Keep Up With Rules and Knowledge

I have enjoyed helping teach technician license classes in the past and may help with more in the future.  When you step into the instructor role you realize how much you don’t know about a subject, or have forgotten.  It’s humbling to discover that you forgot something or really didn’t understand a particular topic.  I’m an extra class operator and was surprised at how many things I forgot or couldn’t answer with certainty on the Technician exam.

So now we will discuss keeping up with rules and knowledge regarding amateur radio, and not just resting on our laurels, having passed a license exam one day in the past.  The reason the FCC requires some basic knowledge about ham radio is because we have the most privileges in the radio spectrum around the world, and we can cause a lot of trouble with that freedom.  In ham radio there is an expectation of continuous learning and that also implies that we should not forget what we already know.

There are seven broad categories of questions in exams of all three license levels.  These are:

  • Regulations
  • Operating practices
  • Electronics
  • Propagation
  • Antennas
  • Safety

Of these seven we might say that three are the most important:  Safety (first!), Regulations and Operating Practices.  That doesn’t mean the other categories are unimportant but we should probably place a priority on these three.

To reinforce the premise that we easily forget important details, let me quiz you on some important topics.  These are all questions on safety, regulations and operating practices from the Technician exam and all could apply to how we use radio in regularly:

  • What emission modes are permitted in the mode-restricted sub-band from 144.0 to 144.1 MHz?
  • What is the only time an amateur station is authorized to transmit music?
  • What determines the transmitting privileges of an amateur station?
  • Which of the following services are protected from interference by amateur signals under all circumstances?
  •  Which of the following is an FCC rule regarding power levels used in the amateur bands, under normal, non-distress circumstances?
  • What could cause your FM signal to interfere with stations on nearby frequencies?
  • Are amateur station control operators ever permitted to operate outside the frequency privileges of their license class?
  • What is the maximum power level that an amateur radio station may use at VHF frequencies before an RF exposure evaluation is required?
  • What is the definition of duty cycle during the averaging time for RF exposure?

If you can’t quickly and easily answer these questions, it’s time to dust off the cobwebs and refresh the brain cells.  Keeping up with these priority topics is important, as is knowledge in other areas in your license class.

One more wrinkle here– you may be surprised to learn that the USA license exam question pools change every four years.  This is mainly because rules and technology change over time.  While you may never need to take a ham exam again, you should know the material, especially rule changes.

Do you need to do this?  No, the FCC does not require you to unofficially re-certify your license on your own, which is kind of what I am suggesting.  But I think it makes you a better radio operator who is less likely to get into trouble and thus more useful to your EmComm group and as a ham in general.

So, how should you accomplish a refresher course?  The exam questions themselves are quite instructive in what is important to know.  My suggestion is simply to review the question pool for your current license class and those classes below you.  Then take practice exams until you can answer nearly all questions correctly.  This is sort of an on-going process, not simply a one-time thing.  You will have to do this as often as needed, depending on how good your memory is and how often you deal with these topics in real life.

Exam question pools are widely available on the internet.  There are also a number of websites where you can take practice exams; these are also easily found with a simple web search.  One of the best tools (one that I really like) is a web site called HamTestOnline where you can find the question pools and take practice exams for free.  You can use it anonymously but if you create a free account you can get limited study rights and it will keep track of your practice exam scores.  If you pay a nominal fee, you can get two years of full study privileges where they give you detailed info while you answer practice questions.

This is also a good time to suggest that while you are refreshing your memory on amateur radio rules and other knowledge that you study up for the next class license.  The Technician license is almost all of what we need for local and emergency communications but in a major event there may come a need for communicating over greater distance than our line of sight VHF and UHF radios can manage.  Practically speaking, unless your interest is just in CW work by Morse code, you need a General class license to communicate by voice beyond the local area.  So I would encourage all Technician license operators to make the step up to a General ticket.  And if you have your General, consider the big leap to Extra class.  These moves up add increasing complexity to each of the topics, and that makes you more knowledgeable and useful to an EmComm group.  I hope you also enjoy ham radio as a hobby or interest and would want to increase your experience in the many operating modes and frequencies that we can play with.

While this topic is specific to US hams, the general principle should apply to radio amateurs in other countries.

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