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How To Get Your HAM Radio License In 7 Days

How To Get Your HAM Radio License In 7 Days




How To Get Your HAM Radio License In 7 Days

The HAM Radio license, it seems, is one of the biggest prepping mysteries.  Communications will be very important in any disaster,  be it a local disaster, a regional event like Katrina, or even an all out grid down event.  I myself fell prey to the notion that getting a license was reserved to folks who didn’t have friends and lived in their mother’s basements.  Heck, the previous requirement of knowing Morse Code was enough to scare me away.  Fortunately, things have changed for the better.

I’ve previously espoused understanding a subject before investing a great deal of money or going for the credentials, yet the deeper I get into this hobby the more I disagree with the sentiment.  There is way too much to know about HAM radio.  Taking this approach will lead to disappointment and a failure of accomplishment  No, I’ve concluded that HAM radio is best learned “on the job”.

Lots of folks have the attitude that HAM radio shouldn’t involve a license.  True, we don’t own the airwaves.  But understand that the airwaves are broken up, by frequency, and allocated for different purposes.  The misuse of these airwaves can cause tragic events, from a missed call for help from a police officer to a plane crash.  Also consider Amateur radio operators are very proud of their hobby and personal accomplishments.  Pirate stations are often tracked down and turned in, at that point it can be a hefty fine and jail time.  For those that feel “the Government” is going to someday come knocking at your door because you are an amateur radio operator, stand in line, they will be there for your guns, food stocks, and political beliefs first.  If you make if through those rounds of confiscation your HAM radio will be next.

Back to reality.  So, how can attaining a license for HAM radio in 7 days be possible?  Simple, the testing isn’t that hard and the format of the test (multiple choice) lends itself to quick study.  This article is designed to get you on the air in a week or less, with a radio, for around $50.

Keep Your Eye On The Prize

Since we are taking a different approach attaining your HAM radio license I’m going to suggest you first get a radio.  You’ve probably seen this ad nauseum in the prepper community, but the Baofeng UV-5R is probably the best begginer’s radio.  Why?  It’s cheap and it works well enough for a first time user.  After you get your license you may find yourself in a spiral of more capable and expensive radios, but the Baofeng will always be there.  You don’t care if you drop it in the mud or forget it at a buddy’s house.  It will probably be the radio you carry when you traipse off into the woods.  Breaking a thirty some dollar radio is much better than breaking one that costs several hundred dollars.  Buying the Boafeng will give you something tangible, the prize if you will, while studying for the test.  You will want to take the test as well, you can’t legally transmit without a license.  You can, however, program and listen to radio traffic.  We’ve done several videos on this radio, here is the one on how to program it.  Check out the Baofeng here.

How and Where To Begin Attaining Your License

Once your radio is on the way you next need to know how and where to get your license.  As I mentioned before, attaining the license requires you to pass a test.  Currently, there are actually three different licenses available for amateur radio operators.  Our method should work well for the first two, the Technician and General license.  The third, the Extra Class license is it’s own animal.  The Technician license will get you talking regionally and will be most useful for local communications in a disaster, i.e. getting news in and out of the area or communicating with friends or family members in a grid down situation.  The General class license opens up worldwide communications.  Why is this?  Well, we are not going to re-invent the wheel here.  One of our first bits of suggested study are our articles “A Prepper’s Guide To HAM Radio Basics” and “HAM Radio for Preppers Explained“, check them out.

As we alluded, the way the tests are structured are the key to attaining your license without spending months or years understanding the subject.  The technician test consists of 35 questions from a pool of 426.  Each question has four multiple choice answers.  Passing the test requires you to answer 26 of these questions correctly.   These tests are administered by Volunteer Examiners from the American Radio and Relay League, or the ARRL.  These tests are administered across the United States and chances are you will find one near you each month.  There is no charge for the license, but the ARRL charges $15 to cover the costs of administering the test.  That $15 and the thirty or so dollars you spent on the Baofeng gets you to the “fifty dollars or less”.

Step 1: Finding a Test in Your Area

Finding a test in your area is quite simple.  Head over to this link at ARRL.orgenter your zipcode, and pick a location and time that are convenient.  Some tests require pre-registration, some do not.  Pick a test that is a week or more out and commit to it.

Step 2: Finding the Questions

hamstudytechNow you’ve got some skin in the game.  You’ve got a radio and you’ve picked your testing date and locations.  Now what?  You must find the questions that are going to be on the test.  Fortunately for us, there is an excellent resource out there that will be the crux of your study.  Hamstudy.org is where I have directed (and helped get licensed) dozens of individuals.  The method seems to work, so why not share?  The site is easy to understand and contains all of the questions you will find on the all of the licensing tests.  For this article we will focus on the Technician exam.  Selecting the technician portion of the site will yield three choices, “Study test questions”, “read test questions”, and “Practice Test”.




Step 3: Familiarizing Yourself With The Questions

For some with even a mild electronics background you might instantly recognize the answers to the questions, for others, it might seem like gibberish.  I’ve personally directed people to this site for over a year.  All who have committed to the test have passed using this site as a study guide.  For some it took a just a few hours of study, for others it took up to a week (and that was for the general).  Assuming you can dedicate an hour or two a day for a week, spend the first study period just reading through the questions (read question option).  You will quickly ascertain whether this will be easy or hard for you to do.  All of the questions are presented with the answer as well as the incorrect answers.  You should be able to read through the all of the possible questions in the first study period.

Step 4: Flash Cards

flash cardsAfter your first study period, move on to the ‘flash card” section of the site.  In this section the questions will be presented to you covering the different subject areas of the test.  You can click on the answer you think is correct and immediately it will be graded, the correct answer shown, and if you want to read a little about the subject of the question there is a spot on the upper right that puts the question into context.







As you move along your progress will be shown on the right side of the page, namely the percentage of the questions that you have seen as well as your overall aptitude in answering the questions correctly.

Remember, there are 426 total questions available.  You will begin to notice that a great deal of the questions fall into the “common sense” category, in lots of cases the correct answer is obvious, even to a person with limited exposure to electronics and HAM radio.  You will also notice that the questions that directly concern HAM radio, those covering specific regulations, frequencies, and even schematics will also present an obvious answer with three not so plausible options.

It is possible to cover all of the questions in the pool on your second study session.  If you are doing really well, meaning your overall aptitude is reasonably high, this may be all you need and can move on to the next session.  For most, you might want to spend your next two or three sessions in the flash cards, until you can answer a high percentage of the questions correctly.

Step 5: Where the Rubber Meets the Road

resultsOn the last two study sessions before the test you are going to want to move to the “practice test” section of the site.  This is much the same as the flash card portion, but the questions are specifically chosen from the pool as they might appear on the actual test.  You will be presented with 35 questions, just the same as the real deal.  Each question is selected from the different sub-sections covered by the real exam, so this is more accurate than using the flash card’s aptitude measure in predicting how you would fare on the actual test.

Each exam is graded upon completion with the questions you missed related to their sub section.  You also have the option to review the test.  If you choose to do this after each test, the question you answered incorrectly will be shown as well as the correct answer.

Remember, you must answer 26 of the 35 answers correctly on the exam, back in school we called this a “C”.  For the last two study sessions, take the tests over and over until you can pass 9 out of 10.  I haven’t had a person who followed this method fail, yet.

Step 6: The Test

At this point, if you’ve diligently put in seven honest days of study, you should recognize a great deal of the correct answers.  You may have found that a few nagging questions you can never seem to get right, but for the most part you can answer some of the questions by just seeing the first few words of the question.  You are ready to go!

Don’t forget to bring your $15 in cash with you to your test.  When you arrive, you will be greeted by three Volunteer Examiners.  These are nothing more than three (soon to be) fellow amateur radio operators that have taken time out of their days to administer your test.  You will be handed a booklet containing the questions and one of those sheets where you fill in the circle for the correct answer.

I always recommend folks take tests, especially multiple choice tests, in this fashion.  Sit down, relax, and take a look at the first question.  If your studying melded your mind from mush into an amateur radio expert, the answer should be readily apparent.  If it isn’t, don’t despair, SKIP the question.  Move on to question two, same here.  Answer the questions for which you are POSITIVE and SKIP the ones for which you are not sure.  Do this all of the way to the end of the exam.  Because you are answering the questions that you know, you should breeze through.  When you get to the end, go back and count the number of questions you answered.  My bet is most of you answered at least 26 of them.  Congratulations, you’ve already passed.  Go back and make you best guess on the remaining questions.  Even if you weren’t POSITIVE of at least 26, you are probably close, and with logic you can get over hump.

When you’ve answered all of the questions to the best of your ability, turn in your test and have a seat.  Your test will be graded by each one of the Volunteer Examiners, this is done for accuracy.  My guess is if you follow this plan they will be congratulating you and welcoming you to the hobby.

As a side note, for the really ambitious folks, the ones that breezed through the Technician Exam at Hamstudy.org; you can take your General Exam on the same day if you wish.  Best of all, you won’t have to pay an additional $15 to take it.  In fact, during my general exam, there was a guy that took all three in one sitting (and passed!).


Becoming a licensed amateur radio operator isn’t hard at all.  If you are willing to put in a few hours over the course of a week, you too can call yourself a HAM.  I realize this article is more about studying and test taking than amateur radio, but the resources listed tell you everything you need and hopefully take the mystery out of the process.  For those of you that would like to read up a bit more on the subject, the ARRL has a pretty good book that can also help with taking the exam:

ARRLbookThe ARRL Ham Radio License Manual




BONUS- Getting Your HAM Radio Technician’s License VIDEO





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  1. Ronald baker

    I have had a citizen bands radio license senxe the mid seventy’s are they still good

  2. admin

    CB does not require a license. An amateur radio license is good for 10 years.

  3. Thrifty Native

    There is no testing within 250 miles of KY, unfortunately. However, I’m still going to follow your advice on here and study for the test. You never know, they may offer a testing site near me eventually, and I wanna be ready! Thanks for the great article!

  4. Michel Brault

    An amateur radio license is good for 10 years, USA. Up here in Canada an amateur license is good for life!

  5. woodchuck

    Actually, programming my radios for the local repeaters has been a bit more of a challenge than passing the license test. I got a general license about ten months ago. Cross country and intercontinental contacts are fun and a subject of many Ham contests, but you will probably need to be able to communicate in your area, (City, County, region) more in the event of an emergency. Most of the traffic goes on the two meter band and the seventy cm band. Join your local clubs, get to know other hams, get used to operating. Don’t expect to buy the equipment, store it for use in an emergency and then succeed. Get the license, buy the equipment, start using it. Then you will be really ready for an emergency.

  6. Ken

    I recently studied for my General, having earned my Technician license years ago. My study plan was to repeatedly read the ARRL license manual until I was familiar with it’s material. Then after casually reading a chapter or two each weekend over several months I had no idea about how prepared I was (I was interested in learning the material, not focused on the test per se).

    Then I took the CD out of the book and installed the ARRL practice exam software, after a few tries I was consistently scoring a ‘C’ or better on most attempts… I started feeling good about my chances of passing, but since I was going to take my exam in front of fellow members of my club I wanted to be 100% sure I’d pass… So I kicked my efforts up a step.

    I went and downloaded the entire General question pool as a word document (from a link at ARRL.COM) and proceeded to read each question, making it bold, and the setting the correct answer to bold. This made the correct answer ‘pop out’ when I subsequently went back and re-read the question pool. I read through the ‘bold’ question pool several times (3-4) during the week before my scheduled exam.

    The day of the exam, I went to the location, gave them a copy of my current license and $15 and took the test.

    As you suggest, I went through and answered each question I was ‘sure’ of. That was well over half of the booklet. I then went back and answered questions I was not so sure on, but still had an idea what the answer was, then in a final third pass I took complete guesses on the 2 questions I had absolutely no idea what the answer was (they tended to be ‘which freq…’ Questions.

    I then went down the answer sheet, ensuring every question had an answer marked.

    I passed. Handily. 30 out of 35, IIRC.

    Then my friends suggested I attempt Extra (“it doesn’t cost anything”, “Why not, you’re already here”, and “you are all studied-up, in a test-taking frame of mind, just do it”).

    I did the same thing I did for General – first, answer the ones I knew (I knew a lot!), then the toss-ups, finally the wild guesses (5 questions I had no idea what they were talking about – ‘Smith Chart’? ‘Three-state logic’?)…

    The first VEC graded my test and said nothing, the second VEC also graded it silently… When he handed my answer sheet to the the third VEC (a good friend of mine) I couldn’t hold back and had to ask “I didn’t pass it, did I?”

    I had. I got an exact passing score, one more wrong answer and I wouldn’t have passed.

    So now I am the proud holder of an Extra license, the FCC updated my record two business days after taking the test.

    Lest anyone think the Extra is trivial, let me re-assure you – I have been reading about and involved in radio since summer camp back in the early 70’s, almost 40 years at this point, BUT I did find that many of the questions on the Extra exam were very, very similar to questions in the General pool.

    I’m passing your posting on to a friend that is just starting his journey to earn a Technician license – I agree with all your suggestions, and appreciate the links you provide, it’s nice to have them all in one place. One additional link I would add would be for the new ARRL Practice a Exams online – they are 100% free, allow you to take a practice exam wherever you are (as long as you have Internet access), and will track your progress. It is no better/no worse than any other similar resource, I would just add it for completeness.

    Thanks, great article,!

  7. Ken

    Great article! I became a Technician licensed HAM radio operator in July 2013. Like you, I initially thought that one should have a thorough understanding of the subject matter in order to justify taking the test to become a licensed operator. Of course, as you explained, this is futile and I wholeheartedly agree that HAM radio is best learned “on the job.” I am glad that I gave in to the quick study approach for my Technician’s license, and I plan to do the same thing for the General and Extra class licenses, as well.

  8. Bob

    Most test location prefer if you have your FRN from the FCC prior to taking the test. This lets toy not use your SNN and lets you look up your call sign after you pass the test and it is processed by the FCC. You can use your radio as soon as your call sign is issued (it takes the FCC more than 7 days to do that). So the first step is get an FRN, then study, then pass, then get a radio, wait for your call sign, use the radio. Get your FRN here: http://wireless.fcc.gov/uls/index.htm?job=about_getting_started#d36e21

  9. Chuck B

    Good post.

    I got my novice license back in 1968 when they were not renewable. You simply had to upgrade to general or, at least, tech or when it expired you were of the air until you did.

    I recently used a pay version similar to the site you mentioned to study and pass my Extra. I was really sweating it but honestly if people take your advice and run through the questions then take practice tests they really will pass easily.

    So I was licensed when I was 13 and got my Extra when I was 60… Even old dogs can do it.

    Chuck – WB8CEE

  10. Dave Page

    are the tests for Canadian Ham Radio license the same as the US tests?

  11. Richard Bateman (KD7BBC)

    Awesome write-up! Good luck to everyone following this method from the HamStudy.org team!

  12. M0GVZ

    WORST ARTICLE EVER. If you want to be that idiot who doesn’t even know how to use a SWR meter then do what this article suggests. Its almost like the author has forgotten what the whole point of amateur radio is.

    And only getting a dualband FM radio is probably the worst way to get started. Its less than 1/10th of one percent of the hobby and restricting yourself to a crappy low powered HT will leave you thinking its no better than talking on the CB.

  13. Shawn wade

    In the 70’s and earlier CB did require a license but not since the early to mid 70’s. I used the above link and found nowhere to get tested anywhere near me.

  14. Jim Stachowiak

    I did the same thing on QRZ.com , Practiced for three weeks while waiting for an Exam Date and Aced the test. I’m A Total Beginner but I’m going to use this in Conjunction with My Prepping and CERT Membership.

  15. Joe

    Yes. CB is still out there and, in my rolling hills of south central Pa, it’s good for maybe 10-20 miles. Ham radio will get you around the world, even with the lowly Beofung. (Look up Ham Radio satellites and linking repeaters) It all depends on what you want and how much effort you’re willing to put into it, just like anything else. I’ve got one of those “multi hundred dollar” radios in my car 24/7. It gets banged around all the time but keeps working – you get what you pay for. I’ve actually talked to people 4,000+ miles away on 2.5-5 watts with a crappy mag-mount antenna! (Not on the Beofung’s 2 meter band but “shortwave”/20 meters.)
    I got my license in the late ’70s. I had to learn Morse code and it will not kill anyone. In fact, though I have a General Class, my code speed is at the Extra Class level because it’s fun but challenging.
    It’s an incredible hobby that can save lives. 🙂

  16. Hugo Ahlquist

    This is a very good article. Ham radio is a wonderful hobby with many, many facets. It’s kept my interest for the past 57 years.

    To make ham radio work well for you, you should get involved in the local ham radio community so you will know who you are talking to and can get help with using and improving your equipment and operating skills. You most likely have a local radio club in your area. They are probably the ones supplying the volunteer examiners.

    Get involved in your club’s public service events. They are good practice in communicating that will carry over into emergency situations. My involvement has led to my being part of a ham radio group that works directly with our state emergency management agency on a volunteer basis. As a result, I’ve had access to FEMA training in several areas and, as a huge bonus, have met a lot of really nice other volunteers

  17. gene

    Do you have to take the technician test first then the general?

  18. admin

    Yes, but you can take them in the same sitting.

  19. admin

    CB does not require a license.

  20. admin

    I’m sorry you feel this way. I can tell you this, this website has tens of thousands of fans. I’ve consulted with hundreds and I will tell you one thing, if you suggest to people to learn the hobby from the ground up, without ANY kind of radio, tell them to learn as much as they can and then go take the test, guess how many folks will do so? Zero. On the otherhand, if you immerse a person in the hobby, right away, with a radio, I can tell you from experience, I’ve guided over a hundred people to the hobby. When they show up to their test they will meet three veteran volunteer examiners who will be happy to guide and teach them. We need new blood in this old hobby. I can tell you, listening and talking all over the world, half the hobby is going to pass away in the next ten to twenty years, if not sooner. Yes, the folks that use this method WILL know the function of an SWR meter. Why? because they have to. Also, read through the comments to find just what you CAN do with a $30 radio.

  21. admin

    Congrats on the Extra. Maybe someday for me, KD9AFO.

  22. admin

    I got my tech license one month, they asked if I wanted to take the general, I said no. I went back the next month, got my general and they asked if I wanted to take the extra…I skipped it again. I was too afraid of failing. If I did it all over again I’d follow my own advice.

  23. Hugo Ahlquist

    M0GVZ, sorry you feel that way, but you are entitled to your opinion. I see the license as a license to learn. Getting started with a cheap Chinese made radio may not be ideal, but it is way ahead of not starting at all. Once you get on the air and get acquainted with other hams in the area, you’ll learn about the other aspects of the hobby that they are interested in. Hams like to talk and like to talk about what they do. Go to meetings and get to know other hams in person, too. Maybe, if you can’t afford an HF radio at first, someone can loan you one. That’s how it works around here in the friendly American Midwest. Maybe it’s different in the UK.

  24. Amelia Patterson

    Hi, important information and an fascinating article, it is going to be fascinating if this is still the situation in a few years time

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