Wednesday, February 21, 2024

VE Exam Sessions

On February 10th, we held our monthly VE Exam session, which occurs on the second Saturday of the month. We had six candidates, and if I remember correctly, we brought in two new Technicians, and we had two upgrades to General and two upgrades to Extra.

I think it was the Tuesday following the session, I received a phone call from one of the candidates. 

Without even getting a name, or the caller telling me who he was, I hear "How come you haven't sent the license test session results in?"

I was like "Wait. What?"

"I called the FCC and they told me they haven't received the results of Saturday's session."

I assured the candidate that I had indeed submitted the results to the ARRL the following morning, and that I would try to find out what was going on. The great thing about the ARRL-VEC is that they are very prompt in providing information and answers when you ask them something. It turned out the FCC's results submission servers were down and they were not accepting exam session results. The VEC Department assured me that they had received my session report and had uploaded it to the receiving queue at the FCC, but they had no idea when the results would be processed. 

Why didn't the FCC elaborate on that little fact to my candidate? I guess they didn't want to look like the "bad guy". "We didn't receive anything" kind of places the blame elsewhere rather than "Our servers are down, we are not capable of processing sessions right now."

This is the second time in a few months that this has happened and I'm not surprised. If you were to tell me the FCC is still running Windows XP, that would not surprise me, either. Heck, if you were to tell me the FCC was running Windows 95 that would not surprise me, either.

The thing is, exam candidates should not be so eager to blame the VE Team for occurrences like this. The accusatory tone from my candidate was disheartening, to say the least. As a VE Liaison, let me tell you what goes into these VE Sessions.

First off, you have to let the VEC that you are associated with, know your exam schedule so that it can be publicly posted.  I have to do this towards the end of each year - letting the ARRL know when the ETS of NJ Exam Team will be in session. It's done online and is not difficult, but it is still an extra chore that needs to be done.

Then, as Liaison, my contact information is given out so candidates can let me know they want to come to a session. I respond with an e-mail, letting each person know where the exams are being held (in detail, so they don't get lost) as well as letting them know that they need an FRN Number if they don't already have one, and how to get it. In addition they're informed about filling out an FCC 605 form and everything they should be bringing with them to the exam. I also request a phone number from each so that I can text or call if for some reason the exam session gets cancelled at the very last moment. That happened a few times during the pandemic and is not a problem now, but it's still good to have that information.

Anther e-mail has to go out to the VE Team letting them know whether the exam session for the month is "on" and letting them know how many candidates we'll be expecting. And then you hope and pray that at least two examiners will show up as three is the minimum needed to conduct an exam session. 99% of the time, this is not a problem, but there have been instances where only the bare minimum have showed up. Sometimes it's like herding cats.

Then exam day comes and all the paperwork has to be checked, ID's and FRNs checked, fees collected, tests given and graded and all the associated paperwork that goes with all of that. The candidates have to be be watched to make sure no funny business is taking place AND the VE's themselves have to be watched. Human tendency is for them to start chatting amongst themselves, and they have to be reminded to keep the atmosphere silent so that the candidates can concentrate on their task. Newer VE's have to be guided on procedures so that no candidates are penalized because of newbie VE mistakes. That, in and of itself, explains the need for a minimum of three Volunteer Examiners.

The next morning (Sunday morning) I gather it all together into one big stack, scan it and upload it to the ARRL. I send them the hardcopies of the Exam Session Report, the Candidate Roster and a check to cover the exam fees. If folks pay in cash, I write a check to cover that amount and send it in. I can do the payment part online if I use a credit card, but I prefer not to run up a credit card if I can help it.

So there's a lot more to these exam sessions than just sitting down and handing out and taking tests. Your VE Team is doing all this volunteer work because they want to give back something to the hobby that they have loved for so long. They're giving up their time and talent to benefit YOU. If things don't go as smoothly or quickly with the results, try not to jump to the conclusion that it's somehow the Team's fault or that they didn't so something correctly.

And now I'm going to go into curmudgeon (Old Fart) mode. Back in the day, we had to wait six to eight weeks for our licenses to come through the mail. You guys get your results so much faster now, it's almost enough to make one's head swim. I know that no one like to hear that, but that doesn't make it any less true. Oh, and by they way, the results of our February 10th exam session finally got processed by the FCC yesterday - a whole 10 days late.  

I let the inquiring candidate know - he was happy.

72 de Larry W2LJ

QRP - When you care to send the very least!

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