Studying for My HAM Technician Class License

Getting out of my comfort zone. A reminder on what it feels like to learn.

Sometimes we plan on digging deep, other times it catches us by surprise. That was the case recently when I decided to get a HAM radio license. The entry level exam is the Technician Class License. I had an opportunity to attend a free training, but it was two all-day Saturday classes. I just couldn’t give up my Saturdays. I was told I would need to study at least 12 hours.

Ok, easy, and do I really need 12 hours of study? I didn’t keep track of all my study time, but all said and done, I estimate I devoted about 8-10 hours of study.

The first thing I did was check out the ARRL Ham Radio License Manual from the library. I thought I would just use that to study from.

The test covers the basic things you need to know as a licensed of Amateur Radio operator – FCC Rules; station license responsibilities; control operator duties; operating practices; radio and electronic fundamentals; station setup and operation; communications modes and methods; special operations; Emergency and Public Service Communications; radio waves, propagation and antennas; electrical and RF Safety.

What! I don’t know any of that stuff. After skimming through the chapters, I knew it would be in my best interest to purchase the book.

After getting the book, the first thing I did was schedule an exam in two weeks’ time. By setting a deadline that was not too far in the future, I was committed to learning the material. It gave me a target to strive for.

I did not set aside specific times for studying, I just knew that over the next two weeks, my free time would be devoted to studying. There were days I spent 2 hours studying, other days 20-40 minutes. I did have one day that I blocked off a 4-hour time period.

The idea is to spread the study out consistently over multiple days to increase memory retention.

The next thing I did was look at all the resources I had to study. There was the book, but also several sites offered online practice tests, flashcards and of course, YouTube.
I signed up for a site with online test prep and picked a YouTube video I thought would work for me.
The goal here was to use multiple modes of learning.

Engaging your mind in multiple ways helps solidify memory formation.

My official study started with just reading/skimming through the entire book. Then I attempted several of the test questions at the back of the book.
I watched an entire 45-minute YouTube video that basically just covered the questions and answers from the book. Then I moved to the online practice test.
What did I discover after a couple of study sessions? I knew nothing. None of the material could I even begin to associate with anything I already knew. It was completely new information to me.
This was going to be a little harder than I thought. I had a small panic feeling – “how will I do this in two weeks’ time?”

I was out of my comfort zone.

We are good at things inside of the comfort zone. Doing the things that we already do well makes us feel good, confident and competent. But there is no growth in the comfort zone! 

Learning happens once you step out of the comfort zone and into this place where you start to feel uncomfortable. A place where you are doing something different. This is the learning zone.

Alert: Learning doesn’t happen in the comfort zone and it should be difficult.
“desirable difficulty”

Understanding this can make the learning process easier to deal with.

I started again. I read a chapter, but not the entire chapter word for word. The way the book is set up, is that at the beginning of each section, there is a list of test questions. I read the test question, found the answer and highlighted it.

I did this for every chapter.

I did the online practice test over and over. In the beginning, I barely got any questions right.

I reviewed the test questions at the back of the book.

I watched the YouTube video while I was on my exercise bike.

I reviewed the sections I had highlighted in the book and then would try to put it in my own words.

I wrote out what I did not understand and put it in words that made sense to me.

I learned the math.

When doing math, if you’ll be using a calculator on test day, use the same one during your study sessions. Write out the formulas, and steps to achieve the solution.

I came up with little tricks to help me memorize.

For example:

T6A04 – What electrical component stores energy in an electric field?  Answer:  Capacitor

This was how I remembered – Hmm, you would wear a Cap(acitor) in a field.


T5C02 – What is the basic unit of capacitance? Answer: Farad

Again, you might wear a cap in a field. Farad and field start with F.

See where I am going? A little word association. Whatever you can do to help you memorize.

I studied in multiple locations: the kitchen table, the home office, on the front porch, at the coffee shop, on the exercise bike. You multiply the number of perceptions connected to a memory by varying where you study.

Mixing up study locations can boost retention.

I finally started getting more questions right on the online practice tests. In the back of the book, I was getting right answers multiple times in a row.

I still did not feel 100% confident and more than once, I actually thought of postponing the test.

Here’s the thing though, it is a multiple-choice exam of 35 questions. You only have to get 26 questions right.

Yes, that means you can miss nine questions. That’s a lot. No one knows or cares how many you get right. You don’t need a perfect score.

Deep down, we want to learn, to grow, to improve. It’s not always easy. Immerse yourself in learning, have patience, and enjoy the process. Embrace the challenge, relish the difficult task and get out of your comfort zone. It might be difficult, but it will definitely be worth it!

Can’t wait to hear you out there – KE0ZXF

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

            -Arthur Ashe

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