From XYL to Amateur Extra in 6 months
In December 2014 my husband got his ham radio Technician's license. A new hobby for him or an extension of his existing hobbies it didn't matter. He studied from a couple of websites and self-taught himself and all I had to do was sit back and support it. A few months later he passed his General and made that look easy too. I can't remember quite when but he quickly became involved with EmComm- Emergency Communications and was soon attending meetings of our town's Emergency Management Team. He learned about RACES and ARES and shelter drills and made new friends.
Two years later, in May 2017, we ventured out to one of the biggest hamfests in the country- Dayton Hamvention. We'd seen the videos on YouTube but it was in a new location so it was new to everyone on some level. We took our daughter out of school for a couple of days and embarked on the road trip to Ohio. I was an XYL and until Dayton I was okay with that.
At Dayton I saw high school kids with robots, I saw AMSAT, weather balloons, and thousands of people young and old, men and women involved with ham radio. I quickly got tired of being the XYL along for the ride and decided that I would get my Technician's license too. I was tired of being Mrs. KC1CXX or KC1CXX/XYL. I wanted to be my own person again. We also have a daughter and I felt it was important as a role model to her to show that this old lady could still learn new things, even STEM things which are not my strong-suit.
Summer passed and my self-study methods were not progressing quickly. Then our local ham radio club, which my husband is a member of, offered a free class at night for 2 weeks. Tuesday and Thursday nights for 2 weeks with an exam on Saturday at the end. Normally I am not a night person at all but it was only 2 weeks. It seemed do-able. The class was in October so after the first week of class we went to NEARFEST in New Hampshire. I was still the XYL but I was only a week away from my test. The day before my test my daughter had a school curriculum day which was a lucky break for me. It gave me extra study time.
For the Technician's exam I used the following resources to study:
The free 2 week class offered by the class. (They charged only $15 for the exam).
A free app on my phone. I used Ham Test Prep. I used it every day at least once/day sometimes more.
I read the ARRL book! This worked well with the class too because for the class they expected us to read certain chapters before each class. It kept me on track but was a challenge.- I actually bought the book in June.
The tests are pass/fail. I didn't get the best score in the class but I did well enough to pass it.
The next test that the club offered was only three weeks away. Most of the people in the Technician's class thought that was too soon to attempt to pass the General but I liked the idea of moving up quickly and getting the test done. No class this time but lots of encouragement from the club members, my husband, and the online community.
For the General's exam I used the same resources as before except I didn't have the class. I had the ARRL book for the General exam, the same app on my phone, and the same two website to learn from.
The night I took my General exam my husband passed his Amateur Extra! That was exciting. We both took our tests that night and we both passed. For Christmas I got him a mobile rig for his car and I applied for a vanity call sign for myself. My vanity came through December 27th.
The next challenge was the Amateur Extra. Now it had taken my husband almost three years to go from Technician's to Amateur Extra but I didn't want to wait that long. I wanted to get this done and become a V.E... a Volunteer Examiner. (You can be a V.E. With a General but it was my choice to wait.).The next test by the club's V.E.s was at the end of February. I thought I had a lot of time to prepare.
I started the same way as I did before. I quickly found out though that on this level the Hamexamonline website only lets you go through fifty questions. If you want more then you have to pay. I didn't want to pay so that website dropped off my list pretty quickly. The other thing I found out was the ARRL book for this level is huge and it put me to sleep. It put me to sleep time after time. Finally I asked my Twitter followers for suggestions. They recommended Gordon West's book and the NoNonsense book so I bought them both.
Gordo’s book- https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/094505386X/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
The No Nonsense book- https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/1530908671/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o09_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
The two books are very different. Gordo's book is basically the 712 question pool. If you aren't into the websites or the apps or you just prefer paper this is a great resource. The NoNonsense book is more explanatory. The questions are all there but they are in the text. Like the ARRL book they are harder to pull out. You'll probably learn more though. I mostly used Gordo's book after I had read the No Nonsense book.
At the end of February I took the exam with my local club's V.E. Team..... and I failed “miserably” to quote one of the V.E.s . I saw questions there that I had not seen on the practice tests and I knew I was in trouble as soon as I started the exam. It was a good lesson though. I went back to hamstudy.org and I used the “flash card” mode to go through each element, question by question, until I had seen EVERY question on the exam. Then I practiced, practiced, and practiced. Eventually I was scoring on the low end of passing. The exam has 50 questions and you need 37 to pass. On the practice exams I was scoring 38-41. Not great but a decent chance to pass the test on March 10th. That's right.. I had less than 2 weeks between the two exams. The March 10th exam was not my local club but another club with V.E.s I had never met before. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. My family and I arrived at the hamfest where the exam was being held about an hour before the exam. Plenty of time to walk the vendors, enter a raffle, and meet up with friends.
This V.E. Team used Laurel which has an electronic component that the ARRL VEC doesn't have, or at least I hadn't seen. I took the test on a Saturday and my results were on the F.C.C. Database on Monday!
So now I've got my Amateur Extra. I've joined the YLRL- the radio league for women. I've joined my local club of course, and we've got some hamfests on the calendar of course.
After my A.E. upgrade showed up in the FCC database I applied to become an ARRL V.E.. I got my certification just in time to help with our club’s April exam. It was a lot of fun, and hard work, to help our club’s spring technician’s class students. One student even passed his General that night.