Club logo.  A red circle containing a green map of the state of Virginia, the ARRL logo, and the text "Richmond Amateur Telecommunications Society, Richmond, Virginia U.S.A."

Richmond Amateur
Telecommunications Society

W4RAT ยท Richmond, Virginia
Serving Central Virginia Since 1972



Get Licensed

Before you can join us on the airwaves, you'll need a license.  To get that license, you'll need to pass a 35-question multiple-choice test on FCC rules and regulations, basic operating practices, basic electronic components and circuits, license privileges, and similar topics.

There are two approaches you can take to passing a ham radio license test, whether it's for the entry-level Technician Class license or the more advanced General and Extra Class tickets.  You can study hard and really learn the material before taking the test, or you can focus on memorizing and recognizing the right answers.  No judgement either way, do what works for you, but realize that different training resources will take different approaches.  And what works for one person may not work for another.  You might need to try more than one.

Long gone are the days of needing to pass a Morse code test -- even for the highest license class.  This is a test of your knowledge, not your skill.  If you're struggling with something, just remind yourself:  "if a five year old kid can do this, so can I!"

Self-Paced/Online Study vs. Classroom Training

A vast majority of hams have passed their tests by studying on their own.  Most (but not all) of the online systems are mainly focused on memorizing or recognizing the answers.  Here are a few popular systems and services that might be of interest:

  • HamStudy.org -  Hamstudy.org is a web based system that provides a study guide, review questions from the exam, and practice exams. In addition to the 3 levels of ham radio licenses, they provide learning services for various commercial radio services as well. They also have apps that can be downloaded for your computer, phone or tablet that can be used without an internet connections. While most of the services provided by Hamstudy.org are free, you can support them by purchasing signal stuff antennas, HamStudy stickers or by making a direct donation.  
  • QRZ.com/hamtest - QRZ, which is a website used by many amateurs after getting licensed, has free practice exams as well. Like HamStudy.org, QRZ provides practice questions which you can review as many times as you need or want until you are comfortable with your knowledge and consistently score a passing grade, then schedule your test. Once a test is passed and a license is obtained, many people will return to QRZ to set up a profile using their call sign. There are many benefits to having a QRZ account which we'll talk more about on the "Get Involved" page.
  • Ham Radio Prep - Some people have a different style of learning and prefer a paid program which gets you through the questions in a bit more of a story form, but provides a lot more explanation than some of the other programs.  Do yourself a favor, if you can afford it, get the package that includes all three license classes.  You'll likely want at least one of them later.

  • Another long-time favorite is Ham Test Online.  Their product automatically identifies your weak areas and puts extra attention on them to boost your chances of passing.  Ham Test Online works on a subscription model, so if you need the added motivation of a ticking clock to finish your study, you'll appreciate their quarterly billing.

  • Gordon West WB6NOA has helped many thousands of hams get their licenses with his popular printed study manuals.  The Gordon West Radio School now offers online classes.

If you prefer a physical classroom setting, the Richmond Amateur Radio Club (RARC) and Williamsburg Area Amateur Radio Club (WAARC) both offer classroom training.  RARC gives classes twice a year in the spring and fall.  Follow this link to more information on their classes, and to register.  WAARC's class information can be found at k4rc.net.

If you prefer more of a textbook approach to getting your license, here are a few options:

  • Gordon West WB6NOA's popular license manuals are available online and in-store via Ham Radio Outlet in Woodbridge (call ahead to verify stock).  They've also been known to turn up at Target occasionally and may also be found on Amazon.

  • The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) has several license prep manuals and other helpful study materials available for purchase.

Studying at your own pace but find yourself stuck on something?  We can help!  You're welcome (and hereby invited) to join us at one of the monthly RATS Membership Meetings.  It's a great place to ask questions and learn new stuff about the hobby.  Come say hello!

Find a Testing Session

Ham radio license exams are administered by accredited teams of hams called Volunteer Examiners (VEs).  In the US, most are affiliated with one of the two major Volunteer Examiner Coordinators (VECs) -- ARRL-VEC and W5YI-VEC.  There are also a growing number of teams affiliated with the Laurel VE Group.  The cost of testing may vary between VEC's and procedures may vary slightly by individual teams.  It doesn't matter which one you pick.  Regardless of your VE team's affiliation, your exam will come from the same pool of multiple-choice questions.

If you are learning in a classroom setting, you might take your license exam as part of that class.  Otherwise, the ARRL Exam Finder is the best way to find upcoming VE sessions in your area.

There are two recurring test sessions offered by local VE teams:

The Catastrophic Amateur Technical Squad (CATS) provides a testing session on the first Saturday of every month from 10 AM to noon.  CATS testing is normally held at the Gospel Light Baptist Church, 2109 Anderson Highway in Powhatan.  Be sure to check their web site to confirm date, time, and location, as it may sometimes vary.

The Richmond Amateur Radio Club (RARC) administers a test session given on the second Saturday of odd-numbered months.  You'll find their VE team at the Chesterfield Library Bon Air Branch, 9103 Rattlesnake Rd in North Chesterfield.  Testing usually begins at 10 AM.  Check the RARC web site to confirm date, time, and location before heading out.

Refer to the information provided on each team's web site for any registration requirements, fees, and other procedural notes.

Volunteer Examiners are happy to provide their services to anyone wishing to test.  If you will require special accommodations, such as for visual impairments or other disability, it is recommended that you contact the VE team well ahead of time.

Many test sessions run on a skeleton crew -- three people to grade papers, one to check people in/collect money/process paperwork, and maybe one more to monitor the test-takers for any shenanigans.  It will be a tremendous help to have everything ready when you arrive.  Cash for the exact amount of the test fee, a registered FCC FRN, valid identification, and any other materials requested by your VE team.  The ARRL has a good checklist of things to bring which applies to any test session, regardless of VEC.

If you fail an element, you may be charged to re-take it, depending on the policies of the individual team you test with.  Some allow unlimited re-tries (at least until the advertised end of the test session).  Others will only give you a free second attempt.  Some may not give you that, and may ask for payment for any re-tested element.  Many VE teams won't tell you how many questions you missed -- after all, what matters is whether you passed or failed.  But most will tell you if you were really close to passing, and they may encourage a re-test.  Often all it takes is a second test with a different random selection of questions.

Remember, there's no added cost to take another exam element.  If you studied for your Technician and pass, go ahead and take a whack at the General, even if you didn't study for it.  You may be surprised how well you do.

Test Online

For a handful of people, going out to a public testing session is simply not an option for one reason or another. For online testing, you will be required to have a zoom capable camera (usually a phone) set up on stationary holder that can be used to show your surroundings, then be pointed at your keyboard during the test. You will also need a computer which is also on zoom to take the test on, and will be required to share your screen for the duration of the test. Here are some links to research and schedule an online exam.

What to Expect After the Test

Once your call sign has been posted to the FCC Universal Licensing System (ULS), you are free to start transmitting. It's always best if you can get help from a local ham operator when you first get started, although it is not a requirement. Most hams are very friendly and helpful people, but like the rules to be followed. Many areas and groups have their own unique protocols when it comes to nets, or other types of organized communication. Here is some general information that, while not tailored to any specific net, is a good place to look for basic protocol before checking in for your first time.

Experienced hams are not shy about letting you know if you are doing something wrong, but don't take offense as they usually are trying to help guide you and not being critical or cruel. If you don't already know someone that can help you, look for a club, or even just start talking to someone on one of the local repeaters, and you may find not only a mentor, but a lifelong friend.

How to Check for a License

Once you have successfully passed the exam for your new radio license and paid the FCC license fees, you'll want to know what your call sign is and when you can start to transmit. The answer is simple, as soon as your license is entered into the FCC "Universal Licensing System" (ULS) database. When you are issued your FRN, make sure you have that number written somewhere that you can't forget, because you need it now.

Follow this link to the FCC's ULS, then in the dropdown box, select "By FRN", type in your FRN number and click search. There you have it, if your license has been issued, your callsign will be displayed next to your name. If you already have another type of radio license, it will also be displayed, so make sure to check for HA, or HV under the "Radio Service" column. As soon as your callsign is listed here, you are free to start transmitting within the limits of your license class.

< on to "Get on the Air" >

Richmond Amateur Telecommunications Society, Inc. (RATS) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. PO Box 70613, Henrico VA, 23255
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