Upgrading My Amateur Radio License to Amateur Extra Class

I’ve been into Amateur Radio (aka: Ham Radio), for most of my life. I took my first exam (Novice) at age 12, but failed the first time I tried. You needed 1 minute of perfect Morse Code copy, and I just didn’t have it. I finally passed my Technician exam at age 13 and later went on to pass my Tech Plus and General. I recently renewed my license for the third time last fall. Licenses are good for 10 years each time you renew it, so I’ve been licensed for over 30 years. Last fall I decided to buy an HF Radio again. I got a basic wire antenna setup in my attic and I was back in business. With being in a very favorable part of the Solar Cycle, I have been having an absolute blast.

After a few months of reconnecting with HF, I decided for one of my 2024 goals, I would attempt to get my Amateur Extra Class license. I have not studied for a Amateur Radio license exam for over 20 years. It is a little bit different now than it was when I got into the hobby. When I started, there were 6 Levels of licenses: Novice, Technician (Sometimes called “No Code Tech”), Technician Plus, General, Advanced, and Extra. Now there are three: Technician, General, and Amateur Extra.

The old Morse Code (CW) requirements are gone, but the Amateur Extra license is still a longer 50 question multiple choice exam. The exam will test your knowledge of: more obscure FCC regulations, specialized operating practices, advanced electronics theory, and radio equipment design. There are over 600 questions in the question pool. I did need to get busy and knock some rust off.

Amateur Extra Class License

With the Amateur Extra question pool changing July 1, 2024, I decided I needed to get to work. I set a goal to take the test by May so I had a little buffer to take the exam again, if I failed. In December 2024, I came across an advertisement for Ham Radio Prep. They had a Holiday special where you could get access to all of their courses at a discount. I decided to give it a try, and started watching the videos. I’ll share some feedback in another post sometime, but overall it was pretty good. One thing to note, that course is purely exam question preparation. It is not something you could use to actually learn in-depth knowledge of any of the topics.

My self-diagnosed ADHD Hyperfocus kicked in and I knocked out the videos in about two weeks. However, work got busy and it quickly went to the back burner when the new year came around. In early March, I was participating in the ARRL DX SSB Contest, and quickly realized a lot of DX stations were hanging out in areas of the bands where I could not operate. It stinks to be hearing a DX Station very clearly calling “CQ Contest” over and over and you legally can’t transmit back to them.

Tips for Exam Preparation

Here is how I got ready for the exam. Everyone learns differently so do what works for you.

  • Prepare and Research the Exam – There are some really good courses and materials available online or in print form (both free and paid). I used Ham Radio Prep, but there are many others, and this is NOT a sponsored endorsement for them. The complete exam question pool is public information, but having someone digest it down into bite sized topics with visuals was very helpful for me. Make note of the topics you’re struggling with. My nemesis sections were: E6 (Circuit Components) and E7 (Practical Circuits); which make up 12% and 16%, respectively, of the exam.
  • Study Actual Exam Questions – The exam question pool is public information so study the correct answers, but also look at how it differs from the other possible answers. You might quickly notice that most questions have two answers that are similar, but have slight nuances as to why they are the correct or incorrect answer. Knowing those nuances will help you as you prepare. After you study a topic, look at the actual exam questions related to that topic so you know how much you’ll need to know for the exam. There are apps available for your mobile phone to make this easy to do, on the go, or again, you can just download the question pool and study those sections yourself.
  • Take Several of Practice Exams – Beyond just studying the questions in each section, you will want to take several sample exams. I found this was the most helpful because you get a good idea on what sections make up the bulk of the exam. After several of these, you’ll start to see repeat questions and get a feel for the actual exam. I used an app on my phone, “Ham Radio Exam Extra” that was free and would track your trends as you were practicing. The week before the exam I took, at least, two practice exams per day.

Exam Day

On March 16, 2024, exam day came. I took a sample exam before I got out of bed, then got some breakfast, and headed to the exam site. The night before, I had planned to arrive a little early so I could take one more practice exam and study the questions I got incorrect one last time. I walked into the exam room, filled out the paperwork, and we got to work. About eight of us were taking an exam that day. Six were taking their Technician Exam, one was taking their General Exam, and I was taking the Extra exam.

I turned in my answer sheet and waited as the VE Team graded my exam. Sitting at the table I tried to count the marks they were making with their red pen as they carefully graded the exam. I knew when I finished the exam, I had gotten a few wrong, but felt the exam was fair and my studying prepared me. In the end, I missed 5 questions, but it was 90% and a passing score. I was so thrilled and relieved to have succeeded in my goal; especially after just two weeks prior, failing nearly every every practice exam I took.

Closing Thoughts

I can’t wait for the next contest or QSO where I will be able to exercise my newly minted full privileges on all frequencies authorized by the FCC for Amateur Radio.

To all the people that have supported an encouraged me along the way, thank you. Many of the hams that helped me out when I was younger are now Silent Keys, but I think of them often and how much support and encouragement they gave me. Those guys that had Extra Class licenses are hopefully looking down and smiling. This truly is a life-long hobby. Have fun and best of luck in your own pursuit of this hobby. Let me know how your own studying goes! What tips or tricks did you use?

73!

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