You’ve got questions about how to get a ham radio license. We have answers!
It’s never been easier to get an amateur radio license and get on the air. We have assembled the following steps you can follow to study for the amateur radio license exam, pass the ham radio license exam, get your license and finally get on the air. You don’t need to know Morse code (aka CW) to get your ham radio license.
Every ham radio operator was once just like you – interested in ham radio but not sure how to get a license so they could talk to people on the radio. We’ve put together some tried and true information based on our own experience and based on the experience of thousands of others who now want to help you find out how to pass the amateur radio license exam.
1. Study and learn
There are three classes of amateur radio licenses, and there is a separate exam for each class. All classes of license exams are multiple choice.
Technician Amateur Radio License Exam
Everyone starts at the Technician level. Technician class licensees can operate on a wider variety of frequencies than they could in the past. With this license, you’ll be able to talk on local VHF and UHF repeaters, communicate through satellites orbiting the earth, as well as operate simplex (i.e. direct communication between stations without a repeater) on these frequencies. Technicians now also receive limited power privileges on several of the HF bands.
General Amateur Radio License Exam
The General class exam covers more advanced electronics concepts as well as more information about antenna systems and radio frequency propagation. Passing this exam gives you much wider operating privileges allowing you to talk all around the world.
Extra Amateur Radio License Exam
The Extra class exam builds on the concepts from the General exam to include more advanced material. Earning your Extra class license will give you full access to the frequencies allocated for use by amateur radio operators in the United States. This can be very advantageous during busy times on the air when conditions are excellent and many people are on the air at the same time.
The Technician and General exams each consists of 35 questions. The Extra class exam has 50 questions. To pass any class, you must answer 74% of the questions correctly. That translates to at least 26 correct answers on the Technician and General exams, and 37 correct answers on the Extra exam.
How to Study for an Amateur Radio License Exam
There are many ways to study for an amateur radio license exam. The good news is that the question pool for each license class is published for you to review and study. As a result, there are a number of options for you to prepare.
Learn the course material
There are a number of resources available to help you really learn the principles and concepts that are covered on the license exams. Just do a search in your favorite search engine for “amateur radio license study materials,” and you will find a plethora of books, courses, videos and other materials that cover the regulations, electronics principles, and operating practices that make up the majority of the exam questions. This a great way to really learn about ham radio and prepare for the exam with actual knowledge.
Study the questions and answers
Many people choose to focus on studying the questions and answers rather than pay for classes or take the time to read hundreds of pages of electronics theory. This is made easy by the fact that the question and answer pools are publicly available. Each question will include one correct answer and three “distractor” statements, or in other words wrong answers.
For the Technician class exam (entry level), there are 412 questions in the question pool. An actual exam will have only 35 of these questions, and you must answer 26 correctly to pass.
Many people recommend studying only the correct answer and never looking at the distractors. This is a great idea, as it will make the correct answer stand out to you when taking the test. The thought is if you never look at the distractors (i.e. wrong answers), then they will not be familiar to you. Only the correct answer will be familiar, making it easier to identify the correct answer.
Other people prefer to study all of the answer options, as they contend this helps them better understand the content. The idea here is that being aware of the incorrect answers can actually help you understand why the correct answer is the correct answer.
Either approach is valid. If you are only studying the answers to pass the exam, that’s fine. The scientific principles will make more sense as you get further into the hobby.
There are websites and mobile apps that help you study the questions like using flash cards. HamStudy.org is one of the more popular ham preparation websites at the time of this writing. They even make it easy to take the test online in a virtual test session!
To find a good smartphone app, just search your smartphone’s app store to search for ham radio study guides. HamStudy.org has a smartphone app in addition to the website mentioned above. Another popular app is “Ham Radio Exam – Tech” by Roy Watson.
Note, we do not endorse, and we are not affiliated with any of the websites or applications mentioned above.
The question pools change for each license every four (4) years on a rotating basis. We recommend viewing and downloading the current amateur radio license exam question pools directly on the ARRL website.
Take Practice Tests
As you prepare and learn the material, you will find it helpful to take practice tests. There are many ways to do this online or on your smartphone. The ARRL allows you to take free practice exams through their website here. The other websites and apps mentioned above also provide this as part of their study experience. Once you are consistently passing the exams with room to spare, then you’re ready to take the test.
2. Register with the FCC to get an FRN
Before you can take an amateur radio license exam, you must first create an account on the FCC ULS website and procure an FRN (FCC Registration Number). Registering is easy and only takes about 10 minutes. You will need an email address to which you have access in order to verify your account. Once you register with the FCC, print or write down your FRN and take that number with you to the license exam.
Register with FCC ULS and get your FRN here by going to the FCC Registration website and click “Register”.
3. Take the Amateur Radio License Exam
Once you have your FRN and you’re consistently passing practice exams, you’re ready to find a test session and take the exam. Our club conducts exam sessions on the first Tuesday of every month at the Ola Fire Department in Ola, AR. The tests take place immediately following our club meeting which starts at 7:00 pm. We usually start the exam at 7:30. You are welcome to attend our club meeting to learn more about our club and meet other hams, or you can just come for the test session. You can see our schedule of exams on our Events page here.
You will need to bring a photo ID, your FRN and the license fee ($15 as of 2022) to the exam session. You can also bring a calculator to the exam, but you must show that the calculator’s memory has been cleared. You cannot use graphing calculators or smartphone calculators. You also cannot bring any other written materials with you to the session.
If you pass the exam, you can take the next level exam without an additional license fee. If you fail the exam, you can immediately take the exam again by paying an additional exam fee. You will receive a different version of the exam each time you retake the exam.
4. Check the FCC Database for your Call Sign
After you pass the exam, the exam team will send your information to the ARRL who will process your license application with the FCC.
If you are a first-time licensee, you will then receive an email from the FCC with an invoice for the $35 license fee (which is good for 10 years). The email from the FCC will include instructions for how to pay the fee online in order to complete your application process. After the FCC processes your payment, they will email your amateur radio station callsign and license. Congratulations!
5. Get on the air!
We look forward to hearing you on the air and getting to know you. We hope you’ll join us on our W5OLA repeater and join our weekly nets on Thursdays at 7:00. We also invite you to attend our monthly club meeting to continue learning from other hams in the area.