dah-dah dah-dah-dah di-dah-dit di-di-dit dit

… Morse code, why do I suck at it?

Here’s some more tips for the actual exam:

Now for the Examination

NUMBER NUMBERS NUMBERS … KNOW THE NUMBERS  It’s difficult to have ten questions about a five minute QSO without four or five of them requiring numbers. (Call Signs, RST, Antenna Height, number of tubes, power, age, years a ham….etc)

Expect to have a CALL Sign with a DAH DIT DIT DAH DIT ( / ) … FCC exams are required to have all 26 letters, zero thru 9 numbers, at least 4 punctuation marks including the slant bar & procedural SK. Learn the common configurations for CALLSIGNS like 1×2, 1×3, 2×1, 2×2 & 2×3 … That way there will be no  surprises if something like WN7OPQ/6 is heard.

The exam is a typical QSO that will last for a little over five minutes. Before the exam there will be a one minute warm-up to insure that everyone can hear the message. You will be given a paper to copy both the practice warm-up minute and the QSO . The QSO will start with a series of six “V”s and end with the procedural sign SK.

A passing score is achieved by answering 7 out of the ten questions correctly or 25 characters in a row. (Not counting the V’s or Warmup)…

Numbers and punctuation marks count 2 and letters count 1.

Typical questions
What is the Call of the receiving station?
What is the location of the receiving station?
What is the Call of the Transmitting station?
What is the location of the transmitting operator?
What was the name of the receiving operator?

What was the RST report given by the transmitting operator?
What was the radio being used by the transmitting operator?
What did the transmitting operator say His power output was?
What type of antenna did the transmitting operator utilize?
What was the height of the antenna?
What was the weather described as?
How long had the transmitting operator been a Ham?
What was the reason given for ending the contact?

Learn the names of as many type of radios as possible… especially the more common ones like KENWOOD, ICOM, YAESU, TEN-TEC, SWAN, NATIONAL, HALLICRAFTERS, SBE & HEATHKIT.

Learn the names of the common antenna configurations….. like DIPOLE, DELTA LOOP, WINDOM, ZEP, BAZOOKA, YAGI, BEAM, INVERTED VEE, LONGWIRE & ROMBIC


Be “up” for the examination both mentally & physically.
A good night’s rest and something on the stomach is important.
Comfortable attire – (pinching shoes or a tight collar is a distraction)
Get to the examination location early. (get familiar with the testing facilities ..this  takes the apprehension “edge” off)
Whenever the examination is announced – secure a seat close to the sound.
When given the opportunity – copy all of the “warm-up” or practice run.
 CW exams start with a series of six Vs and end with the procedural sign AR or SK


Callsigns (If you miss part at first, they will also be in the closing).. The first call given is the RECEIVING operator  followed by DE .. and then the Call of the TRANSMITTING operator

Names of the operators (receiving operator usually near the first of message)
…. Expect short names like JOE, JIM, JACK, BILL rarely a SAMANTHA or CLEMENTINE but often a MARY, JILL, BETH

When you hear UR RST or SIGs is/are — know there will be three numbers coming next. Most likely the first will be a 5 and the last a 9 (know what RST is ….and that the first number is never over 5)…. remember, it’s possible to get a RST report like …. 599 W/QSB     (with fading).. ….QSB….QRM ….. QRN  are the only ones I have ever seen on a 5 WPM exam.

If you miss a Character—-FORGET IT (for now) — mark your copy with a “-” or just a space where the letter should be. These “holes” can be filled in later…. see below.

QTH – look for City & State (rarely DX locations on 5WPM exam) Sometimes just  the CITY or the STATE is given…. and the question  usually asks for the CITY or STATE  even if both CITY & STATE are given.   

When you hear weather or WX it’s usually a two word description following. (WINDY and WARM……… COLD and FREEZING …..DAMP and RAINY) Sometimes followed by “TEMPERATURE IS   __  DEGREES”

Type of radio (rig) –sometimes descriptive like OLD TUBE or QRP but most often the name of a manufacturer:
…. be familiar  with names of Rig types

Antenna used. Know the names of several configurations:

By knowing the configuration names of the antennas it helps to fill in the “holes” in Your copy. 
Comment like “BEEN A HAM 30 YEARS” or “AM IN 12TH GRADE”

Listen for why QRT…….. “I MUST QRT FOR WORK”…. “QRT FOR BED”

Listen for Callsigns again

The CW message is over:   Listen for directions from the VE

Scan your copy – fill in the” holes” of the letters missed. (GROC_R) most likely GROCER (EN_INEER) likely ENGINEER …. GET THE IDEA?…. This filling in of the “holes” helps in getting 1 minute of straight copy (25 characters in a row)…..  a person must be able to communicate at 5 words per minute…… a copy of CHICA-O and later adding the G still means that the person got the meaning of the communication.

See if QTH corresponds to the callsigns (KL7XXX should be Alaska–WH6XXX in  Hawaii & etc)…. KNOW the Call sign areas

Read over ALL the questions BEFORE printing  any answers.
Usually the questions follow the copy (first in message — first on test generally the same sequence – but there are exceptions)
Answer  all of the “SURE” ones  FIRST.  (Hopefully 7 or more)…. 

Look at the “doubtful” ones. Are any a “toss-up” between 2 responses? Like is it a four or a six? If its in a Callsign …..  see if You answered Florida for a location … Florida is in 4 land

Look for “tell-tale” letters in your copy–if a couple of letters match to what You have knowledge of , MARK IT.
(DI_O__ is likely DIPOLE…. even if the copy is just D_____ and it’s about an antenna it’s probably DIPOLE
if the copy is just _a___ and it’s about a radio it’s probably YAESU
If there is one “I have no idea” it’s worth a guess. If it’s a callsign remember the FCC requires ALL numbers be used in the exam. Count the numbers You have copied….
If You are missing a ZERO or any other number, put it in the Callsign that doesn’t have a number in Your copy.
If an Op says His age is 78, it’s likely He’s not a go-go dancer. If an Op says STUDENT don’t expect a number over 20 for age.

As a last resort—– EDUCATED GUESS…… any omitted answers are already incorrect.
If you don’t have anything copied for antenna …. dipole, vertical, beam & longwire showup most often.  NEVER OMIT AN ANSWER ……  put down an educated guess.

Nothing copied for the rig?   … Kenwood, Yaesu or Icom …. certainly better than leaving it blank.

Tips for Passing the CW Test

Don’t wait for the CW test to be eliminated to upgrade. It’s really not that tough, and you can do it. On the SolidCpyCW mailing list, Greg O’Brien, NE1OB, a Volunteer Examiner, offered the following tips:

* Things to remember:
o The format of the code sent is an exchange in a typical QSO.
o After VVV VVV, the test will begin with callsign de callsign.
o It will end with callsign de callsign plus appropriate prosigns. So, you will have two chances to get the callsigns correctly.

o Usually one callsign will contain a “/”, for instance k1pid/7 or ne1ob/m.
o Each exam will contain all 40 characters(A-Z, 0-9 ‘/’, ‘?’, ‘.’, ‘,’) and prosigns (‘AR’, ‘SK’, and sometimes ‘BT’).

o You need 25 characters in a row BUT numbers and punctuation and prosigns count as two characters.
o Spaces do not count.
* Other elements commonly included in the QSO exchange:
o rig (so know the common manufacturers, including Icom, Yaesu, and Kenwood),
o power (this is where the digits are used so it probably wont be 100),
o type of antenna (dipole, loop, vee, yagi etc.),
o antenna height (digits here),
o QTH (Don’t count on the state matching the town, and the comma will probably be between the city and state),

o caller and called ham’s names.
* The above elements plus the callsigns will be the basis of the 10 questions. When you answer the questions, enter the answer exactly like it was sent. If “California” was sent, don’t write “CA” or “Calif” as the answer.

* Things to study before the exam:
o Practice numbers and punctuation and prosigns to death. They count double, you cannot usually figure them out from context, and you probably spent more time on the letters.

o Practice callsigns – callsigns are hard. They contain numbers and ‘/’. They come at the beginning of the transmission and if you have trouble with them, it may wreck you confidence for a while.

o Learn the common manufacturers and models.
o Review the common antenna types.
* Key advice for the exam:
o Relax. Take a deep breath. Shake it out. Just imagine you are in your normal practice environment. (I know that it’s easier to say then do .)

o There will be a one minute warm-up before the 5 minute transmission. Make sure the volume is comfortable for you. Copy the warm-up to get loose.

o When you miss a character, just leave a space or an underline. Don’t try to replay it in your mind. You can fill it in later.

o At the end of the code sending, you will have time to review your copy and fill in those blanks you left. Use all your puzzle solving skills.

o Do your best on the 10 questions even if you think there is no way.
* Remember, the VEs want you to pass.

Greg also notes, “for a detailed look at a sample exam and more tips see the AC6V website.”