2. Getting Your First License


The Technician Class License has 35 questions. You must answer at least 26 correctly to Pass.  These exam questions are taken from a Question Pool which has 426 questions divided into different aspects of Amateur Radio.

The actual exam is “like the old days” when we took scantron tests---multi-choice and blacken the bubble. Your answers will be checked and rechecked by at least three Volunteer Examiners (VEs) who hold either a General Class or Amateur Extra license. They will inform you whether you scored high enough to pass.

The Study Process, Summarized

We recommend the following process to study for your exam. See the following sections for details.

    1.    Get the right manual.

    2.    Download the right question pool.

    3.    Consider taking a study class.

    4.    Create your own personal study guide, as you study the manual and/or take the class.

    5.    Use the study guide!

    6.    Take on-line practice tests.

    7.    Repeat items 5 and 6 until you’re comfortable that you’ll pass the real thing.

    8.    Go for it. Take the test.

Of course, if at any time during this process you have a question you can’t find an answer to, ask someone. If you have a more experienced friend or club member, ask them. You can also ask us, with an email to info@mdarc.org or a call to (925) 288-1730.

1. Get the Right Manual

There are two major styles or “brands” of manuals you can use to study for your license. One is the ARRL series of books and the other is the Gordon West, W5YI series. Each has a different approach to teaching you what you need to know.

The ARRL manuals are larger and give a more complete explanation of the technologies and concepts involved in being a ham, along with the particular questions in the pool that pertain to that topic. Review the ARRL manual for your Technician Class license at this ARRL page.

The W5YI manuals list each question in the pool in order, give the correct answer and a brief explanation as to why it’s correct. Review the Gordon West manual at this W5YI page. W5YI also has several other products you can choose as well. See this page

These manuals can be ordered at the above web pages, as well as multiple other internet sources. Among them are:

* Amazon (https://smile.amazon.com/ch/23-7072059)

* DX Engineering (https://www.dxengineering.com/)

* Ham Radio Outlet (https://www.hamradio.com/)

You can also pick up a manual in person at the Ham Radio Outlet store in Oakland or any other of their stores. See their web site for the locations.

Note: As with the Question Pools (see below), both the ARRL and W5YI manuals expire every four years. Make sure you get the manual edition that applies at the time you will take the test. The valid dates are clearly marked on the web pages and the manual's cover. Also, because of this, the above links to the manuals' web pages may no longer be valid when you read this. If so, please remind us to fix them (at info@mdarc.org), then just search the main ARRL and/or W5YI web site for the current edition.

MDARC uses ARRL manuals for all our license training classes. If you plan to take one of our classes, you’ll need access to the ARRL manual, both during and outside of the classes. See our Class Details page.

2. Download the Right Question Pool

Although the complete question pool is in the manual, you’ll need a copy of it in text, Word or PDF format to help you create your study guide. We believe the Word version will be the easiest to work with. The question pool for each license class changes every four years. That, along with three license classes, means that you need to be careful and make sure you download the correct question pool. See the image.

Note that each question pool takes effect on July 1 of its first year and expires on June 30 of its fourth year. The question pool you need is the one in effect on the date you actually take the test.

The official version of all question pools is created and maintained by the National Conference of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators (NCVEC). Go to their web site at http://www.ncvec.org/. Look down the left-hand navigation bar, in the Amateur Question Pool section, for the correct question pool. Note there are often two question pools listed for a particular license class. Be careful to select the correct license class and download the question pool that will be in effect on the date you take the test.

3. Consider Taking a Study Class

There are basically two types of license study classes: a single full-day, essentially self-study session, sometimes called a “ham-cram”; and a multi-session course. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. 

With a one-day ham-cram, you spend one intense day studying the question pool (and nothing else), then take the test. Assuming you pass, you’re done (until you’re ready to upgrade). The main advantages are A.) It takes less time to get your license; and B.) It’s good for those that have difficulty grasping theory and concepts before being able to use them in practice (e.g., actually transmitting on your radio). The main disadvantage is that it teaches only how to pass the test. You learn nothing about how to actually be an amateur radio operator or use a radio. No answers to “why” and “how”. With most ham-cram sessions, there are minimal, or no, opportunities to ask questions about something you don’t understand. Also, you don’t get the benefit of creating your own study guide (see below); as it’s given to you, pre‑printed, at the beginning of the day.

As the name implies, with a multi-session course, you spend several sessions in a classroom with other students and one or more instructors or discussion leaders, usually over a period of multiple weeks. Often there are other mentors (hams call them “elmers”) available to help as well. At each session, one or two chapters of the manual are covered. There are several advantages. The grasping and retention of the needed concepts is greatly enhanced by A.) a through reading (and re-reading) of the manual over a period of time; B.) the leaders’ presentations, which usually include numerous graphics, images, equipment displays and other visual aids; C.) the ability to get your questions answered in a timely manner; D.) the ability to feed off other students’ responses and questions; E.) the opportunity to create your own personalized study guide (see below); F.) the in-person networking among the students, leaders and elmers provides an incentive to keep working. The main disadvantage, of course, is that it takes longer to prepare for the test, usually several weeks. There is also a significant amount of homework between class sessions.

We’ve also found that children and teenagers have difficulty maintaining the focus and concentration required for the one-day classes, so the multi-session course is a good option for them.

MDARC focuses mainly on the multi-session course format. See our Education and Training section for details.

4. Create Your Own Personal Study Guide

5. Use the Study Guide!

As part of every license class we teach, MDARC strongly recommends that each student create and maintain their own personal study guide.

It’s possible to pass the exam without ever reading a manual; but we recommend that you read it, and as you come across the questions in the “blue boxes” in the text (assuming its the ARRL manual), referring you to the question pool for the specific questions that apply to the section you’re currently studying; you use those questions to add into your study guide. This is the method that we teach in our MDARC/SATERN licensing courses.

•    As you come to the questions in the “blue boxes” in the ARRL manual, cut & paste those questions from the NCVEC question pool you downloaded in Step 2 above into your Study Guide.

•    Immediately delete all the incorrect answers. DO NOT read them. This is a critical step.

•    Remove any reference to the answer option letters (i.e. A, B, C, D).

(Note: your exam will have the answer choices randomized, so what shows as “C”, for example, in your question pool may not be “C” on the actual exam.)

•    Keep going until all the questions in the pool are in your study guide, along with (only) their correct answers.

Why a Study Guide? Why Delete the Wrong Answers?

Numerous studies, and our own experience from our classes, have shown that the more physical action you take in studying for any type of exam, the more you will retain from your efforts. Just reading is often not enough. Get physical, by copying and pasting the questions and answers; or even typing or handwriting them, into your study guide. You can also read them out loud to get the dual benefit of speaking and hearing them.

Deleting the incorrect answers means you won’t see them during your study time; and you will have “mentally associated each question with only the correct answer. You brain will now easily recognize that correct answer when you see it again on the test. The correct answer will easily stand out for you on the test. More than that, the incorrect answers, which you will now be seeing for the first time, will stand out even more distinctly since they are new and unfamiliar to your brain. You may or may not know why they are wrong, but you will have that old feeling that “something just ain’t right with it” when you see those incorrect options. [Briggs Longbothum, AB2NJ (SK)]

6. Take On-Line Practice Tests

An internet search for “amateur radio practice test” will return a multitude of web sites providing them. For many, however, it’s hard to know for sure that they are using the correct, up-to-date question pool, and that the answer they say is correct really is. So it’s best to stick with a few reputable sites to ensure you’re getting the right stuff. We suggest you use practice tests from the following:

•    Amateur Radio Relay League  (ARRL): http://arrlexamreview.appspot.com/

•    QRZ website: https://www.qrz.com/hamtest/

7. Don’t Give Up. Repeat Items 5 and 6

Keep at it. There can be a lot to absorb, especially if you’re not technically oriented. People as young as 8 and well into their 80s have gotten their license. You can too.

8. Go For It. Take the Test.

See our License Testing page for details on tests MDARC administers. If you can’t make it to one of our sessions, try this exam search tool on the ARRL web site.