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Author Topic: Old vs New amateur tests  (Read 3368 times)
WX7G
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Posts: 6207




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« on: March 14, 2010, 09:09:47 AM »

I read comments at eham that state that the present day amateur extra test is easier than "old" amateur extra test(s).

Can somebody back up this statement?

A copy of an old (1960, 1970?) test would be ideal. If not that then an ARRL license manual from that era will have to do.
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N2EY
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« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2010, 09:28:15 AM »

I read comments at eham that state that the present day amateur extra test is easier than "old" amateur extra test(s).

Can somebody back up this statement?

A copy of an old (1960, 1970?) test would be ideal. If not that then an ARRL license manual from that era will have to do.

I don't think anybody is going to have a copy of the old tests, because FCC kept them under tight control.

I do have several old ARRL license manuals. They do not have the actual test questions and answers, however.

What they do have is a set of essay questions and answers that are meant to indicate the general areas of information that would be on the tests. But the exams themselves had the same information in a different format. So you had to understand the information enough to transfer it to the actual exams.

The study guides were published by FCC; ARRL reprinted them in the LM along with lots of other info for the convenience of hams. (In those pre-internet days, finding out simple stuff like when and where the next exam session would be held was a different game).

Many of the study guide questions are open-ended questions, meaning they ask you to explain something rather than solving a specific problem. So the answer to a one-sentence question could require a considerable amount of knowledge.

Also, the study guides did not include many questions on the regulations, even though the exams had many regulations questions on them. The LM included a copy of the regs, and hams were expected to know the answers.

Of course the real issue is: Who gets to decide which is "easier"?

What are the criteria?

73 de jim, N2EY
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WX7G
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« Reply #2 on: March 14, 2010, 09:46:21 AM »

I would like to answer the question. So, I just ordered ARRL License Manuals for the years 1958, 1967, 1976, and 1985.

My intention is to write an eham article on my findings.

Who decides? The information can be presented such that the reader can decide.

It can be somewhat subjective when one considers:

1) The code requirements (code or no code)
2) The code test (copy and send vs fill in the blanks)
3) The number of test questions
4) Published and not published FCC questions
5) Advancements in technology requiring broader
knowledge (solid state devices, digital modes)

Comments are invited.
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N2EY
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Posts: 3913




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« Reply #3 on: March 14, 2010, 10:14:45 AM »

There are plenty of hams today, old and young, new and experienced,  who could easily pass the tests of yesteryear.
Code, written, diagrams, whatever.  License vintage is only one data point.

That said, here's a quick summary of two old LMs:

1962 ARRL License Manual:

Novice study guide:

34 questions / 3-1/2 pages


Technician/General/Conditional study guide:

108 questions / 14 pages

Extra study guide: (Advanced was closed to new issues back then)

239 questions / 21 pages

The regulations section was 3 pages of international regs and 17 pages of US regs.


1971 ARRL License Manual:

Novice study guide:

50 questions / 5 pages


Technician/General/Conditional study guide:

61 questions /11 pages

A note in the study guide says that prospective Generals/Technicians/Conditionals should also study certain questions in the Advanced and Extra guides. 4 Advanced and 6 Extra questions are named.

Advanced study guide:

70 questions / 12 pages

Extra study guide:

90 questions / 16 pages

The regulations section was 3 pages of international regs and 24 pages of US regs.

The total study guide size for an Extra in each year would be:

1962: 381 questions / 38-1/2 pages

3 pages of international regs and 17 pages of US regs.


1971: 271 questions / 44 pages

3 pages of international regs and 24 pages of US regs.

Of course mere size isn't the whole story. Content is much more important. 1 page of complex material can require far more knowledge than 100 pages of simple material.

It's also important to remember that in those days an Extra or Advanced could only be earned by FCC-run examination. The Extra required not only 20 wpm sending and receiving tests but at least 2 years experience as a General, Conditional or Advanced.

All exams for a license upgrade had to be passed at the same session - no such thing as a CSCE. A failed test ended your exam session and you had to wait at least 30 days to try again.

73 de Jim, N2EY
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WX7G
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« Reply #4 on: March 14, 2010, 11:23:33 AM »

Yes I recall going to the FCC office as a teenager to take the general and later the advanced tests. I made it through each the first time but I think it was close.

For the general test a young friend (WN6ZHT) drove me to test. He passed the code copying test but failed the code sending test. Was he ever mad. Using a bug was his mistake.

WA6CMX and I took a bus to the FCC office to take our advanced tests. We both passed and were able to have our tests graded and reported to us the same day by Lee Smith W6OWP, my ham neighbor. He was the FCC Chief Engineer at the Los Angeles office.
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WX7G
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« Reply #5 on: March 14, 2010, 11:35:40 AM »

N2EY, what is your opinion on the new vs old extra tests?
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W5ESE
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Posts: 550


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« Reply #6 on: March 14, 2010, 12:57:15 PM »

I read comments at eham that state that the present day amateur extra test is easier than "old" amateur extra test(s).

Can somebody back up this statement?

A copy of an old (1960, 1970?) test would be ideal. If not that then an ARRL license manual from that era will have to do.

I've emailed you and Jim scanned images of 3 FCC Study Guides:

  • SS Bulletin 1035b - Advanced Class from 1976
  • SS Bulletin 1035a - Extra Class from 1976
  • PR Bulletin 1035 - Novice through Extra Class from 1980

I picked up the 1976 study guides at the FCC office in Houston after passing the
General exam.

I participated in teaching a Novice class at the student union building at my university
in 1980, and sent to the Gettysburg office for the 1980 study guide.

I plan to roll these into pdf files eventually, and make them downloadable from
my web page. I apologize that they're not in a more convenient format yet.

73
Scott W5ESE
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N2EY
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Posts: 3913




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« Reply #7 on: March 14, 2010, 01:50:51 PM »

My opinion of old vs. new Extra tests:

1) The older tests covered fewer subjects in more depth. The newer tests cover more subjects but in less depth. The result is that the older tests produced hams who knew a lot about relatively few subjects while the newer tests produces hams who know a little about many subjects. Which is "better" is a matter of opinion.

2) A test cannot really be separated from the test environment. The older environments tended to encourage being really well prepared, because the costs (and they weren't just money) of a failed test were so high. The newer environments don't do that as much.

Some may point to the size of the modern question pools and claim that passing by memorization alone is impossible for most people. The fact is that one does not need to memorize the entire pool verbatim in order to pass.

3) It's important to remember that until November 1968 there was no big operational reason to get an Extra. That's because, until Feb 18 1953, Advanceds and Extras both got full privileges, and from Feb 18 1953 until Nov 22 1968, all US hams except Novices and Techs had full privileges.

The result is that until "incentive licensing" came into effect in 1968, Extras were few and far between - less than 2% of US hams. It was a "because it's there" sort of thing back-when.

4) The Extra is not and never was a comprehensive EE level exam. It simply required knowing more than the other license classes.

5) What really is not the level of perceived difficulty but the actual knowledge and skill level of those who pass.

6) For someone who knows the basics of radio, the technical part of the written exams has never been a real challenge. The regulations and related operational stuff is/was mostly memorization regardless of background.  

7) Without copies of the actual exams, it's impossible to make a realistic comparison of old-vs.-new. Today one can tell whether or not they can pass the exams by taking an online practice test - all of which use the same Q&A as the real thing. But we cannot even see the actual exams of 30+ years ago.

Just my opinion.

73 de Jim, N2EY

(Extra since 1970)
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WX7G
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« Reply #8 on: March 14, 2010, 03:40:17 PM »

N2EY, concerning the old amateur tests. Do you suppose the old FCC amateur exams are still on file at the FCC? Perhaps a letter would free them up. Or a freedom of information act request.
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W7ETA
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« Reply #9 on: March 14, 2010, 03:43:15 PM »

It's probably easier to get a Bash book.

Let us know how you do with a request to get tests prior to the Bash era.

73
Bob
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N2EY
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Posts: 3913




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« Reply #10 on: March 14, 2010, 04:23:12 PM »

N2EY, concerning the old amateur tests. Do you suppose the old FCC amateur exams are still on file at the FCC? Perhaps a letter would free them up. Or a freedom of information act request.

They might be, but I doubt it. We're talking about exams from 30+ years ago.

I'm not sure exactly when Bash books were printed. I know they didn't exist until at least the mid-1970s, and by 1983 they were obsoleted by the creation of the VE system.

A letter or email might work, particularly if you ask in the name of historical research. However, don't be surprised if they simply don't exist any more.

73 de Jim, N2EY
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N3DF
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Posts: 252




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« Reply #11 on: March 14, 2010, 04:41:41 PM »

Passing the FCC's amateur radio examinations has always (well, at least since the 1960s) been within the range of motivated high school (and some younger) students.  I am not convinced that the material on today's exams is any easier.  However, the available study materials are much, much better today and even the question pools themselves are public information.
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Neil N3DF
WX7G
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« Reply #12 on: March 14, 2010, 08:04:38 PM »

Making the actual FCC question pools available is not necessarily a bad thing.

I believe that in the field of education this is called 'teaching to the test.' The test questions are given with the intent of having the student learn the specific material.

Note that while the FCC question pools are available the answers are not available from the FCC.

The prospective amateur studies many more questions than will be on the acutal test.
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N2EY
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« Reply #13 on: March 15, 2010, 03:28:56 AM »

Making the actual FCC question pools available is not necessarily a bad thing.

I believe that in the field of education this is called 'teaching to the test.' The test questions are given with the intent of having the student learn the specific material.

Note that while the FCC question pools are available the answers are not available from the FCC.

The prospective amateur studies many more questions than will be on the acutal test.

It's not just "teaching to the test." It's the actual Q&A. The answers are available from several sources, free-for-the-download. There are free online practice tests here on eham. It's all legal and above-board.

Here's an example of why it's not a good thing:

Consider Ohm's Law for DC circuits. In the bad old days we didn't know exactly what the questions on Ohm's Law would be, just that they would exist. So we learned every possible variation of Ohm's Law problem - parallel, series, parallel-series, series-parallel, solve for current, solve for voltage, solve for power, etc. After all that, the actual problems on the test seemed simple.

Today, there are only a couple of different kinds of Ohm's Law questions on the test. The most complex is a form of Thevenin equivalent. So the student can learn how to do only those problems shown in the pools, and practice with the actual questions that will be on the test.

See the difference?

Of course that's not going to change any time soon because FCC isn't going to change the test methods. It would cost too much.

73 de Jim, N2EY
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W9KEY
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« Reply #14 on: March 15, 2010, 05:38:44 AM »

Taking the test at the FCC office -- and not having study material with the actual answers -- made the challenge significantly harder.  Kind of like a Little League baseball tryout, an ACT or SAT exam.  Your not as relaxed and the brain and body tend to work better when relaxed.  

I am pretty good at memorization.  If you give me the answers to all of the potential Extra exam questions, I can pass it easily.  as a 15 year old I studied the old 1976 manuals and passed the Advanced in 1977.  A lot of that had to do with being a fast learner, being a good test taker, and *wanting* the license.  Mind you, I learned a lot and it made getting an associate's degree in Electronics a few years later  fairly easy.  

I would say a smart 15 year old can learn just as easily as an adult.  In some ways, adolescent mammals are better equipped to learn than older ones.   Experience does count for a lot though, as the old joke points out: "when I was 17 my old man was so dumb it was embarrassing; but by the time i turned 25, it was amazing how much the old man had learned"  

I did not realize the Extra did not become available till 1968.  But it explains why my uncle was only an Advanced. He still used his key occasionally, but the 20wpm criterion was a hurdle he never cared to take on.   He had a lifetime of radio experience and was already in his 60's so the two-letter callsign and the few extra band segments were not sufficient incentives.  I do think the one criterion which should hnever have been dropped was the experience criterion required to become an Extra.  If anything they might have increased it ;-)
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