Remote Amateur Radio Exams
August 26, 2020
Back when I went for my Foundation License I had to find a club that was running a course. I looked at what clubs locally were offering and found that Swansea Radio Society were planning on running a Foundation course. Despite me not being a student (as it’s a university club) I was invited along to the next meeting and soon after started the course. In November 2019 I sat the exam at Swansea University and passed; a week later I had my callsign - MW7AKR.
At the beginning of this year the club asked if anyone was interested in going for the Intermediate License, with a suggestion that exams could be done in the spring. Of course Covid-19 came along before that could happen and changed everything. I thought at this point that any chance of doing an exam this year was gone, but the RSGB had other ideas. Initially only Foundation exams were being offered, but with the promise that Intermediate exams would be offered at some point I started to properly study using the Intermediate Licence Manual for Radio Amateurs. Much refreshing of the RSGB website later I was finally able to book an exam.
In the run up to the exam I was contacted to ensure that I had everything required. First I had to download TestReach, the application that I would use to answer exam questions. I downloaded this and did a test assessment to ensure that it all worked for me; it worked just fine, although it’s worth noting that you do need a Mac or Windows machine - if you’re using Linux or a Chromebook you won’t currently be able to run this app. Next up was a Zoom call with my invigilator. The request for this meeting had said that two cameras would be required, with a suggestion that a tablet or phone could be used for one of the cameras. A quick search online suggested that Zoom was capable of supporting multiple cameras from one device so I just plugged a webcam into my laptop in order to provide the second camera. On joining the call I found that it was not possible to use both cameras (perhaps due to the type of meeting?) and so I quickly joined the meeting from my phone as well and propped it up so that it could see my laptop screen and the trackpad.
Yesterday (Tuesday 25th August 2020) I finally got to sit the exam. Earlier in the day I printed out the reference material allowed in the exam and made sure that I had some blank paper, a pen and a non-programmable calculator (I used the simplest calculator I had, although I believe a scientific calculator would have been allowed). About 15 minutes before my exam I joined a Zoom call from both my laptop and phone to find the invigilator I had already spoken with was online, along with another candidate and an invigilator in training. Both myself and the other candidate used our cameras to show our ID (I used my driving license), the area we were sitting the exam in, and to show that the only materials available were those that are allowed during the exam. We were told that while doing the exam the invigilator would be able to see what question we were on, but would not be able to see answers, and that on finishing the test the invigilator would be notified. We were also informed that should a comfort break be required, this was fine but on returning it would not be possible to then look at any question that had previously been answered. With these preliminaries over we still had a little time to go before the exam could actually start, as TestReach has a set time range during which a test can start. When we got to the start time the invigilator gave us a PIN to use within TestReach and the test began.
During the test the invigilator (and the invigilator in training) both muted their microphones, but both myself and the other candidate had to keep ours on so that we could communicate any queries we had to the invigilator (and I assume so that the invigilator could hear if anyone was feeding us answers!). This also meant that we could hear each other; luckily neither of us made too much noise so this wasn’t a distraction. Having done my Foundation exam using paper and a pencil I found that answering with TestReach was much nicer. After answering all the questions I reviewed the questions and made a few changes (much easier on a computer than with the optical mark sheets used for paper exams!). I then went back over every question trying to total up the marks I was sure of being right to see if I was over the pass mark. Having done this I thought “close enough” and submitted the exam. I was then presented with a page that told me I’d completed the exam and in very small text (TestReach - please change this to make it more obvious) saw that I had been successful! I also saw my mark - I had been overly harsh when marking myself and had scored higher than I had thought. I then closed the TestReach app and told the invigilator over Zoom chat that I had finished and passed. I was then able to leave the Zoom call and relax at last.
Having done an in person exam and the online exam I’d have to say I prefer the online experience. I found it much less stressful to do the exam at home even though the content of this exam was much harder than the Foundation exam. In a week or so I should have my pass certificate from the RSGB and I can then apply for my Intermediate License and my new call sign.
Written by Dave Lewis.