There’s been some comment recently on social media that training for the present 3 – tier UK Amateur Radio license is not available in all areas so I thought I’d chip in with a few comments on my experience in gaining the license in both the UK and the USA.
I originally sought a license since I wanted to be able to use the Winmor system to obtain weather information while I was on my boat. So getting a license would be easy right? Well, actually, I was surprised how easy it was.
My opportunity arose when I was in the Bahamas – to explain, the US allows the exams to be held anywhere when the appropriate number of Volunteer Examiners are gathered together with the papers. I found out that the exam was to be held in February – on the beach in Georgetown, Bahamas (FL23cm). So I got in touch with one of the VEs who sold me the Technician and General class books and told me to get on with it. I had about 4 weeks as I recall.
So I got into the books and gradually my high school physics started coming back to me. Well, to be hones, it was getting out a pot scrubber and wiping away the years of accumulated ‘other stuff’ and renewing my acquaintance with the basic concepts of electricity and the like.
I had no internet access at the time so I could only rely on the CDs that came with the book for practice exams – nevertheless, these were invaluable in helping me discover what I hadn’t learned or didn’t understand. For me, exam practice was essential in building confidence. Of course, if you have internet access, there are enormous numbers of resources that will help you. There are also the excellent (and free) study guides by KB6NU that I discovered later. Anyway, the bottom line was that with a bit of effort and a lot of practice, I passed both exams in the one sitting and was awarded (after the FCC processed the results) a General Class license.
So – what about the Advanced Extra? I quickly realised, having studied the US licensing conditions that I would need to do the AE exam as well. However, time was tight and I had no access to the books – I was on my way back to the USA (where I would have some limited internet access) for 3 weeks or so – I made a plan….
I decided that, having discovered the vast array of on-line resources for the AE exam that since I wouldn’t have time to get the book and study it, I would learn the material on-line with the help of KB6NU’s $7 AE Exam Guide. I then practiced exam questions at every opportunity for about 10 days concurrently booking a convenient exam with a club in the ‘city’ I was going to be travelling through. I went along on the Saturday morning and paid my $15 and passed. Woo Hoo!
A few years later (Since OFCOM refused to issue me a UK license on the basis of my AE) I decided to do the UK exams. Typical UK – you have to start again and do practical assessments too! But was it practical? It seemed that the only way to do the exams in the UK was to do one course at a time over a period of years! Since I don’t live in the UK, it was totally impractical! I eventually got in touch with Steve and the Bath Long-Distance Advanced Course. After a brief exchange of emails he explained that it was possible to do al the exams in one day – albeit that it would be tough. So the arrangement was made! I would think that many clubs could make a similar arrangement for the exams to be held regionally – but they wont even think about it unless they know the need is there.
My challenge was to get the assessments done. There’s no rocket-science in the assessments. Again, I sought out a club that was actively training – in this ase CARS in Chelmsford. They scratched their heads a little and Pete, M0PSX, took me on allowing me to condense the practical assessments into 2 sessions (1 evening at a CARS Skills night and the remaining radio tasks the following day). These things can be arranged, but again, they won’t ever happen unless there is a stated need – If you don’t ask – you won’t get!
So now to the exam preparation. The US exam preparation was a reasonable grounding for the UK exams but the UK questions are a bit more challengingly written (one might take the view that sometimes they like to test your ability to understand the question rather than demonstrate your knowledge of the topic)! So I bit the bullet and bought all 3 RSGB exam books – excellent value – the US books are a lot more expensive!
Again, I used on-line resources for exam preparation for the Foundation and Intermediate. Hamtests, M0OBX and others. Check them out.
For the Advanced, I did a contracted version of the Bath Course by arrangement. It was tough going at times but the course is very much self-study – that means YOU have to get on with it – and your tutor will help you if you need it.
There is nothing that can stop anyone doing the same as I have done here. All it takes is willingness to do it for yourself. Speak to people, get advice be flexible and be willing to go a little out of your way to succeed. Getting a license at any level is not rocket science but it does require some study which is challenging if you haven’t done much formal learning – in my case it was about 30 years since my last exam!
There is one barrier that I found challenging – Pride. There will be days when you just can’t understand something. So you come back to it the next day and it happens again. Perhaps you bury it and move on – unwise. Bury your pride and ask someone. If you have a license already, maybe just get on the local repeater and find a friendly M0 who can explain it to you. or maybe a TwitterHam! Whatever you decide – do ask – without delay. There were some days I was seriously depressed about my inability to understand a topic – I wish I’d asked earlier!
So, to conclude. It is possible to get a Full UK license even if you are miles from a ‘local’ club. It will take determination and flexibility but you’ll need that to pass the exam anyway so you have everything you need – so there’s nothing to stop you – is there?