Extra Class EasyPass: How Everybody Can Be an Extra

I often get asked if I have a “No-Nonsense” study guide for the Extra Class test like my Tech and General Class study guides. While I still don’t have one—or anticipate having one in the future—here’s a way to use the materials that are already out there to mastering the material on the Extra Class test. Thanks to Mike, W2MJZ, for sharing this with us…….Dan

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Right up front… this is a very long article, and making it seem even worse, is that these days no one really likes to read anything which is too wordy. Most everyone is now conditioned to be spoon fed a steady diet of “little written sniglets” and web-speak. But there was no easy way that I could come up with, to give this topic a complete and careful explanation, with only one line bullets and short little talking points.

I would hope that if you are serious enough about passing your Extra Class Exam for the first time, or perhaps you are frustrated with one or more unsuccessful attempts at sitting for the exam, you might like to take the time to carefully examine this detailed log of my own experience. I have never seen the process which I describe here documented in any of the literature, and since it was successful in my own case, perhaps it just might be an unexplored path by which others might find similar success.

This Just In…
Yonkers, New York… In the early morning hours of Sunday December 6th, 2009, Michael J. Zydiak (W2MJZ) confidently walked into the Community Room of the Yonkers Police Department’s First Precinct. In front of him were seven (7) very serious minded VEs from the Yonkers Amateur Club. Presenting his original Amateur License and proper identification for inspection, a small fee, and a correctly filled out NCVEC Form 605, he was given a random selection of fifty (50) questions from the current 738 question Amateur Extra Class Question Pool, taken from a sealed envelope. After spending a total of twenty or thirty minutes to carefully circle the correct answers to the exam, it was handed in, and immediately reviewed by each of the seven VEs.

Yes… I have a real nice 1×3 call, thanks to the “Vanity Call Sign System”, just like my Elmer, Andy W2LHW (SK) had back in the early 1960’s when I first discovered radio. And yes, I aced my last ever Ham exam after spending an honest total of about sixty hours in preparation. And by-the-way, I’m quite certain that I could have easily aced all 738 questions on that December morning if it had been required. Perhaps you might like to know how I did it.

Now please note the following… If you are in a real hurry, and don’t have the time or interest to enjoy the reminiscing and “Ham Tail’s” of an “Almost Old Timer”, then please feel free to go directly down to the “Meat and Potatoes” sub-heading, and start learning how I aced my recent Amateur Extra Exam. However, please do note that if you don’t read all of my stuff in its entirety, you just might miss some little tidbit of motivation that just might help you to get you off your duff and pass your own very last Ham Radio exam.

That said… in retrospect, sixty hours was actually well beyond the time I really needed to prepare for the Extra Class Exam, since I really needed only thirty seven (37) correct answers to pass and not all Fifty (50). I perhaps needed to have spent only about thirty five or forty hours preparing to pass it. But… I did have my “Almost Old Timer” reputation to protect, and I didn’t really want to be taken down a few notches in front of the entire leadership of my own local “Yonkers Amateur Radio Club” if I had “had just gotten by” with less than fifty. (A club of which I still have a membership card dating back to the 1960’s knocking around somewhere in my way too cluttered, but way too under utilized shack.)

While I really hadn’t given the actual study and preparation process for my upgrade much of any thought, after speaking with a few hams afterwards, and receiving a few wide eyed “holy explicative deleteds”, I realized that my experience was not as commonplace as I might have first thought. So… after speaking with a few other very knowledgeable Hams, who are far more community minded than myself, it was suggested that it might be a good idea to share my experience and study method with everyone.

First off, and right up front, I must make this very serious “Almost Old Timer” comment… You don’t have to learn Morse Code (CW) any more as part of the exam process. The FCC took the CW requirements off the table a while ago, so there is absolutely no excuse what-so-ever why you can’t upgrade. (My own excuse was simply that I was way too busy working for a living, taking care of my family, working on my old house, collecting old cars, and pursuing way to many other activities over the last three decades, to have any time left for the hobby.)

However, it is of critical importance that while CW is no longer a licensing requirement, I am absolutely convinced that being proficient in CW is an essential and extremely critical survival skill, much like starting a campfire without matches, building a shelter with tree branches, or using the Sun to find your direction. (More on essential survival radio skills, and my own thoughts on fun/easy ways to learn the code in future posts.)

Myself, I am one of those very inactive “Almost Old Timers” who actually was tested back in the 1970’s at the FCC Offices on Varick Street in New York City (I was a late bloomer even back then.) While I really don’t remember anything at all about taking the written Technician Exam and its five WPM code test (too much collecting old cars affecting my brain cells I suspect), I will never forget the sheer terror of my thirteen WPM CW test for my General.

Sometime in the later 1970’s, I’m sitting in this very uncomfortable chair, with my #2 pencil in hand, with blank white paper in front of me, and I seem to even recall that the paper itself was some sort of actual FCC form. I wasn’t really ready at all for the test, as at that time I could barely keep up with the 13 WPM from W1AW on my very well worn HQ-129-X.

So out comes the code from the speaker, and I’m struggling to keep up with it, getting the characters about halfway written before the next letter came along… “oh no, my brain was melting”… and after about 40 seconds I was drowning in a sea of numbers, characters, prosigns and punctuation, my fingers couldn’t fly any faster, and my brain was starting to drop it all out the other side before I could grab on to it… (was that an “L” or an “F”!!!!!, was that an “S” or an “H”!!!!!) I was seconds away from crumbling to dust.

But, as fate would have it, the very nice, but totally bored FCC lady who was administering the test was walking around behind the test takers. She looked down at my very neat forty seconds or so of copy which I was printing and spacing very carefully, and she casually informed me that… “you’re done”… so I dropped my pencil in half a heartbeat, as I really was completely finished in more ways than one at that point; but she said I had passed the CW portion for my General.

Of course I still have lingering thoughts about the formal regulation at that time where one had to get a full minute of perfect copy, and I guess the nice FCC lady simply assumed that while it looked to her that I was having an easy time of it, and that the next ten seconds were not anything for her to worry about; if she had only kept quiet for another ten seconds, I would have been toast. But… she must have been dazzled with my neat printing, assumed that I was much better prepared than I really was, and she was unable to hear my brain frying out of control on overload. Lucky for me; and thank you so very much for the impatience of career Civil Servants.

But to bring this point home, to get licensed or to upgrade, you no longer have to crumple under the pressure of a formal CW exam ever again. Now you can simply start to enjoy developing this essential survival skill at your own comfortable pace when you finally come to your senses.

Now to quote a number of anonymous holders of the current General Ticket…”Oh nooooo!, that Extra Class Exam is way too hard…I couldn’t ever pass that exam in a million years!”

Rubbish!!!!!!…. Yes, I’ll say it again… Rubbish!!!!!!…. (I would say something else a bit stronger here, but this is a wholesome family website.)

Do Take Note of the Following…
They publish and freely distribute all of the exact questions, 738 in all, and all of the exact correct answers to the Extra Class Question Pool; fifty of which will be repeated exactly in the written exam the VE hands you, with at worst, a change in the order of the answers on your test sheet.

The VECs have weeded out and eliminated any imperfect or ambiguous questions and/or answers.

They even give you the exact wrong answers (actually called “distractors”), that are placed right alongside of those exact correct answers in order to… you guessed it… distract you. (But much more on this point later.)

You can bring along a simple calculator, which perhaps you might not even need, as there is only a moderate number of really scary math questions. (Remembering again that they give you every single one of the correct questions and answers to study beforehand.)

No longer are you herded in and out of some government holding pen by career Civil Service “professionals” who are simply counting the minutes until their lunch and/or break time. These days you take the exam in a comfortable and friendly environment, supervised by like-minded individuals who are very seriously interested in your success.

It’s “multiple guess” with only a total of four possible choices.

As there really isn’t even a fixed time limit set for the test, you could even spend a few hours taking the exam, but you really shouldn’t need more than forty or fifty minutes, and even that’s stretching it.

And finally… even if you didn’t follow the “Meat and Potatoes” found below, and have somehow actually managed to fail the exam, you can simply pay another fee, and take another exam all over again, and again, and again, if you need to, as often as you wish, as long as you can keep coming up with another fee.

Wow!!!!!!! If you don’t already realize it, the current Amateur Radio exams and testing procedures are really a gift, and the only thing I could possibly think of that could have made my test taking experience a more pleasant and enjoyable event, would have been if they had served me a cold beer and a medium well burger with fries & coleslaw while I was taking the exam :)

Oh by-the-way, that gift mentioned above is worth perhaps forty to sixty billion dollars, which is a conservative low end estimate of what the entire Amateur Radio Frequency Spectrum would bring if it were auctioned off to the commercial interests.

But Now for a Serious Reality Check
As I wear my two fingers down to little stubs typing this document, so that you can breeze through your last Amateur Radio exam the very first time you take it; sitting right next to my laptop is a dog eared and worn copy of the ARRL Extra Class License Manual (Ninth Edition). On a number of occasions, when I was snowed in for a few days, or I was home from work with the flu, I had seriously attempted to carefully work though all of its four hundred seventy pages of pure, very well written, very well organized, highly detailed, technically perfect, fat. (That’s 470 very large pages after eliminating all of the blank and advertising pages.)

Yes I said it… well written fat; and… let me ruffle a few more feathers here… huge amounts of mostly unnecessary and unneeded fat; most of which in no way is directed specifically to accomplishing the singular task at hand… that of getting thirty seven or more correct answers out of fifty.

Let me quote from page 1-8, section 1.4, second paragraph of the ARRL Extra Class Manual:

This study guide will provide the necessary background and explanation for the answers to the exam questions. By learning this material, you will go beyond just learning the answers. You’ll understand the fundamentals behind them and this makes it easier to learn, remember and use what you know. This book also contains many useful facts and figures that you can use in your station and on the air.”

Well written, well punctuated, well structured, concise, absolutely 100% true in its description, and a representative paragraph of a superbly well researched work detailing with every single technical, regulatory and operational area from which the entire Amateur Extra Class question pool is based. But please, do send me a stinging barbed posting, if any of you out there have ever actually managed to wade through all of those four hundred and seventy pages in just a few weeks, and managed to retain enough of it to pass the extra exam on the first shot. I would be seriously impressed if you had.

But do please take note that the above quote states quite clearly that it goes beyond what is required!

Now this is going to rattle the cages of a few of you purists out there, but here’s some further serious reality check. You are not being tested by the VEs on what you know, rather, you are being tested only on how well you know the answers to a random subset of fifty (50) questions selected from a specific set of 738 questions in the VEC pool. That’s all, nothing more.

The bar that you have to get over to pass the Extra Exam was set at a very specific and well defined level. It is absolutely unnecessary for an individual to expend inordinate amounts of valuable time and effort in preparing to go much beyond that bar. Perhaps though, some of you really do have the time and desire to do so, and this is rather commendable and I seriously admire those of you who are so inclined.

However, any extra work that is performed in the course of preparing to take the Extra Class examination for the rest of us, will at best be only a time consuming distraction from the primary task at hand, which again is to simply get thirty seven or more correct answers circled on the answer sheet the very first time you attempt it.

I can already hear the murmurs of discontent from the purists out there who will most certainly point out in sharply worded posts, as to how detrimental and destructive my thoughts are to the integrity of the hobby, or raise issues of the need for personal growth and self improvement, or go on about the technical standards which need be maintained, or perhaps even express thoughts over the preparation required to assume the roll of world wide ambassadors for the hobby.

And of course, there will also be the sad and quite melancholy thoughts which will be expressed over how much the hobby has changed from the “good old days”… rubbish… get over it… These are the “good old days” and please do try and remember that it’s a fascinating fun hobby, and not a calling to some more serious religious vocation.

Sorry, but the rules have been clearly formulated and set in place. The test taker needs only to be focused on an honest and above board process of learning all of the questions and their answers in the pool beforehand, and then pulling fifty of those answers out of their head in order to be able to circle the correct answers, nothing more.

There aren’t any requirements in place for any sort of prerequisite preparation in order to take the Amateur Extra exam, and there are no retesting or proficiency requirements anytime in the future. So any method by which an individual can honestly get to the magic thirty seven (37) is fair, good, noble, and pure of heart, and only needs to be done once. And of course, your passing of the exam helps to sustain and grow our hobby no matter what the purists might have to say about it.

So grasshopper… let me guide you on to the path of true Extra Class test taking enlightenment.

First and right up front, if you were to download the current Extra Pool right off of the internet, and attempt to simply memorize the answers to the 738 questions, unless you had a “one read only”, perfect, photographic memory, you are going to gag as your brain turns into dry dust from the absolute sterile boredom of such a task. The questions in themselves are ordinary, rather short, simple, and more importantly, the raw consecutively numbered download is somewhat random, and is definitely not ordered in a well thought out logical sequence as to topics and specialized areas of interest. Pure rote memorization doesn’t work, especially with 738 questions, so don’t even waste your time going down that path.

What you really need are simplified, “short and sweet” study guides with extremely concise explanations for each individual question in the pool, and of equal importance, all of those 738 questions need to be carefully regrouped and reordered according to their topic and specialized area of interest.

Further, one needs a methodology and process by which one can easily, most efficiently, and continuously, separate out the questions and answers that you already know, the questions and answers that you need to read only once or twice to know, the questions and answers that may need a bit of serious study, and the questions and answers that would have seriously talented RF engineers flipping through the pages of some reference book, in order to refresh their own memories.

Finally…The Real “Meat and Potatoes”
Step One: Get your hands on Gordon West’s Extra Class Study Guide (Fifth Edition), which covers the current Extra Class Question Pool which expires on June 30, 2012. I found that the Gordon West book had elegantly concise explanations to each and every one of the questions. He has also reordered the entire Extra Class question pool into very logical chapters and individual topics, so that all of the questions on the same topic are grouped together along with just enough interesting, light and playful commentary to hold your interest.

Step Two: As will be pointed out again later in this article, at all costs, one needs to avoid concentrating on the wrong answers (which are most correctly labeled by the exam writers as “distractors”). Along those very lines, there is a superbly written and elegantly simple study guide to the Extra Class examination (remembering that the simplest solutions are most always the best solution). This study guide was written and made freely available on the internet by Jack Tiley AD7FO, and will also become out-of-date on June 30 2012.

While I am not one to casually toss praise, Jack came up with something superb, but a diamond in the rough which I didn’t really appreciate and fully grasp the significance of, until I was slogging through the “distractors” for a while. Jack has created a very unique and highly useful Extra Class study guide, and I will quote Jack directly here…

All question answers have been re-written as a true statement and the other choices are not shown. Studying in this way will help you identify the correct answer and avoids the confusion of having studied both the correct and incorrect answers when you sit down and take the exam.” (End of Quote.) Trust me… as one who has carefully gone through the entire question pool very thoroughly, it’s the distractors that cloud your judgement to a much greater degree than the easier judgement needed to simply recall the correct answer without distraction.

I will also point out that Jack’s work offers extremely concise well written explanations, but only when he thinks they are really needed. The work is arranged in the original numerical order of the VEC question pool, and the bulk of it is in the form of simple and straight forward, declarative sentences. Many of the questions have their own clever, colorful, detailed, and well thought out graphics to help burn the correct answer on to your brain cells; along with clean, neat, step-by-step calculations for the entire group of mathematically based questions.

Step Three: It is the critical time saver for you to be able to precisely separate out that which you already know from that which you don’t, as well as an ongoing process of what you are easily absorbing with only moderate effort. You also need to precisely identify those questions which are the really nasty time consuming “pigs”, which are a serious road block to your success if not dealt with correctly.

To that end, the ARRL Publications Department has made available a set of 5.5″ x 2.75″ cards with each individual question from the Extra Class Question Pool printed on the front of the card, along with the four A, B, C & D choices. And on the back of the card you will find the correct answer.

Step Four: Here’s the key to it all… you need to rearrange the ARRL Card Deck into a more logical order, where all of the distinct areas of study, and the sub-topics found within those areas of study are logically grouped together. This is the essential component of the process where the formidable number of questions, 738 in all, will be quickly and continually whittled down into a manageable and much much smaller number of problematic questions.

That well thought out order is found in the Gordon West book, where the individual subject areas of study are separated into sixteen distinct individual chapters, and these chapters are in turn carefully ordered into all of the specific specialized topics. It is this reordering of the ARRL “card deck”, along with the concise explanations found for each question in the Gordon West book, which will get you quickly and confidently into that chair in front of the VEs.

In addition, as much as it seems to contradict “the way we have always have done it in the past”, it is the complete elimination of studying the “distractors” (wrong answers), championed by Jack Tiley AD7FO, that works so very well in practice, and negates some of our older and and less effective techniques for studying for the Amateur exams… making Jack’s more simplified approach quite cutting edge.

Of course, I must confess here that I did something quite improper which could possibly land me into copyright hell. Jack arranged his work in the original numerical order of the 738 question pool. However, I spent an extremely long day cutting and pasting Jack Tiley’s entire work into my own word processor, and then rearranging it into the very same order of my rearranged ARRL card deck, which in turn follows the logical order of questions found in the Gordon West book.

But please, and I’m serious here, do not ask me for a copy. It was a “cut and steal” that I created only for my own personal use with words which belong to Jack, and the very logical order of the questions which belong to Gordon. (But there is nothing that I can think of which would stop any individual on their own from spending a day doing the very same “clip and steal” that I did.)

After I had read the Gordon West book carefully cover-to-cover in about a week, it was readily apparent that the best approach was a selective attack on the individual chapters, in the order of their perceived difficulty (again there are sixteen chapters in all). I worked on the easiest chapters first, then progressed forward through the chapters in my own chosen order of increasing difficulty. I finally finished up doing the most difficult chapters of the book right at the very end.

After rearranging the ARRL “card deck” into the specific order of the chapters I was reading and the sub-topics within those chapters, it is then quite easy to work in parallel with the well organized material found in the Gordon West book. I found that working with each single chapter of the Gordon West book, as a completely separate and fully independent entity, was the fastest and most efficient approach I could come up with.

Depending on your own background and experience, you will probably find a number of the book’s chapters, cut & dried and quite easy to absorb. And most importantly, as you flip through the corresponding “cards” of each particular chapter you are studying, perhaps even after just a few flips, the correct answers should start to jump out at you before you completely finish reading the question and look at all of the answers.

I found it very beneficial when going through the Gordon West book chapters to use coded colored rubber bands on the separated sections of the “card deck” to keep track of my progress. I also found it very beneficial to use a series of stick-on Avery color coded round dots to keep track of completely “done cards” within each chapter, those cards which were mildly problematic, as well as the small group of cards that were highly problematic. But again, the paralleled card stack is an extremely quick means by which one can continuously keep track of your real and very fast progress.

The reasoning is this, the questions that are found in the chapters that you are most comfortable with will more easily stick in your brain for a longer length of time. The extremely difficult chapters from your own perspective, even after you have drilled the correct answers into your head, will last for only a shorter amount of time. Thus, you want to do the really hard stuff at the very end so it is are fresh in your mind when you take the exam, and the easier stuff from early on in the process simply comes along for the ride.

With these three tools, one can easily master each independent chapter’s questions and to quickly eliminate any further time wasting study of the “done” questions as one moves along in the study process.

The “card sort” is a dynamic continuous process as you systematically go through each individual chapter’s separate “card pile”, whittling down the cards from each of the individual chapters into a larger and larger permanent “done” pile each day. You are only concentrating on the cards which you are having trouble with at that particular moment. Again, once you have a card “done”, we don’t have to waste any more serious effort on it, and we simply relegate it to a once a day “daily flip” to keep what we now know, fresh in our brain.

Progress is measured by the daily read of one or more specific chapters (once again with the chapters ordered in your very own perceived order of difficulty), along with a continuous card-by-card self testing of the questions of that particular chapter in their specific fixed order. Thus we are able to get continuous feedback on what has been burnt well into our brain, and what still needs to be worked on. When you have the current chapter down cold, put the whole thing into the “done” pile, in correct topic order, and go on to the next somewhat harder chapter of your choosing.

By doing the easier chapters up front, and leaving the difficult chapters for last, one is able to get the bulk of the questions out of the way for good. Once you have a chapter down cold, you don’t have to read it ever again, and you only have to run through your ever expanding completed chapters in the “done deck” once a day to keep what you have previously learned fresh in your head.

Over the course of a few weeks you will be creating a well ordered stack of “done cards” in nearly the exact order of your own self-determined order of difficulty The key to keeping the questions and answers fresh in your head is to, first thing in the morning or last thing at night, go through all of the “done cards” of the chapters that you have already completed. Again, you really only have to do that once a day, with only the cards from the chapters you have completed. But after two or three weeks, you should have gone through all of the chapters, and hopefully, you are simply flipping the entire set cards once each day, to keep it all fresh in your head until exam day. (It does take about two and a half hours to flip all 738 cards at the very end of your studying.

I would think that most everyone who implements this process, since you are doing the easiest questions at the beginning, will be quickly creating a big pile of “done cards” which you will have down cold.

It is through the daily card flip of the “done cards”, where you will find that your brain quickly starts to skim right over reading the entire question completely, and the answer simply pops into your head before you even finished reading the question without even really looking at the other three wrong answers. (An old Jedi mind trick.)

And while you might be tempted not to even flip over each and every card in your daily “card flip” to see if you are correct, force yourself do it anyway. I can’t impress upon you enough, that you must concentrate fully on the correct answers and give no thought what-so-ever to the “distractors”. (It is really the single most important thing that I can teach you in studying for the exam.)

And finally, after perhaps a few weeks of “done card” flipping, you will find that for majority of all of the questions, you will reach a point where you could cover up all of the answers and the right answer will still simply pop into your head. That’s what you are really after, not rote memorization at all, but a simple and reliable association of the correct answer to the question, without even having to see any of the four choices. (Which is why Jack Tiley’s distractor-less text is such a valuable study tool.)

It is really a ridiculously simple process, but as I noted previously, it is the simplest solutions which are usually the most effective. But now lets go and look at the other side of the “card deck”, so-to-speak, which you may or may not have even thought about.

So many of the questions in the pool are notably repetitive, and in so many cases, when you learn one question you have probably learned the answers to two or three other very similar questions in that same chapter as well. There are patterns, there are repetitions, there are questions which mirror other questions, there are noticeable similarities in groups of answers, there are questions which while worded differently, are asking the very same thing. And because you have have ordered your own “card deck” so very carefully, all sorts of patterns and similarities will quickly make themselves apparent to you. (Actually, it is more like they will jump up and bite you as you master your “card deck”.)

(As one single example of any number of patterns and similarities I uncovered in my study of the Extra Class Question Pool… for about six or so questions (I’m way too lazy to go back and get the exact number), it’s always the FCC that’s in charge, or the FCC and the FAA are the responsible authorities, NOBODY ELSE. So now you can put all of those worded differently, but related questions into the “done pile”.)

In addition, in the Gordon West book there are a large number of great hints and tricks that are given to help you more easily commit many of the seriously challenging ideas to memory. (I must give credit here to “ELI the ICE Elmer” who came to my rescue in keeping the phasing questions straight in my head.)

But of course, saving the worst for last, their are also the “Pigs With Sharp Fangs from Extra Class Hell” questions…

And once again, unless you have the blessing and/or curse of an actual true “one read only” perfect photographic memory, as you progress through the chapters, you will be placing more than a few big, red, one inch round Avery stick-on dots on to those particularly nasty cards with the really horrid questions, that you haven’t been able to comfortably grasp at all.

For me it was the twelve or so Polar Coordinate questions, a smattering of the other complex mathematical questions, and a number of the really stupid stuff that I kept reversing in my head such as pre-emphasis and de-emphasis, and which way the parallel and series circuits functioned at passing or rejecting RF power. (too much old car collecting in my wild youth).

There are a number questions in the pool that require a serious understanding of rather complex mathematical concepts along with required multi-step formulas to solve them… “Pigs With Sharp Fangs”, that most of us really dread. Of course these mathematical questions are certainly doable and fully understandable with varying degrees of careful attention, serious investments in time, perhaps reflection back to the high school and college math courses which most every one of you despised, and some really intense study and review. (Yuck)

But the good news is that there are not a really huge number of those questions in the pool, and if you absolutely positively lack the background and/or mindset, one could actually chose not to even bother with them, but only if one is really strong enough in most all the other topics. A passing grade of thirty seven is still within reasonable reach, even if you don’t have each and every question down cold.

Myself, I really didn’t wish to go back and relearn high school math from over four decades ago, but I really wanted to ace the exam. So after about the second week I had completely separated out about fifty (50) or sixty (60) questions that I was not at all comfortable with. But on the other hand, I had a big fat grin on my face as after only forty hours of comfortable study, I had at least 678 of those cards down cold, and I could answer most all those 678 questions without even looking at any of the answers during my morning card flip.

While again I’ll point out that blind rote memorization of the entire 738 question pool is a completely foolish endeavor, there is however just a wee bit of wiggle room here. Let me explain…

  • If you only had one single card out of the 738 where you could not fully grasp the core concept, terminology or the mathematical process, you could probably simply memorize that one question and answer in about one or two minutes.
  • If you had ten of those sort of questions, perhaps it might take you the whole day to go back and review the material, and get those questions down cold.
  • If at the end of the chapter by chapter process you had fifty or sixty “Pigs With Sharp Fangs” in the “Pig Pen”, it would take about a week of not too difficult effort to zero in on them; while of course still flipping the rest of the “done cards” daily, to keep all of those other easy answers fresh in your brain. (This is my very own first hand experience.)

Your own ultimate success in passing the Extra Exam will vary inversely as a function of the size of your “Pig Pen”, as it is only logical that the larger your “Pig Pen” becomes, your probability of success will proportionally diminish.

For myself, flipping through about thirty rotten, wretched math questions like solving Polar Coordinates, and about thirty questions which included concepts which were somewhat obscure to me like Space Communications and the internal characteristics of the junctions of exotic components wasn’t too terribly bad at all. The number was manageable, and I had a huge amount of confidence in already having mastered the very large bulk of the questions in the “done pile”.

(On the exam itself, I do distantly remember that my own “Pigs with Fangs” were no more than about five or six of the questions of my randomly selected fifty. If I had skipped that last week of study, I still would have easily passed.)

And once again, even as I was working and focused on my own very “Pigs”, I was still flipping the entire “done” pile once a day, thus insuring a statistically based certainty of passing the exam, even if I had simply chosen to toss the “Pigs” into the shredder instead of smoking and then slicing them into bacon.

And again, as our system most efficiently took the “done cards” right off of the study table, for that small remaining number of “Pigs”, it did not seem to be that difficult nor time consuming a task to go back and even reread the concise explanations from both of the works that I have cited previously, and fully concentrate on only those specific questions for an additional week (twenty hours) of work.

That’s why doing the process in the “easy to hard direction” will maximize the probability of real success in the minimum time possible, with the ever increasing difficulty at the end of the process simply putting icing on the already well “done” cake.

So what are your real probabilities of success?
Actually if you follow my lead here, turn off the TV, and spend a few weeks at it, I suspect that your probabilities of success are quite good. If it hasn’t already been done somewhere on the internet, someday when I’m home sick with the flu or snowed in, I’ll crunch the numbers much more carefully and come up with more accurate probabilities. But here are some quick and very crude estimates of the probabilities of passing the Extra based on a range of honestly arrived at “Pig Pen” sizes.

For now we will have to assume an equal weighting for each and every question in the Extra Exam Question Pool (although the questions themselves actually have variable weightings). So with the required proportional selections from the various question pool sub-sections creating a balanced random selection of 50 questions, and considering the possibility of one good guess out of four for your particular “Pig Pen” and assuming you simply shredded your “Pigs”…

  • 738 down cold… Ace
  • 688 down cold… ~47 correct out of 50
  • 638 down cold… ~44 correct out of 50
  • 588 down cold… ~41 correct out of 50
  • 538 down cold… ~39 correct out of 50

We start to close in statistically close to the passing grade of 37 (74%) as we approach the region of around the middle to lower 500’s of the total number of questions and answers that you have down cold. (But again, this is only a rough guesstimate, and your own results could vary significantly as a result of random chance.)

Again as noted before, I’m a perfectionist, so I really wanted to get a perfect score to sort of make up for all of the decades I was neglecting this fantastic hobby while I was “collecting old cars”. But if you follow my lead here and you have a more realistic set of expectations than myself, and can get within spitting distance to the middle or higher 600’s… as there is a mandated and well balanced selection from the pool of your particular fifty questions, a score of thirty seven or more is a very reasonable expectation to attain, and very doable with only a minimum amount of serious effort.

Footnote… I am still not really as active in the hobby and as well connected as I would like to be. I’m not even certain if any of what I have written will be of any real value to any one else who might actually be reading this. But I would love to have whatever feedback you might care to send along through this website, and if there was something that I didn’t explain well enough, or was still unclear to you, I would love to post any additional commentary as might be required, as my goal here is to make as many new Extras as possible before I run out of gas :)

(Angry purists are also welcomed to reply, most especially if they are still Generals, but they do so at their own serious risk and peril :)

Mike Zydiak W2MJZ