The first thing you need to know is which exam you need to take. We will assume you do not yet have an Amateur Radio license, so you will begin with a Technician Class License. This is the entry level for all hams. (Ham is a nickname for Amateur Radio operator.) Pass a multiple-choice exam of 35 questions will earn you your ticket (that's a ham license).
The exams are taken from a pool of 423 questions (from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2022). Passing is at least 26 questions correct.
The test covers the basic things you need to know as a licensed of Amateur Radio operator - FCC Rules; station license responsibilities; control operator duties; operating practices; radio and electronic fundamentals; station setup and operation; communications modes and methods; special operations; Emergency and Public Service Communications; radio waves, propagation and antennas; electrical and RF Safety.
What can I do with a Technician License?
After earning your Technician Class License, you can use all amateur VHF and UHF frequencies (frequencies above 50 MHz). You may also operate on the 80, 40 and 15 meter bands using CW and on the 10 meter band using CW, voice and digital modes. WHAT? Yes, that's confusing, but it won't be with a little studying. Let's put it this way... you know those hams who have hand held radios and rigs (that's a nickname for radios) in their cars? They commonly communicate on 2 meters, which is around 147 MHz. (Your FM radio receives 88 MHz to 108 MHz known as the FM broadcast band.) 2 meters is FM or VHF (Very High Frequency) and is generally used for local communications. The other "meter" bands (ranges of frequencies) are where Amateur Radio operators have been authorized by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to communicate with each other. Each radio band acts differently. Your FM radio is line-of-sight, which means you usually can't receive FM stations more than about 50 miles away. On your AM radio at night, you can receive radio stations from hundreds of miles away. Using other bands, hams can talk virtually around the world!
Are You Confused?
If you're lost, don't worry. Once you start learning about Amateur Radio, all this will make sense. In fact, most of it will come as second nature. That may be hard to believe now, but just wait. A few months after getting your Technician Class License, you'll be talking tech just like all the other hams. Trust me, it isn't that hard!
And, no, you don't need to learn Morse code to get your ticket (a term we use for license). So, why do hams use code? Some hams say it's tradition, others say it's what Ham radio is all about. On the other hand, some hams say it's outdated and needed to go, while others say we need to keep up with changing technology.
The fact is, many hams still use code and even take the time to learn it because with static and other stations, code is usually the most efficient way to communicate long distance. Those dots and dashes - short beeps and long beeps, you might say - are much easier to hear than a voice. Plus, it's another skill to learn. That's the diversity of Amateur Radio communications.