Code Proficiency Programs: Do We Really Want/Need Them?

In the wake of the recent decision to eliminate the Morse Code requirement, there have been several proposals to set up code-proficiency testing programs. I just got an e-mail today from our division director proposing a pilot project that VEs would be responsible for running in the communities they serve. And there has been some chatter on the Fists mailing list that Fists should set up its own code testing program.

My reaction. Who cares?

For one thing, the ARRL already has a Code Proficency Program. Those who really want to be able to brag about their code speed can already get a piece of paper to prove it.

Secondly, while a certificate may be a nice thing to hang on a wall, it is hardly proof that a ham is a good operator. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and for CW ops, the proof of their competence is in making contacts. Instead of encouraging people to pass a proficiency test and get a nice certificate, we should be encouraging them to get on the air and talk to one another.

Theoretically, the goal of these code proficiency programs is to encourage hams to become better CW ops. Do they? I doubt it. I think we’d all be better off if we used this energy to help new hams get on CW rather than pass some test. No proficiency program is going to help a new ham decide what paddle to buy or how to use Q-signals properly.

I don’t need a piece of paper to prove how good a CW op I am. Rather than point to a certificate on the wall, I’d rather point out the number of contacts I’ve logged or to the number of other hams I’ve helped get on CW. I think ham radio is better served by those activities than by participating in yet another code proficiency program.


  1. I am something of a fan of these programs. I view the skills associated with sending and receiving Morse to be very much like reading music and playing a musical instrument. Music students use a variety of means to gain proficiency in music and with their instruments. The practice alone, work with instructors, practice and play duets, go to contests where they play solo or within small groups, and compete for trophies, metals, and certificates of accomplishment. Not every effort is aimed solely at playing in a concert with a big group and big audience, just as every effort for those learning Morse need not be on the air in a pile-up. I say embrace all the ways that students of the modes can practice.

  2. keep the proficiency program in place at least give the new wannabe’s something to look forward to..the elimination of cw tests sucked

  3. If proficiency awards are important then why don’t we test proficiency for designated tasks? How about proficiency testing for receiving and sending traffic messages or something useful where we are evaluating the operator’s ability to complete the full tak.

    73’s Richard K5ANR

  4. I agree with you Dan. If CW were such a viable mode these days, I’m sure most countries, icluding ours, would have retained it as a licensing requirement.

    I think VE’s have enough to do without adding more burdens. Let those CW organizations and ARRL handle this. They have been doing so for years and are much more efficient at it I’m sure.

  5. Volunteer CW receiving tests? I prefer the idea of promoting actual on-air CW operating. In fact, the day after the big FCC announcement about Morse testing going away, I e-mailed a proposal to my ARRL director for something I call the COPY Award. COPY is an acronymn for CW On-Air Proficiency Yardstick.

    It would have multiple steps with endorsements available. To quality, CW ops could exchange paper QSLs or use LoTW. Recipients would get an award after 25 or 50 on-air CW contacts and subsequent endorsements as the number of CW on-air contacts increased.

    Would this be a hugely popular award? Probably not but it might appeal to a certain type of new ham — one who really enjoys a challenge and wants to “brag” about his Morse proficiency. But let’s make it about actually getting on the air using this mode and not just testing in a sterile environment.

    73, Dave, N4KZ
    Frankfort, KY

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