Extra exam (the third and top level), and passed, missing only four questions out of 50 (from a question pool of 738 questions).
Having now passed all three tests, I’d have to say that – in my opinion as a professional writer – the questions on the “Extra” test are, by design, unnecessarily complicated, difficult and confusing.
Worst of all, the questions on these tests are relics from the 1950s.
Most of the horrifically technical information contained on the Extra test (such as the subtle differences between Zener, Varactor, Schottky and Tunnel diodes), is useful only to those people who may be interested in building their own radios. If you’re not planning on building a radio, this is information you’ll never want, need or use.
So why are the great majority of these questions so miserably difficult?
I’d really, really like to know.
The demographic of Ham Radio operators is overwhelmingly older men (age 60+). According to Wikipedia, “fewer than 15%” of Ham Radio operators are women. And I would love to know how many of those women have their Extra license? Overall, a mere 17% of licensed hams have their Extra license. I’d expect that among women, that number is much, much lower.
I’m blessed with a good memory (which has been a huge help in my career as a Sears House hunter), and years ago, I took two years of Automotive Technology at a vocational school. This background, together with about 45 hours of devoted study, enabled me to pass today’s test.
But it wasn’t easy.
If Ham Radio is to survive the next few decades, it’s essential that it move out of the 1950s and into the 21st Century, and a big part of that is revamping the current testing program, and make it more apropos to our modern times. Perhaps the tests should focus on the real-world practical issues of safety, proper grounding techniques, antenna design and installation, etiquette and band plans.
After all, how many Americans would have cell phones if every user had to pass a test demonstrating competency in building their own phone from a Heath Kit?
Not too many.
The software pays attention to your strengths and weaknesses (as you answer the questions), and forces you to revisit the questions that you got wrong (again and again). It’s under $35 per test and worth every penny.
And perhaps one day, we can make it simpler for folks to participate in the many joys of Ham Radio by removing the barrier created by these difficult tests.
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