Passing the Amateur Extra Class Exam

I passed the ham radio amateur extra class exam last night. The extra class exam is the third in a series of three licensing exams. And though the extra class endorsement opens up some extra band privileges, I wanted to pass the final test so that I could volunteer to administer exams to other licensees.

Many of the answers in the first two exams are common sense, or can be guessed at given some background knowledge in electronics. There are also only about 400 questions in each pool of available questions for the technician and general class exams. On the other hand, the extra class exam has a pool of about 700 questions, and many of these are about very specific circuits, regulations, and scientific effects. Whereas there were maybe 100 questions I committed to memory for the first two exams, there were about 500 questions on the extra class exam that I needed to memorize.

Here was my strategy:

  1. I downloaded the list of test questions and created a flash card deck for Anki.
  2. I borrowed the ARRL Extra Class License Manual from the library.
  3. One chapter at a time, I read the book for some combination of familiarity and understanding: some chapters I was able to read for full comprehension; for difficult chapters it was my goal just to become familiar with that chapter’s words, images and concepts.
  4. At the end of each chapter, the ARRL license manual lists all of the test questions that were covered in that chapter. When I finished a chapter, I tagged all of those questions in my flash card program with their corresponding chapter and added them to my study deck.
  5. Just before sitting the test, I did a bit of cramming by searching out all of the questions I had a difficult time remembering: prop:ease<2.5. I tagged these questions–about 150 total–and moved them into a special “cram” deck.

It took me a week of studying and I correctly answered 45 out of 50 questions!

I’m always surprised by the number and diversity of people that come to Ada’s to become certified. In the thirty minutes that I was at the test I saw maybe ten people in the exam room, and I got the impression that more would be showing up. It was a real diversity of age, gender, and race. My own interest in ham radio has to do with sailing and a general interest in electronics, communication, small-scale disaster response. And, I guess, it’s also nice to be part of a community of geeks.

After the test I talked for a while with a guy who had just passed his general class exam: he was using amateur radio to talk with his daughter, and also to hedge against TEOTWAWKI. I wish I could have asked more people why they were there that night.

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