On the HamRadioHelpGroup mailing list, there is a discussion on the relevance of some of the questions on the Extra Class license exam and how easy it is to pass the exam by memorizing the answers. Here is my response:
Whether or not you use what you learn while studying for the Extra Class license is immaterial. An Extra Class license holder is supposed to know about all aspects of amateur radio, and in some depth. That’s the whole idea of the Extra Class license.
Furthermore, you’ll be surprised when that knowledge comes in handy. I liken it to the courses I took in engineering school. As an electrical engineering student, I questioned the need to take thermodynamics and fluids courses. Well, that knowledge certainly came in handy when I became a project manager responsible for the design of an electronics control system. It helped me understand how airflow helped keep the electronics cool as well as the algorithms the controller used to control fluid flow in the field.
Something similar could be said about amateur radio. At this point, I have no desire to work satellites. That doesn’t mean that I won’t get interested in doing so at some point in the future. By having read a little bit about it to answer some questions on the Extra Class exam, I’m that much closer to actually doing it.
Finally, let me say a few words about passing the test by memorizing the answers. First of all, doing that is not all that easy for the Extra Class test. There are, after all, more than 500 questions in the question pool. And, to answer many of the questions correctly, you have to memorize the answer. There’s no way to learn the theory.
An example of this is question E2B21. The question is, “If 100 IRE units correspond to the most-white level in the NTSC standard video format, what is the level of the most-black signal?” The answer is 7.5 IRE units. To get that question right, you just have to memorize the answer.
Second, I don’t think many people can go through that memorization process without learning something. I have a friend who always claims that he passed the Extra test by memorizing all of the answers. He’s just playing dumb, though. He knows a lot more than he gives himself credit for, and I think that you’ll find the same thing is true for the clods who claim to have passed by simply memorizing the answers.
Third, even if someone could pass the test simply by memorizing the answers, they’re only cheating themselves. Why spend all that time and energy just memorizing the answers, when you can actually learn something? Especially when actually learning something will certainly prove useful in the future and make ham radio that much more fun?
Is the test material too easy? Perhaps. You have to remember, though, that this is just a hobby. We’re not talking about the installation and maintenance of systems with life-or-death consequences, such as air-traffic control systems or medical electronics.
If after thinking about all this you still think that the test is too easy, get on the committee that makes up the question pool. The question pool is drafted by a committee of Volunteer Examiners. They welcome your input.