Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Done and dusted - a difficult exam
Well, it's finally over. I'm sitting here at home after a long day, and one full of anticipation and tension and nerves. I was glad to have the company of Michael from Kilenny in the coffee shop on O'Connell Street to kill the time running up to the exam.
When the time finally arrived, and the exam started, I decided I would turn over the paper and have a read through it. I read all 60 questions. When I came to the end, my first thought was "this is going to be tough". And indeed it was. I found Section A particularly gruelling. This was not helped by the fact that I was uncertain in a number of answers (some of which I later discovered I got wrong, after I had left the test) and there were a number of questions which completely stumped me. I had hoped that the fact the test was concentrating more on the practical and a little bit less on the theoretical would help me, but I ended up with the feeling that I might have failed.
At this moment in time, I can do nothing else but be philosophical. I got a few questions wrong that I should have got right. For instance, what power can be used on 1.9 MHz? Answer: 10 watts, but I said 100. What mode can be used on 29.520-29.700? I changed my answer to QRP, having initially ticked the correct answer, which was FM.
I got the graph for current through an inductor wrong. Basic stuff, but I got mixed up and might end up paying the price for it.
Some of the early questions were straightforward. The resistor question asked what was the current through one of two resistors in series. The inductance question asked the total inductance in a circuit containing two parallel inductors. Straightforward stuff. One question asked to identify the waveform which would result from a certain circuit diagram containing a diode and a resistor. I made a guess at it.
I was happy enough with the propagation section - 6 questions in total. One interesting question asked which of the following would be the least likely to cause DX on VHF (or something similarly worded)
I answered F2 layer.
In measurements we were asked what a two-tone test oscillator is used to measure. Two of the options were : carrier suppression and SSB suppression. I guessed the latter.
There were some extremely difficult questions. At least they seemed difficult to me because I had not come across them in all my weeks of study. One asked what would happen if an antenna resonant at frequency fMHz was lengthened by 5%. The available answers were something like:
It would go open circuit
It would present pure resistance
It would have capacitive reactance
It would have inductive reactance
I hadn't a clue on that one and took a complete guess.
There was a question about what would affect the low-angle, long distance radiation pattern of a vertically polarized antenna. Again I was completely stumped.
Overall, the test was more difficult than I expected. There were no questions about the selectivity or sensitivity or gain of a receiver. There was a question asking us to identify a certain block in an SSB transmitter. I answered correctly - "Mixer" - phew! At least I know I got one right . . . There were no questions about transistors, insulators, conductors. There was one question asking the impedance of a folded half-wave dipole. I answered 300 Ohms which I think is the correct answer.
The prefixes question was European. it was a CW call SP9??? DE OH5??? - a Finnish statin calling a Polish station. Another question asked to identify the callsign which did not conform to the ITU standards. I went for WAB7 because I think the third character must be a numeral if memory serves me right.
In the final section, there was a safety question which asked the correct wiring of a plug. I'm glad to say I knew that one!
Overall I thought it was a tough exam. I was taken aback I have to say. Certainly when I got to the last question in Section A - question 35 - I had already left out six or seven questions which I decided to return to later, simply because I was unable to answer them. I proceeded to Section B and then Section C before returning to Section A to have another go. There was a circuit diagram showing an audio amplifier which asked what was the function of two capacitors and a resistor in the circuit. I thought they looked like a low pass filter or a pi network and guessed that they were for limiting the AF bandwidth. A guess based on a wee hunch.
It's been a long day, and a long ten weeks. I'm exhausted. I'm also apprehensive, but there's nothing I can do now only wait. And if it's not to be this time round, I have to wait until next June before I can sit the exam again. I have to say it's a prospect I'm not looking forward to. If by some mircale I pass the exam, I will be absolutely overwhelmed with joy, but I'm not holding my breath.
I should know within two weeks. Hopefully, it will be sooner rather than later. Put me out of my misery !
One lesson from all this is that this is just a blog. A blog written by an enthusiast. An enthusiast who has no formal training in this stuff. So by all means take advice from this blog and try to learn something from it, but don't swear by it! I wanted to share my experience as someone who was taking this on from scratch (although fair enough, I was a short wave listener before I started studying). I hope that you have enjoyed reading it, and that you have indeed learned something from it. I followed my own advice by and large over ten weeks and have ended up with the feeling of being short-changed.
Whether that's just because of my own shortcomings or whether it's a mixture of factors I cannot say clearly. I would imagine there is scope to hold more than two exams in the year. If I fail this time, it will be eight months before I can sit it again. By that time I might have lost all enthusiasm, plus I would forget a lot of what I've learned in the meantime. There are no classes taking place in my region to help me. Michael in Kilkenny says there's nothing down his way either. At the end of the day, enthusiastic guys like him and me are left to our own devices to wade through a huge amount of material in an effort to get that all-prized licence. I know, and can state with certainty, that I would be a good operator, and would be a welcome addition to the hobby. If I fail this test, which is a distinct possibility, I would like the opportunity to be able to do a resit within a month. I think many would be in the same position. A resit in a short space of time would make sense because as I said above, a lot of the information currently stored up in my brain like current in a capacitor will have disippated (as heat!) I feel that if I had to leave it until next June, it would be like starting from scratch all over again. Michael was talking to another two repeaters (excuse the radio pun!) after today's exam and they all agreed that this exam was even tougher than the June exam.
However, not to end negatively, I have enjoyed the journey. Not knowing the destination can sometimes be fun, but sometimes it can be daunting. Right now, I am daunted. I feel that there's nothing else to do than to try and put it all out of my mind and turn to other things, at least until an envelope with IRTS on it arrives at my house some time in the next fortnight . . . At this precise moment in time, I am listening to a QSO on 2 metres between some of the local operators. So I haven't ditched the hobby on the basis of a difficult exam!!
I hope to work 11 metres later on. Yes, I know what the Ham operators are going to say . . . the last refuge of the desperate !! But no, there are some decent operators on 11m and some good DX to be had if the conditions are right.
And if I remain in positive mood, I might just take a scan through the ham bands and see if there's any interesting listening :D