how to get your ham radio license

How to get your ham radio license ( Fast & Easy )

The best way to get your HAM radio license is by studying secondly, you need to test yourself on ham radio technicians license practice exam site, with a little practice and learning you could get your license in as short as a week. The ARRL makes examinations every other weekend, you should take a look when is the next local technician’s license exam near you. Once you are at the exam do not forget your valid ID, $15 administrative fee and your nr 2 pencil.

Before I got my HAM radio license I have looked through several manuals and ended up using the ARRL one, highly recommend it Click here to check it out on

Most preppers are unfamiliar with the HAM radio often ask why do they need a license? The FCC decided long ago to allocate different parts of the radio spectrum for different uses, fire and other emergency services get certain frequencies, the police get others, the military, air traffic control and so on all get their own frequencies and lastly, amateur radio is also assigned certain frequencies. HAM radios are especially useful for off-grid communities, I have recently written an article about Off grid living legal states where you will learn about the best 13 legal states.

This is done for reasons of safety and to ensure that different users do not interfere with one another. While nobody is stopping you from breaking the law there are consequences if you transmit on a licensed frequency and get caught. If you don’t want to break the law there is no way for you to familiarise yourself with the technology in the practice of radio without being licensed. If you buy a radio and keep it on your shelf and plan to figure things out after an emergency that is your choice.

But I will warn you that you might find out when it is too late that that was a bad idea. In order to use HAM radio, you need a license and you will have all the info below on how to get your license fast. If you are new to HAM radios and you are not sure which one is the best one for preppers, check out my article Best ham radio for preppers.

There are 3 licenses available for amateur radio operators”

  1. HAM Radio Technicians License
  2. HAM Radio General License
  3. HAM Radio Extra License

Each license unlocks certain privileges and you must get the technicians license first, after that you can get the general and the extra license.
This is a license that lets you transmit and utilize short-range communications, it allows you to use the very high and ultra high-frequency line of sight communications with one exception, which is a small portion of the 10m high-frequency band. In addition to this, there are several ham radio license manuals, from which you can choose from.

How to get your ham radio license

General License

This opens up voice, data and CW privileges on the most high frequency or HF bands allowing you to talk to the world.

Extra License

This expands the privileges within the general band but with more bandwidth.

HAM Radio Technicians License Exam

In order to get your license, you have to pass an exam. The exam for the technician’s license consists of 35 multiple choice questions taken out of a pool of 426 questions. Of these 35 questions, you must answer 26 of them correctly to receive your license. The good news is all of these questions are published at  these are the exact questions you will find on your test. Ham radio license renewal, yes you heard it right, you will have to renew your HAM radio license once in a couple of years.

All that is required to get started in amateur radio is to pass the test so the test is the key to your license. Most preppers are focused on stockpiling food and ammo and they often overlook the importance of SHTF communications. Some rely on other forms of communications other than HAM radio but for those that are thinking about getting their HAM radio license but don’t know anything about amateur radio do not worry.

The knowledge contains within amateur radio is vast and it is impossible to learn everything without being “on the job”. In my opinion that as a beginner you should prepare for the test as the passing of the exam is the only requirement to get your license. Once you have the license you will learn a lot while practicing your amateur radio skills. You are going to have to invest some time in learning the basics and that you keep practicing doing the tests.

Some people can spend just a few hours studying and be ready for the test, for others they may have to invest a few weeks. You just have to ask yourself how badly do you want it.

How to take the exam

The test itself is administrated by the American Radio and Relay League or ARRL for short, the ARRL is an amateur radio advocacy group. They host tests every week across the country, my suggestion to you is to go to their website and find the tests in your area. Find a test near you that is a few weeks out, commit to it and start studying.

The ham radio license cost is around $15 which is a fee associated with the test and these fees simply pay for the cost in administrating the test. If you pass your test you will receive a license from the FCC that is good for 10 years.

What to expect while taking the exam

Most likely there will be few other folks there just like you, nervously waiting to take the exam. You will also find 3 people called VE’s (Voluntary Examiners) waiting to administer the test. These people are like their name implies, they are licensed HAM radio operators that volunteer their time to administer their test. They will ask you which test you are there to take and being new you will be taken to the technician’s license exam.

What you need to bring to the exam

  1. Photo ID
  2. Two Nr. 2 pencils
  3. Check or cash $15

You may also bring a calculator but you can not use your phone as a calculator.

When you are ready to take your test it will feel like you are back in grade school and with the Nr. 2 pencil in hand, you will be filling little ovals with correct answers. You will be given as much time as you need to take your test and when you are finished and confident that you have the correct answers take the test to the front and gove it to the VEs.

Pro Tip: You know that the exam is either pass or fail and you know that you must answer at least 26 answers correctly, go through the test and answer all of the questions that you absolutely know. Then count up how many of the questions you know are correct, if you have 26 or more stop sweating and answer the remainder of the questions to the best of your ability.

In general, the question seems to have 2 answers that make absolutely no sense and 2 answers that sound right. Another pro tip is that you can actually take all 3 tests on the same day for no extra cost. Once you bring your test to the front it is graded and if you passed you can move on to the general license exam, keep this in mind while studying for your test if you are fully confident that you will pass the technicians exam start putting some effort into the general exam and if you are a genius you can pass all 3 tests in the same day.

Whether or not you pass the test you re in the company of fellow amateur radio operators after the test introduces yourself to one of the VE’s, for the most part, these folks are the most active in the community and they even took time out of their Saturday morning to administer a test for free. Tell them you are new and would like to learn, most will be very happy to point you in the right direction.

If you have passed your exam congratulations, but unfortunately you can not transmit until your name appears in the FCC database. Here you will find the FCC database where you can search for your name and find out your callsign once it becomes available. This can take a few days or weeks depending on how fast the VE’s turned in your test results or how busy the FCC currently is, after this, you will get a ham radio license plate.

After you got your license and callsign get on the air, give your callsign and simply say “hey I am new and want to do…” and you can even ask around on the air if there are fellow preppers also on the air you might even find a local prepping community you never knew existed.

There are currently around 720k licensed amateur radio operators in the USA  I wonder how many of them are preppers.

study guide for ham radio license

Study guide for HAM radio license

If you want to get your HAM license it is going to take some work. People usually say all the time that people don’t like to work, strangely enough, they never seem to include themselves in that, maybe they are extra special. O think people do like to work if they know what to work at and if they feel like they are accomplishing something. It turns out there has been a lot of research done on how to learn science and math subjects most effectively and this is the same for studying HAM radio.

There are numerous sites on the internet that focus on leaning for the HAM radio license exam the “easy way” but most of this advice is BS, like the ones that neglect the actual studying part and just focus on the practice exam sites which they say you should do them until you can pass. I get the appeal of this approach, these practice exam sites are free and there is no studying, at least that is the illusion.

Before you go and mindlessly start doing exam tests over and over until you can hit the 26 correct answers and ask yourself if there is any other topic in the world that you would try to learn by taking exams? Don’t bother going to truck driving school just go and take the truck driving exam until you pass, it is like you want to learn about ham radio but you are trying to do it in a way that you don’t really have to learn about HAM radio. If you want to test how well you are prepared for the test then you can use one of the many ham radio license practice test sites.

HAM radio is anything but plug and play, making it work right takes real knowledge, skill, and practice. Getting your technicians license is not the final destination, it is the start of the journey, and it is your license to learn more. The whole art and science of radio communications are not completely covered by a 36 question multiple choice exam. If you learn what is behind the questions on the exam you know enough to start asking intelligent questions.

Shortcuts are often shortcuts to nowhere, there is a time where those practice exams are a fantastic tool but that time is after you already know the material. That is why I recommend the practice exam sites that let you zero in on a particular sub-element of the exam after you have studied. This way you are training your brain to access the correct answers which strengthen the neural pathways.

If you practice giving incorrect answers you are just strengthening the neural pathways for the wrong answers. We often get told practice makes perfect, but this is false. Below you will find a detailed plan of action on how to study for a ham radio license which is based on actual science.

Commit to the test

Commit to taking and passing the exam on a particular date and stick with the commitment. Tell people your commitment and then you are really on the hook and you will perform. If you can get someone to be a study buddy with you and commit to taking the exam on the same day will motivate you even further to stick to your goals. Choose an amount of time that is challenging but doable, for most people preppers or not you should count on prepping for the technician’s exam for two weeks to a month.

For people that aren’t already an expert in the radio industry take the time to learn the fundamentals like

  • Ohm’s law
  • Bandwidth
  • Modulation systems
  • Radio waves
  • Antennas
  • Propagation
  • FCC laws
  • Operating procedures
  • Safety

The above-mentioned topics are not hurdles to jump over and leave behind, they are the very foundation of HAM amateur radios. Build that solid foundation of knowledge and I promise it will be much easier in the long run. For the general exam prep time is variable based on your current knowledge and experience but for most people 1-2 months should be enough. If you already know the fundamentals a lot of that knowledge will be very useful in the general and even in the extra licensing exam.

A really smart thing to do is to prepare for the technician and the general license at the same time as there is a lot of overlap in the material. For extra license, you will probably need 2-3 months as the question banks for the technician and the general license is around 400 questions while for the extra license is around 700 questions and not many of these 700 questions have super obvious correct answers like in the technician and the general license exam.

Don’t drag it forever

No matter which license class you are going for, I recommend you do not stretch things out much beyond the recommended times. The reason is if you drag it out over a year you will start forgetting stuff that you have learned at the start of the year, this way you could be studying forever.

HAM Radio Knowledge

Commit to learning the body of knowledge and not just the questions and answers, there are a lot of resources online like the ARRL website or HAM radio forums.

First, read trough

Read through the entire HAM Radio book, don’t worry about remembering, don’t even worry about whether you understand it or not, just put the words into your brain as there is a lot of technical jargon which you probably never heard of. This read trough is just to get your brain chewing on the subject matter. You will probably be surprised how much will actually stick.


Now you start your chapter by chapter attack, take notes by hand. There is a lot of evidence that the brain to hand to brain connection created by writing key points burns things into memory far more effectively than just reading and that is for the math formulas also. Do not use a highlighter as research shows they actually decrease learning, probably by tricking your brain into thinking that it can ignore whatever is highlighted.

No matter which level of license you are going for as you go through the text you are studying, there are almost certainly going to be parts where you think you already know it, at this point go and take a practice exam just to be sure and move on to the next chapter. This way you just keep building knowledge which will stick with you for a long time especially if you keep practicing.

If you get stuck

All of us have moments when we hit the wall or simply feel burned out, in this case, take 25 minutes and do absolutely nothing but practice that formula or whatever it is that you are having trouble with. Write it down a couple of times while covering up what you have written before so you are not just copying it. Engage 100% with whatever has you stuck and do not allow yourself to be distracted by facebook, youtube or by any other means.

After the 25 minutes just stop, research shows that more is not better in this case. Put that thing away and go do something away, take a walk, take a nap or study some other part of the exam. A day or so later come back it and you are probably going to be amazed to find that your brain has continued processing it and things have gotten easier. There is a name for this process and it is called going into a diffuse mode and it has been used by lots of brilliant people whether consciously or not.

In Conclusion

Getting your HAM radio license is fairly easy if you are willing to put in the effort to learn the basics, as I mentioned above do not just do the tests and learn the questions as once you have the license you will be clueless on how to actually operate your HAM radio. If you feel more ambitious you should aim to pass the general and extra licensing exams as well.

No matter if you are a prepper or not I truly hope that my article will help you get your HAM radio license, please share and comment.

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