What are the Exam Tools?

What are the Exam Tools?

KD7BBC Exam Tools are a set of tools geared towards assisting with the administration of Amateur Radio License Exams.  We have tried to explain what they are and why they were created here, but please feel free to check out the Tutorials and Help section for screen-shots and walk-throughs if you prefer a visual explanation.

The Problem

With traditional amateur radio license exams, applicants have a lot of paperwork to fill out by hand.  This is annoying to them, but it’s even more frustrating to the Volunteer Examiners who have to help them understand the complicated government forms and correct any errors — sometimes requiring that the entire form be filled out a second time, again by hand.

When tests are passed, the Volunteer Examiners must look over all of those handwritten forms and fill out additional information on the bottom of each one (information that is identical on each form).  In addition to this, most exams require a Social Security Number to sign up, which is a huge privacy risk to the applicant.

Once the test session is finished, there is an enormous amount of information that needs to be looked through, sorted, verified, and then finally submitted to the VEC.

The VEC then has to look over all of that information and send it into the FCC.  Somewhere along the line someone has to read the information on the forms and copy it into the FCC database, which is time consuming, difficult, and often leads to typos or other errors in the records.

Meanwhile, the applicant is checking the FCC database every day, because otherwise they won’t know when their call sign is issued for another couple of weeks.

The Solution

KD7BBC Exam Tools are constantly evolving as new ideas are processed and implemented, but the fundamental idea is the same:

Let computers do what they do best, and leave the people free to do what the computers can’t.

Instead of getting a stack of papers to fill out when they arrive, applicants are simply given a folder on which their name can be written.  All paperwork can be stored in the folder, but most of it will be printed during the signup process.

The applicant sits down at a computer which asks a series of questions.  If they are applying for an upgrade, they enter their callsign and the computer pulls their name, FCC Registration Number, and address from the FCC database.  All they have to do is verify the information and print the resulting form.

If they are applying for a new license, the computer will validate their address to make sure they typed it in right, collect their name, and assist them in requesting an FCC Registration Number (FRN).  With an FRN, they put their Social Security Number in once, but instead of the system storing it and printing it on the Form 605 it is sent securely to the FCC and an FRN number is provided.  The applicant then puts the FRN number into the system and prints the resulting Form 605.

Not only are the 605 forms printed instead of handwritten — making them very easy to read — but all of the information at the bottom of the form that the VEs normally have to fill out for each person are already filled out.  All the VEs have to do is sign their names and mark which license the applicant should receive.

Since their information is already in the system, the contact VE can easily edit and reprint the form if any mistakes are found.  Also, submitting the application online (if the VE has permission from the VEC to do this) is a cinch; click a button, verify that it’s correct, and you’re done.  A test session manifest can be generated from that same information, with no additional work!  In short, most of the hard work is done; the VE just has to print out the rest, double check the information (which is all in the computer), and send it to the VEC.

The VEC then has significantly fewer problems to deal with.  The forms are all printed, which makes them easy to read, and all of the applicants are already in the FCC database!

Meanwhile, the system is well aware of each applicant, and using that FRN number checks the FCC database several times a day to see if the applicant’s call sign has been issued.  As soon as it is, the applicant receives their call sign in an email within hours of the call sign appearing in the FCC database.

The requirements

The one downside to this method is that it does require both an active Internet connection and computers that the applicant can sign in on; however, more and more test sessions already have this available, but simply aren’t utilizing it.  The Exam Tools system has been tested and shown to work on Firefox 3.0 and higher; Adobe Reader should also be installed on the computer in order to print the Form 605.  Internet Explorer is not guaranteed to work, though it usually does.

How mature are Exam Tools?

Exam tools are still changing on occasion, but never without thorough testing.  We have been using these tools with NV7V’s license exam in Provo, UT for 2 years; during the summer we have a test session once a month, and during the rest of the year we have two sessions a month.  These tools help so much that we have been able to run test sessions with over 20 people using only 3 volunteer examiners — though we don’t really recommend it.

How can I get started using Exam tools?

If you are interested in using Exam Tools, please contact Richard Bateman, KD7BBC by email: richard at kd7bbc.org