The HamCram Cookbook
A Do-It-Yourself Guide for Organizers of One-Day Amateur Radio Licensing Events
This draft document is a work-in-progress
How would you like able to get new hams licensed in just one day—without the need for weeks of study and an uncertain testing result?
A study technique called a “HamCram” offers you the ability to do just that—provided you have the ability to later give the new hams the skills they need to successfully get on-the-air. HamCrams are particularly appropriate for family members of current hams, who have a built-in Elmer right at home.
HamCrams have also helped thousands of emergency workers, both paid and volunteer, get the licenses they need to participate in Amateur Radio emergency training. These people may never become “regular” hams in the DXer, contester, or kit-builder sense, but they enable ham radio to work more closely with our served agencies by enabling their staff and volunteers to become licensed themselves.
This has help hams and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) groups work more closely together, giving CERT volunteers a communications capability apart from those operated by their sponsoring agencies (and other not available for their routine use).
Who are HamCrams for?
Almost anyone can use the HamCram technique to get a ham radio license. Our overall pass rate is about 90 percent. Children as young as an 8-year-old girl and adults in their 80’s have passed their license exams at HamCram events.
In general, results are better for well-motivated people who actually want to become Amateur Radio operators and are over 18. However, motivation is more important than age or gender in predicting likely success. Learning disibilities can make it more difficult or impossible for an individual for to HamCram, as can an unwillingness to closely follow the HamCram technique.
What is a HamCram?
The HamCram is a one-day event that allows interested individuals with no previous background or study to get their first Amateur Radio license in just one day. The same technique can be used by Technician Class licensees to upgrade to General Class. It is, however, not appropriate for General Class licensees seeking to upgrade to Amateur Extra Class because of the much larger Extra Class question pool and its more technical content.
We offer Technician and Technician-to-General HamCrams, but often do Extra Class testing as part of the HamCram test session.
This is a how-to guide for putting on your first HamCram. You need not be a Volunteer Examiner to organize a HamCram event, though a VE team must administer the FCC examination at the end of the HamCram. Work closely with the leader of your VE team, or start one yourself (as we did).
This guide will, therefore, touch only briefly on how a HamCram Volunteer Examiner testing session might differ from a non-HamCram testing session—it doesn’t have to, but we have some tips to pass along regardless.
The primary focus is, therefore, on how to organize, manage, and promote a HamCram event in your community.
I always make the following announcement at the beginning of the HamCram: “You will leave here knowing less about radio than when you arrived.” People usually laugh, but it is a serious point: HamCrams are not about learning, they are about passing the test.
It is very important for HamCram participants to understand this and have access to real training in how to use Amateur Radio for their intended purpose.
To make a HamCram, assemble the following:
1 Promotional Campaign – to find participants.
1 HamCram Organizer (you?)
1 Way to Handle Money – Most of my participants pay using PayPal or bring cash. Occasionally, agencies pay for their members.
1 Volunteer Examining Team – You may want to help them by having students fill out their paperwork at the beginning of the day. How many volunteer examiners you need will vary with the number of participants. Remember that if you are HamCramming for General that all the VEs must be Extra Class and the VE team leader will need to know what you need well in advance.
1 Facility – Ideally with separate rooms for study (all day), grading (during testing only), and where students can wait while their tests are being graded, so as not to disturb those still taking the test.
1 Lunch spot – Closer to the HamCram the better, so you can have a 30-minute “lunch hour”
Printed question pools – One for each participant. Printing is a major expense.
Participant Handouts – Also used as a script for the organizer to explain how the HamCram works. May be sent with a confirmation email.
Highlighter pens – One for each participant, but bring plenty so people can select colors and get a replacement for a highlighter than runs out of ink.
With these elements assembled, you are ready to begin.
What happens at a HamCram event?
Basically, a HamCram is a six-hour study hall, followed by the 35-question Technician or General class examination. HamCram participants—I don’t like the term “student” since we aren’t actually “teaching” them—arrive early in the morning, do the required FCC and volunteer examiner paperwork, and are given a copy of the question pool for the Technician or General Class license, as appropriate.
Each question pool is divided into six sections, with a divider between each.
Participants are told how to identify the correct answer to each question in the question pool. They are given a highlighter pen and instructed to highlight the correct answer to each question. They are told to concentrate on one section during each hour of the HamCram event. The last section is intentionally a little shorter that the previous five, to allow some rereading of the previous sections.
Here are the keys to success:
- Participants are told to read the question and concentrate ONLY on the correct answer, which is highlighted.
- The process of highlighting correct answers has been show to improve the participants’ success rate.
- Participants are specifically instructed not to attempt to memorize or learn the correct answers. This is not an education process—participants who work too hard actually fail the examination.
- Our goal is for the participant to become familiar with each question and only the correct answer to that question. They are instructed to ignore the other (incorrect) answers and not to analyze the questions and answers they are reading.
- Very important: Pass rate is directly related to the number of times the participant reads the question pool. Three is the magic number—people who read the question pool only twice during the six hour study session fail in much larger numbers that those who read the pool three or more times.
- The goal is for participants to become familiar enough with the questions and their correct answers that when being tested the only answers that seem familiar to the participants are correct answers. They are told to mark the familiar answer quickly and move on, making sure only that every test question has an answer.
- Thinking about the questions and answers is discouraged and results in failures. In general, the first completed examination that is submitted always passes and the last to be turned in almost always fails. It is sometimes possible, on retesting, to turn a failed participant into a success simply by rushing them through the test, so they don’t try to think and select the wrong answer as a result!
One of the most important things to decide, in advance, is how many participants to allow. This is not so much a problem for the event organizer as or the VE team that must quickly grade the exams in order to offer immediate retakes for students who almost pass.
Working with the VE Team
You don’t have to be a volunteer examiner to organize a HamCram, though it certainly doesn’t hurt. You will need three volunteer examiners for the testing portion of HamCram, which begins at 1500. Ask the VEs to arrive at least a half-hour early to allow time for changes or paperwork, etc.
You should ask the VE team to provide FCC license applications and any other paperwork that attendees will be required to fill out. Ask for instruction in how the forms are to be completed. The forms should be given to participants before the first study period, then collected, and given to the VE team.
VE teams are entitled to collect $XX per test given. You should make arrangements to pay this fee to the team. Teams are entitled to charge a separate fee for each retest, though many choose not to.
If your VE team is not willing to offer immediate retesting, find a team that will or start one yourself. We have given as many as four exams in order for a student to pass.
This is a sample confirmation e-mail, sent to those who register for a HamCram.
Confirmation E-Mail (.doc format)
Sample Participant Handout
Here is a sample of the handout given to HamCram participants and used to brief participants when they arrive. It DOES NOT cover how to complete paperwork required by the VE team.
Sample Participant Handout (.doc format)
Here are the FCC Questions Pools that are printed and given to participants. Each participant needs a copy of the pool as well as the associated graphics. Note that the current General pool expires on 6/30/2011 and will be replaced at that time. All are PDF files, suitable for printing. The pools have “stop points” noted, dividing them into individual hour-long study sessions.
The Tech Pool is fomatted to look match tests produced by the W5YI HamExam software.
Here are promotional handouts that may be modified for your use.
HamCram Generic Handout (.DOC format)
This handout is given to participants who pass their tests. Edit for use in your locality.
Congratulations Handout (.DOC format).