I just was trying to get a sense of what portion of the exam (if any) relates to filling in the spectrum notches. I'm old enough to know that there are alot of modes I'm not getting into (I know never say "never" but you'll have to trust me on this). Guess I was just a little surprised to find stuff there that seemed less about proper on-air procedures and the teaching of others than outer space & electronic component theory and Smith charts etc., which I'd need to learn on my own anyway if I was gonna go extra-terrestrial or build something for myself.
Wes, as you have discovered and as I have previously noted in these and other forums, the entire FCC approach to differentiating between one license “class” and another in our 1950’s-era license structure has absolutely NO direct tie to operational or safety considerations.
And, the problem isn’t necessarily that our tests are “too hard”. In the case of the Technician license, I firmly believe that particular test has now become far too easy
, so much so that it has become downright dangerous.
That is, our current Technician Class License grants the holder, after passing a horrifically simple 35 question multiple-choice test, the privilege of building a 1 KW amplifier for 2.4 GHz, aiming the dish at their (or their neighbor’s) eyes and causing permanent eye damage. And most Technician Licensees wouldn’t have the slightest clue as to what they’ve done or why.
On the other hand, since the 1950s and 1960s, our higher-class licenses (particularly the Extra Class License) have been based entirely on granting “exclusivity” (that is, access to “exclusive” frequencies and “exclusive call signs) to those who successfully qualify. Unfortunately, such federally underwritten foolishness has now become quite illegal under a whole plethora of US equal access law.
That’s because our licensing system currently withholds full participation in our Service (an Extra Class license) based on applicants passing ever-more-irrelevant written examinations that are not only internally duplicative (as I will show below), but also go well beyond
what the international guidelines suggest should be the minimum qualifications for full participation in the Amateur Service.
The term we educators use to describe such tests is "invalid" because such tests measure skills and abilities that bear little or no relationship (or go well beyond) what candidates actually need to know
in order to successfully perform in their new roles. When constructing such tests, one must always ask the question: "Does the test actually measure what it is supposed to measure and does it require a level of knowledge and skills commensurate with the privileges it grants?"
When such tests require a knowledge of predominantly "nice to know" rather than "need to know" information, then, according to a whole host of 1990s-era equal access legislation in the USA, such federally-mandated tests become what's called "systemically discriminatory". That's because, taken together, they create a SYSTEM of rules and regulations that makes a federal license grant contingent on applicants successfully answering questions that have little or no direct relationship to the privileges they grant.
Perhaps an example from the Federal Civil Service will help illustrate my point.
In the rest of the Federal Service, when hiring a person to, let’s say, stack boxes in a US Government warehouse, you can no longer legally make that person's hiring decision based on them successfully completing an examination over how boxes are made. The job they are applying for is to stack
the boxes, NOT to make
them. And while a knowledge of how boxes are made is "nice to know"; it is not an essential element in the job they are being hired for. Therefore, under a whole plethora of newer federal equal access laws, such applicants cannot (legally) be required to know such information.
Likewise, making the grant of an Extra Class License in our Service contingent on an applicant correctly answering a question like: "What is the direction of an ascending pass for an amateur satellite?" is an absolutely invalid (and therefore illegal) question under current US equal access law.
It's an invalid question because satellite operation is NOT an operational privilege granted exclusively
to Extra Class license holders.
And it is certainly NOT a requirement in order to be qualified to operate in the last few kHz of the HF bands now reserved for Extra Class operators. In fact, anyone
with a valid Amateur License in the United States (including Technicians!) can operate via our fleet of amateur satellites.
Likewise, making the grant of an Extra Class License in our Service contingent on an applicant correctly answering the question: "How many times per second is a new frame transmitted in a fast-scan television system?" is also an invalid question.
That's because, once again, amateur television operation is NOT an exclusive operational privilege granted solely to Extra Class operators.
As with satellite operation, anyone
with a valid Amateur Radio License in the USA (again, including Technicians!) can legally operate an Amateur television transmitter. This test question is, therefore both invalid and
illegal under US equal access law because it creates an "unnecessary regulatory barrier" (to use the FCC's own words when they dropped all forms of Morse testing) to license applicants.
Note once again, Wes, that the "easiness" or the "hardness" of the questions on our exams is not
the issue here.
Rather, it's the relevance
of the questions to the specific privileges a particular class of license grants that is important in determining the legal validity of our tests under today's federal equal access laws.
And, sadly, even a cursory review of our current question pools shows that both the General and
the Extra Class exam pools are now chock full of these equally "nice to know" questions that often bear absolutely NO direct relationship to the added privileges they grant. True, such questions discuss Amateur operation in general. But, under today's federal equal-access laws, that's simply no longer good enough
Quite frankly, I believe our Question Pool Committee would be hard pressed to even come up with a 50-question Extra Class exam if the only subjects being examined related directly to the added privileges the Extra Class License grants. At most, they might be able to come up with a question or two about where the new HF band edges are, but very little else.
And it certainly doesn't take a 50-question exam over how to fill out a request for a so-called "exclusive" Extra Class call sign to make sure candidates know how to do that. Indeed, that
particular activity occurs while an applicant is filling out their paperwork to take the exam!
Clearly, BOTH of the questions I've shown above belong in the Technician question pool, NOT in the one for Extra Class. And making correctly answering such misplaced questions contingent on the grant of an Extra Class license becomes systemically discriminatory because it perpetuates a system
of illegal discrimination by forcing all
applicants…not just the handicapped….to demonstrate knowledge and skills that are either irrelevant, or are not required for the exclusive privileges associated with the class and type of federal license being sought.
Fortunately, most other countries in the world never bought into any of this "incentive" and “exclusivity” foolishness for their Amateur Services. Elsewhere, the safety issues of power output (vice frequency and operating mode) as well as being allowed to build and operate transmitters "from scratch” are often the central factors that differentiate one license class from another.
And, as one would also expect, the rest of the world's Amateur Radio licenses DO NOT grant "from scratch" transmitter construction and/or high-power operational privileges to inexperienced beginners like we so freely do with our Technician Class License!
In Canada, for example, and as in many other countries in the world, their top license (the Advanced Certificate) requires the successful passage of a very technical, 50-question exam.
But, in exchange for passing it, Canadian Hams who already hold a Basic Certificate are given just a small number of very specific additional privileges that are far more commensurate with the material examined. These include being able to build transmitters "from scratch", run a KW of power (vice 250 Watts), be the licensee of a club or repeater station, and give exams.
Clearly, the latter pursuits involve a great deal more potential risk of physical harm to either one's self or to others (running high power), or are activities with much greater probabilities of causing harmful interference to others on the Ham bands or other services (building transmitters from scratch or running an in-band repeater).
And, quite naturally, in Canada one has to also have an Advanced Certificate in order to give exams to others along with a Morse endorsement on their licenses in order to do so. This logic, too, makes perfect sense because how can one administer and grade a (now optional) Morse test to a candidate if you, yourself, don't know Morse?
By contrast, (and as you have found) in the United States, unless a person is already
an RF engineer, a candidate for an Extra Class license must plow through up to 600 (or more) pages of often highly technical (to them) gobbledygook in a license manual and then pass a 50-question exam over material that is almost entirely
unrelated to the meager added privileges that license grants.
Indeed, because the primary purpose of the Extra Class license IS to grant such baseless elite "exclusivity", all it really
does is enable and underwrite all the "I'm better than you" snobbery and blatant bigotry that is still clearly present in our Service in the United States.
And THAT, in my humble opinion…more than anything else…is what's REALLY killing Amateur Radio in the United States today. The largely baseless and overly technical advancement requirements for our Service have now become a HUGE “turn off” to today’s youth because such requirements have become largely meaningless in an age when most (if not all) of the equipment they will ever use comes already assembled out of a box.
KB1SF / VA3KSF