Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A word of advice

This past Saturday, I served as a Volunteer Examiner at the finish line of a "Ham Cram". The Middlesex County Office of Emergency Management offered the day long session in order to allow CERT members from various municipalities throughout the county the chance to earn their Technician licenses. There were twelve participants, and at the end of the day, half of them had earned their licenses.

All of these people were all enthusiastic and determined to become Amateur Radio operators. So what went wrong? Why wasn't there a higher success rate? What went wrong was a lack of lead time and mis-communication.  Some had learned of the Ham Cram session only three days beforehand. The information about the session was directed to the participants through their local municipal OEM directors. Middlesex County OEM did their due diligence by sending out the information in plenty of time, but we all know that information that goes through the chain-of-command can travel particularly slowly, especially if the "powers that be" aren't all that familiar with the information they are passing on. Not realizing that this information was time sensitive proved to be a major handicap.

For those of you who are not familiar with the term, or the concept, a Ham Cram is defined as a six or more hour long session where prospective Hams are crammed with the info they need to earn their license.  Think of the all-nighters you may have endured before a particularly tough exam in college. The concept is the same.

The problem with the Ham Cram concept is that many people think they can walk into one as a blank page, and will then walk away as a book filled with all the knowledge they need to pass the license exam.

For the Ham Cram concept to work (and it works remarkably well if implemented correctly), the students need to get their hands on a license manual and read and study for six to eight weeks prior to the Cram session. The Ham Cram session educator needs something to work with. It's highly improbable that someone can walk "cold" off the street and earn their ticket after only six hours of cursory study - unless of course, you have a photographic memory.

Again, going back to the "all-nighter" session in college.  That exam prep marathon came after an entire semester of classes.  You were, in essence,  reviewing what you had hopefully learned throughout the proceeding months. We all know that if you waited until that evening to crack open a book, then you were toast.

Or if you want to think of it another way, the Ham Cram instructor is like a diamond cutter. With a raw diamond he can produce a work of art. Give him a piece of coal and he'll be out of his element. So if you know of a prospective Ham and he or she is talking about participating in a Ham Cram, then the sagest advice you can impart upon them is that they should begin the studying process WAY in advance (weeks/months).  Then they'll arrive at the Ham Cram as a rough diamond ready to be polished into a prized jewel.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!


  1. You're results are typical. In my last ham class, I had three students. Two prepared before the class, one did not. After the second night of our cram session we took the exam. Two passed, one did not. Even though I provided a great study guide (kb6nu) weeks before, one student didn't have the time to study. Crams are for reviews or for correlations, not for initial learning.

  2. Well, I tried to leave a comment on his blog post about his one-day Tech class post, but somehow it didn't get posted. I'm copying him on this reply. (Larry: feel free to add this as a comment to your post, if you like.)

    I think several things are going on here:

    1. I think Larry is spot on about the "lack of lead time and mis-communication." Some of the students only found out about the class three or four days before the class. Not good. I usually don't accept students who contact me less than a week before the class.
    2. I didn't see the message the folks in NJ sent out about the class, but I always stress in my communications that if students don't study before coming to the class, chances are they are going to fail.
    3. Another factor that Larry sort of covered by calling the instructor a "diamond cutter" is that the teacher has to be dynamic, tying together the threads in the question pool to give the students more context. What I do is to pepper the class with stories I've gathered over the years from my own ham radio experiences and those of others. I don't know how the NJ folks taught their course, but if they slogged through a series of PowerPoint slides, like a lot of "teachers" do, then I'm sure they put the students to sleep, literally, if not figuratively, within the first hour.

    I'm not so sure that the students need to start studying six to eight weeks before the class, but the more time the better.


    Dan KB6NU