Online US Ham Radio Exams

The COVID-19 global pandemic has certainly had a major impact to all of us.  While I certainly don’t need to point out all the pain points, for those who may stumble onto this blog posting you’re either interested in getting your ham radio license, planning to upgrade your license, already licensed at the level you want to be or just simply wanting to read the entire Internet while you are quarantined at home with nothing better to do.  If you fall into the latter category, then you’ve pretty much reached the end of the line.  Smile

Controversy Galore

I’m sure the very mention of  moving away from the standard VE exam process has some old men stirred up beyond imagination.  I get it…I really do.  The most obvious concern of course would be some form of cheating.  I’ve also heard concerns that this new method of remote testing will replace the in-person exam process forever.   Then there’s the category of just being reluctant to change and the idea of “this is how we’ve always done it” mentality.  For those who are always reluctant to change, may I suggest reading a book titled “Who Moved My Cheese”, available on Amazon.  But I digress.

The Right Move

I personally support this idea of conducting online ham radio exams.  I believe the technology exists to be able to conduct a secure exam process and I believe within the hobby and service of amateur radio we have the resources to make this happen.  After all, one of the key points of our “Radio Amateur’s Code” is being Progressive!

More Information

Richard Bateman, KD7BBC who is also the owner of HamStudy.org recently recorded a short video discussing how he (and others) are working to help bring Online Amateur Radio exams to the US very soon.  I’ve embedded the video below for your ease in viewing.

Watch this video on YouTube.

Final Thoughts

As I said at the beginning, I do understand the concern some amateurs have regarding the subject of online exam testing.  But I have a greater concerns over how this pandemic will impact our hobby. I truly believe the efforts being led by Richard will only do our hobby good.   I’m sure at some point life will get back to some kind of normal.  I’m certainly looking forward to finding out just what the new normal will be.

What do you think?

Until next time…

73 de KDØBIK (Jerry)

Jerry Taylor, KD0BIK, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Colorado, USA. He is the host of the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast. Contact him at [email protected].

27 Responses to “Online US Ham Radio Exams”

  • Frank Allen W1FRA:

    Well, the AM boys will cry, the SSB QRO group will whine, the real radios have knobs folks will jump up and yell. But there are many, especially the younger people, that might, just might, want to find out what the hobby is all about, and try it.

  • Stu WØSTU:

    HI Jerry,

    Been a while. Hope you’re well.

    Until such time as a foolproof online exam monitoring capability is proven to me, and also one that is not so expensive and so complex that most VE teams could not feasibly implement it, I will respectfully disagree.

    Having been in the professional education and training business for more than 25 years now, I have seen and been informed of myriad ways to cheat on examinations. The latest craze being the use of Apple Watches to send easily viewed notes to only the eyes of the examinee, for instance. This method is very difficult to detect, much less interdict.

    Another obscure example: I can stream a repeating set of question answers or other information by audio directly to my Bluetooth-enabled covert hearing aids from the phone in my pocket or on the floor by my exam seat. No one else will hear or ever know. Similar non-medical technology is commercially available.

    Yeah, these may seem extreme examples, but the point is that if someone wants to cheat, there is a way to do it. Direct observation, person-to-person, is still the best check on honest examination, even if not a perfect one in the face of these new technologies that facilitate dishonesty. I can walk around, behind, beside the examinees and see clearly if they’re checking that fancy watch too frequently. Admittedly, I probably cannot check the hearing aids. 🙂

    Remote monitoring, in spite of the best technology, is still not as capable as face-to-face observation. I do not think the demand for online exams as a legitimate *need* is sufficient to justify implementing a less-than-optimal examination system that is apt to allow more egregious acts of dishonesty than the existing on-site exam sessions.

    I hope we can catch up again sometime soon. You’re just up the road an hour! After the plague has run its course, perhaps.

    Take care, sir,

    Stu
    WØSTU

  • John Sell / KB3SP:

    I thought that they had already dumbed down the hobby as far as it could go. I guess not. Let’s just license everyone without any testing! Testing on the honor system is not really testing at all.

    Folks whined about having to pass a code test so it went away. The next logical step is to do away with any testing at all. Then we will meet our goal of getting more people into the hobby, even if they are not the folks we really want sharing the spectrum with us.

    I remember the “old” CB band and what a mess it was. No testing, just get on the air and create havoc. That is what we have to look forward to.

    Of course no one would cheat to get what they want, would they? Especially since we have also dumbed down the morals in this country so that anything goes.

  • Dennis Nolte W3HVY:

    THANKS FOR SIGNING ME UP…THANKS
    DENNY
    W3HVY
    INTERESTED IN TAKING EXTRA LICENSE ON LINE…LOOKING FORWARD TO BEING ABLE TO
    USE HAM RADIO EXAMS IN 2020 …IF POSSIBLE
    73
    W3HVY

  • Mickey Baker N4MB:

    Here are my observations and opinion. As a member of the ARRL Board of Directors, this is not necessarily the opinion of the entire Board, but reflects my personal observation and opinion.

    FCC specifically allowed remote testing SIX years ago. You can find the ruling
    here on pages 7-8: https://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2014/db0609/FCC-14-74A1.pdf

    It notes that, “No VEC or VE will be required to conduct remote testing. Because such testing is optional and can only be done if a VEC agrees to coordinate the examination session,61 VECs may coordinate sessions only if they are certain that remote testing can assure the proper conduct and necessary supervision of the
    examination session.”

    The ARRL VEC is very conservative, it seems painfully slow, but they have tested and believe that there is a process where this can be accomplished. The ARRL VEC is establishing and certifying teams to do this. It is not done lightly and instructions are always, if there is any evidence of cheating, the examination will be terminated.

    Several of us on the Board have been pushing for this, to the point that I believe I’ve made a number of people uncomfortable… but this is something that is important, particularly if unrestricted gatherings extend longer than we believe now.

    Stay safe and 73,

    Mickey Baker N4MB

  • FRANCIS T CULLEN WB8JWE:

    People will have to be patient and things will work out.

  • Chuck Shaw K7SQD:

    In person testing is the only valid method, if there has to be accommodations to provide distance between folks, or limit the number of test takers at a session then that’s the way it has to be.
    With today’s technology, it’s way to easy to “prep the test” aka cheat when there is no on sight proctors.
    So, for my two cents, keep the in person testing and make any necessary physical accommodations needed to get the job done.
    73’s and Be Safe!
    Chuck Shaw / K7SQD

  • Anthony G Faustino:

    I read your recent funny article about online exams. I spilled my coffee while reading it, and it certainly gave me a good laugh. Thank you

  • Jake:

    You all sound like you’re trying to keep people out of the hobby. I wonder why that is. Maybe because you view yourselves as superior because of your license.

  • Mike - KG4Y:

    So, I like the idea of being able to do this as a VE, but how much is it going to cost to implement the ability to do this for the average VE team? There are limits imposed on how much can be charged to a candidate for the exam. As a volunteer, I do not have money in my budget to cover the expenses associated with others taking their exams. My team is an ARRL VE team, and typically handles between 90 and 120 candidates per year over the last couple of years. Our annual expenses are well under the amount that the League allows us to hold back from the exam fees, and we often send the League all of the money we collect. If we were to do this, what should we be expecting to change to offset the cost of Internet connectivity, use of various services, and anything else we might have to add to enable our group to be able to administer exams this way? Would we be allowed to charge more to cover recovery of our costs associated with this? I’m all for new hams coming to join our ranks, but I did not budget funding it with money out of my own pocket.

    73,

    Mike – KG4Y

    All of the tools to do this cost money. As an ARRL VE I think this is inevitable, but I wonder how many people will balk at the cost to do things this way. As a volunteer examiner, I don’t have the money in my pocket to invest in the technology pieces to do this.

  • Thomas Allen:

    yes. would love to get in to the hobby but it looks like its going to me a min..
    I have so friend also thinking about it to. It kinda hard for me because I’m on the road a lot working
    hard for me. But when the online testing come I’m in. just help I don’t change my mine. thanks.

  • Ralph Keeling:

    I am in a wheel chair and only have one person to help me. My daughter is a RN at a local hospital working 12-14 hour shits some times a week or two at a time. I tried years ago to take my first test and failed by one. LOL. Before that I purchase a Kenwood 790a complete set up with a new GP-9 and coax. I have just look at this stuff for 11 years now for I have no transportation to get to a ham testing facility. This on line would be outstanding for me. Where do I sign up. Thanks to all for getting this up and going.

  • Ralph Keeling:

    Thank you to all that is working on this.

  • Jeff:

    Cheating on a test that I can already look at all the test questions and answers to? For those saying you can just get on a go crazy…yeah they can already do that. You can order a radio off ebay or amazon and go at it…. If someone starts messing up on the air waves the FCC is all you have to stop it license or not. The same rules will still apply. Anyone looking to get into the hobby and is going to go through the trouble to take the test is not likely to cheat. Why always look for the bad in people? Why not welcome them to the hobby and help them do it right?

  • HAM Newb KB:

    I am planning on testing for a Technician license this summer [in person since that is all that is available now]. I do understand the concern about cheats, but am not overly worried about it. There are plenty of ways to cheat in-person too. It reminds me of very old mentality bosses who think that telework is only for slackers and real work can only be done in the office. Well, major studies have concluded that productivity actually increases with proper implementation of telework. And of course, a lazy employee can be just as worthless in the office as they can be at home. There are a lot of online tests that are done with good success. So I don’t see it as an impossible feat. And of course, none of this will stop a person bent on causing trouble, or simply ignoring the law, from just buying a mobile transceiver and hitting the PTT button with no license at all. Anyway, thanks for the video, and I hope to see some online testing soon.

  • Will Jenkins:

    I’m 75 and retired last year. I’m on my 3rd pass testing myself on the 423 questions in Gordon West’s 2018 2020 Technician Class FCC Element 2 Amateur Radio License Preparation. I’m amazed learning about VEs. I didn’t realize that the exams were conducted by volunteers. Pretty cool that people will give what must be a huge commitment of time, effort and expense to conduct the exams.

    BTW, the concerns with cheating are making me feel young again. I haven’t thought much about these issues since high school in the late 1950’s. Back then the concern was “crib sheets” folded up and maybe hidden up your sleeve. Making one up for the 423 questions in Gordon West’s book would be pretty challenging.

    Well thanks for all the work done in the Ham community. I’m planning to take my test in early June. Then I be available to answer all you technical questions. lol

  • Mannie Rey Amoguis KI6SRY:

    I am one of the first college graduates who attained my degree online. That was over 5 years of online education counting many courses towards a Master’s. How could it be VERY OK with college education and yet NOT OK with a hobby? No one ever questioned me for going through or receiving my college education online. IS THE HOBBY MUCH MORE VALUABLE THAN A COLLEGE EDUCATION, THUS REQUIRING MORE TRUST AND CONFIDENCE? Get real! At present, I am retired and living in the Philippines but I would like to UP my license to GENERAL. Do I really have to inconvenience my family and spend a ton of money just to get my GENERAL LICENSE?

  • Janders - N/A:

    Yikes… just yikes.

    There is a reason people aren’t joining the hobby, and it is the user base. Just reading some of these comments makes my skin crawl. I am seeing the exact same thing in the VFW and American Legion. The older veterans believe their way or the highway… they are dying off and the younger vets like myself aren’t joining. I tried… both… both were painful.

    People don’t want to become HAMs because of the old cranks who are absolutely impossible to deal with. Before I decided to join I spent hours reading threads. It disgusted me the way that you (generalizing) treat new HAMs. Not only that, the territorial battles over repeater frequencies and the use of open freqs.

    Second to your user base being unbearable… the next big barrier is the time dedication. It takes a significant amount of time to learn the material for the exams. No one is going to spend a ton of time learning and testing on something they don’t know if they like it. Join a club you say? Refer to my complaint one… I would never in my life join my local club. I sat in on some of their radio meetings and boy… With the addition of online testing you are opening up the dam a little bit wider to let in more people.

    Last comment… the fewer hams we have in the younger generations means that you will have limited to no support in the government. We are starting to fill positions of power. If you don’t have any supporters in government you ARE GOING TO LOSE YOUR BANDS TO THE TECH INDUSTRY.

  • Lee (formerly N8OJT):

    My license expired years ago, but I’ve recently been looking into getting one again. Even if there wasn’t this Coronavirus garbage going on, I live in the middle of nowhere and all of the exams are many many miles away.

    I for one would welcome some kind of online testing thing.

    For what it’s worth, when I got my license the first time (tech+code), I took the written exam, and there were several people who were very obviously cheating on it even then. I think the advantages of online testing would far outweigh any increased cheating potential. Especially in these strange days.

  • Smokin'ole':

    Not a Ham Yet but want to be because of the CB spectrum noise. It is best if the community governs who comes in with a skills test. Cheating can be limited with webcams and a keylogger or limit the web window etc. It is a new world out there with SDR as well. Good and proper testing is a must, I guess I’d say just go take an exam and sit your “6-ft apart”

  • Namer:

    Come on boomers.

    Regardless of how you feel about the Coronavirus BS, why can’t there at least be an online way to do this for those who want to?

    Otherwise, you’re putting people at risk.

    I’d want to check out the hobby on low key radios to see if I’d like it. However, I don’t want to risk getting it because some people in my family are at higher risk.

    I don’t particularly like Zoom at all, but if I had to install it in a VM just to do a test for something I think I’d enjoy, I’d be okay with it.

    Anyway, sure keep the in-person tests for those who want it, but at least give the option for online testing throughout all 50 states.

    Or just do Tennessee and Florida and I’d be happy to do it in a heartbeat.

    Signed,

    Your Fellow Conservative Millenial

  • Ryan McCarrick - Soon:

    I’m a paramedic from Long Island and have been around some form of scanner radios, pagers, fire department radios my entire 31 years of life.
    I understand that it’s nothing like doing actual HAM radio but it has built an interest in me over the years.
    I personally love the idea of using radio frequency traveling through the air all around us to do communications, obtain information from satellites and the other

  • Ryan McCarrick - Soon:

    Oops… Using the phone site and pressed the submit button by mistake…

    Anyways, I plan on taking the Technician level soon and looking forward to building a nice radio setup in my house, which already has a large antenna on the roof which picks up fire/PD /EMS transmissions from many miles away.

    I work 62 hours a week, 40 in Brooklyn doing community Paramedicine (like urgent care but in your living room) lots of downtime where I’m sitting in my car parked somewhere in Brooklyn waiting.
    6 hours 911 in a very busy fire/ems department (West Babylon), 12/week at a fire department in the Hamptons (Bridgehampton FD, not busy)
    I’m also an active member of my hometown volunteer fire department and ride as a paramedic several hours a week.

    I barely have time to take a, err sleep but I figure with my hours of downtime sitting in my car in Brooklyn, it would be a great place to get involved with the amateur radio industry!

    Plus, I’m already part of the emergency rescue efforts so I figure HAMs likely do some form of helping of a disaster, terror attack or massive gathering requiring coordination via radios (not like Olympics level but more local where resources are not abundantly available).

    I’m sort of booked up in the volunteer area and have a demanding work schedule so, depending on the requirements, becoming an active, new member of a radio club sounds daunting! I’m from the fire/EMS world where if you are new, you are expected to be very active and do stuff like washing trucks/ambulances, cooking for meetings, cleaning after meetings, signing up for all the events/parades/etc attend lots of extra trainings and make 20% of all as well larms during the year (monthly and averaged on 12/31 at midnight, don’t make it, your out)

    I assume a radio club wouldn’t be such a demanding endeavor considering it’s probably not actively working 24/7 like a 911 fire/ems department but I am the type of person who give all or nothing, if I’m doing something, I’m watching videos, reading forums, researching devices, pricing out future purchases and looking around for potential places to put stuff in the house/car!

    Now for the part about tests, certification, etc.
    So I’d love an online technician test.
    They should definitely offer the Technician license exam online; however, I feel the more advanced licenses should probably be more limited or controlled. I haven’t researched General or Extra yet but I feel they should have some form of practical test where the prospective General/Extra licensee must perform a set of entry level tasks for the given license.
    The bulk of the knowledge and learning appears to be after you are licensed.
    You buy a radio
    setup your antennas/base station/car
    You make mistakes (important part!!)
    You *learn* from your mistakes so you don’t make it again
    You talk (physically or like this, typing online) with other HAMs and absorb pieces of their experience/knowledge/and (important!!) the mistakes that they made!
    Sometimes simply knowing others made mistakes, perhaps the same as you, makes a person more confident, more enthusiastic, knowing others weren’t just born with some kind of innate “HAM chunk in their brain, naturally knowing everything.
    All those pieces of other people’s experiences get molded into a big colorful clump of stuff that stuff is now like the other people’s, they passed on pieces that came from other people. Eventually, you have your own, unique collection of knowledge. Now YOU are that guy who gives the new person some of yours.

    I personally view learning certain things as a sort of DNA. DNA/genes are passed on but they are never the same, they are a mixture of other people’s DNA (it’s not a perfect analogy by any means!)

    eventually you become more and more confident, proficient, and then, you become that person who the new guy comes to for answers!
    And at first you will probably go to the people you asked until you realize you are now a colleague, one of them, a teacher, a leader, a mentor.

    All of that has nothing to do with a 35 question multiple choice test. (or multiple guess as some call it)

    The entry level should be very easy and very accessible, those people may become the next officer/leader of a club, or create a new club where one doesn’t exist.

    The entry level should be like bait on a hook. Some will nibble on it and leave, but some go in and bite it, you got those people ‘hooked’ possibly for several years, possibly for life and then you could hook the person who has his favorite radio buried with them so he has it forever (lol)

    I apologize if this long, long post came off as pretentious or insulting; I sincerely do not mean to offend anyone; text is difficult to give a correct tone.

    I already know how it feels to be a part of something that’s slowly disappearing; it’s very difficult to keep people for more than a year or two in the volunteer FD/EMS world. But then there’s the ones that keep it alive for the next generation to taste or stay forever.

  • Ryan McCarrick - Soon:

    By the way, I write too much when I’m sitting around at work with nothing to do; too much time to think about stuff!

  • Tim Gardner:

    I have been more interested since the Covid-19 thing hit in Ham Radio and getting my Tech license. I agree that it should be like bait. A starting point to get your feet wet in the water. Just have an online test you can take. The questions don’t need to be super easy but the process to at least get started should be. Then later if you want to go for General or Extra license you have to take an in person exam where you have to demonstrate some skills. So here I am – been studying – taken several test exams – ready to take the final exam. Can not find anywhere to take the test. Can not find any VE’s offering to do it remotely online. This is how Ham Radio is going to die out. Not lack of interest but lack of ability being able to get certified.

  • Randy Schwanke KC0NVI:

    Thank you for this article, and if I may, I would encourage others to read through this link to another article that may answer some questions and eliminate others.

    Don’t let the title fool you, it’s really a must-read

    The Uncertain Future of Ham Radio
    https://spectrum.ieee.org/telecom/wireless/the-uncertain-future-of-ham-radio

    Thanks,

    Randy (kc0nvi)

    73

  • Andy, N7ZXJ:

    I guess I was lucky in that I caught the bug as a teen in Civil Air Patrol in the 60’s. My mentor had us build Heath Kits for all sorts of things. As my working life transitions into my Honey-Do life I have been looking for a local club. Like was said earlier, less then welcoming. Also covered in a previous comment was online education. After a BS and MS (online) I can say the testing had high confidence. I had to go to a education test center and was proctored for my paper exam, and also a few online exams. Some of requirements of multiple cameras and use of Zoom shows very little ingenuity and smacks of “… in My day…”. Encroachment into Armature bands will happen as other entity needs increase. \

    As I read the news about online testing I just see the same attitude that has destroyed other activities such as search & rescue and dog training groups.

    Seriously, get over your primadona attitudes and become a true mentor for the next generation.

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