RSGB Syllabus 2019 Released: Changes to Foundation

After over five years of work, the RSGB released its new syllabus for Foundation, Intermediate and Advanced on the 15th of August 2018. See: RSGB Syllabus 2019

At 72 pages, this is a large document to digest. Essex Ham’s focus has always been on getting newcomers into the hobby, and our efforts at the moment are on looking at how the new changes impact Foundation, the entry level to our hobby. (See also – 2019 Syllabus Intermediate Changes).

Initial Impressions

A sizeable amount of new material has been added – far more than is outlined in the RSGB’s 3-page summary. The current syllabus has around 130 items, and the new one has over 250.

Some of the changes may present challenges for classroom teaching as well as for online teaching, and will likely involve many clubs and trainers having a re-think in how they deliver content.

Foundation will still be a 26-question multiple choice, but the material will likely require more time to teach, and additional resources to support the practical changes. There will be one less “technical aspects” question, but one extra “safety” question.

Given the drop in numbers of candidates taking Foundation, and the RSGB’s 2022 Strategy goals, the RSGB’s decision to make Foundation more technically complex with a greater focus on electronics, is interesting.

The overwhelming feedback from the 300 amateurs who took part in our 2017 syllabus survey and tutor’s poll, was for keeping Foundation simple. Many tutors and clubs will now be reviewing the documentation to see if that’s what the RSGB has delivered.

Syllabus Comparison - Examinable Points (Old vs New)
Syllabus Comparison – Examinable Points (Old vs New)

Morse / Data Practical

The Morse Appreciation has been the subject of controversy amongst trainers for some time, and the RSGB has listened – Trainers can now choose between asking candidates to take the Morse Appreciation, or a Data Mode practical. 

The specification for the data mode practical highlights some issues that trainers need to consider before adopting, notably:

  • The specification states that the candidate must “type and send all information in real-time” – My assumption is that JT65, JT9 and FT8, are therefore not permitted. SSTV would be out too
  • The QSO must be on-air – therefore requiring another station to be set up using the same data mode, operated by another volunteer
  • Setting mic gain and computer levels is part of the practical – which can be a complex exercise in its own right for data modes

Realistically, PSK31 is the mode that most likely meets the requirements (odd that the most popular modes are excluded!), but even PSK31 relies on macros and codes – it’s also a mode that’s decreasing in popularity. From a Tutor’s perspective, I’d personally rather stick to the short CW appreciation, than have to deal with setting up two PSK31 stations, PTT/CAT and soundcard setup, plus the vagaries of Windows COM ports and software setup in front of a group of trainees. 

Required Knowledge

Candidates will now have to have slightly improved maths knowledge at Foundation, due to the following two new requirements:

  • Multiple and sub-multiple units from micro to Giga
  • Conversion of numbers from 10-3 to 109 to/from decimal.

Licence Condition

Remains at 6 questions – but there are 10 additions to the syllabus, including: 

  • Vessels at sea, Aircraft operation, optional suffixes, testing “from time to time”  – all previously Intermediate
  • Addition of re-validate every 5 years, Ofcom’s right to revoke, and Ofcom’s right to mandate logging
  • Requirement that only a Full licencee can supervise Foundation course QSOs (which will impact training at some clubs)
  • Requirement to identify station when there is a change of supervisor, protocol or RSL

Technical Aspects

Previously this was called “Technical Basics”, but the addition of 18 new items here justifies this no longer being “basic”. Drops from 4 question in the exam, to 3.

Syllabus changes include:

  • Current in series and parallel circuits
  • More on resistors – Conversion of energy to heat, current across all components
  • Requirement to remember the RF range (below 30kHz to over 3,000MHz)
  • Digital signals – (stream of finite values at a specific sampling level), processed by computers and software
  • A-to-D and D-to-A converters
  • Primary vs secondary battery properties

Transmitters & Receivers

Stays at 3 exam questions, but with the addition of 8 new syllabus items, including:

  • Introduction of sidebands and SSB operation (previously at Intermediate)
  • Mic amplification and frequency limiting
  • 5 new requirements for software-defined radios including that a “mathematical operation enables signals to be sifted to separate frequency components”, and SDR filtering

Feeders and Antennas

Stays at 3 exam questions. The 3-page summary from RSGB indicates no changes to this section, but we have found 20 new syllabus additions, including:

  • Additional technical detail on feeder: balanced, equal and opposite signals in twin feeder, energy converted to heat, loss in long feeder runs, increased loss in higher frequencies
  • Antenna radiation patterns
  • Polar diagrams for dipole and Yagi
  • Directions of maximum and minimum radiation
  • More on gain (expressed relative to a half-wave dipole)
  • ERP calculation, given input power and antenna gain (dB conversion table will apparently be provided)
  • SWR much greater than 2:1 may damage a transmitter
  • Addition of SMA and N plugs (in addition to BNC and PL259)


Stays at just 2 questions. The 3-page summary from RSGB indicates no changes to this section, but we have found 6 new syllabus additions, including:

  • VHF/UHF pass through the Ionosphere.
  • Introduces “troposphere” and its position below the Ionosphere
  • Ionisation is caused mainly by UV rays
  • Introduction of Skywave and the concept of “open” bands
  • Introduction of Sporadic E and atmospheric ducting to increase VHF/UHF range
  • Snow, ice and heavy rain can attenuate signals at UHF and above

Electro Magnetic Compatability

Stays at 3 exam questions. Adds 11 new syllabus items here, including:

  • 5 new items about radio in vehicles including: vehicle management systems, tell insurance company, testing when static, interference from car systems
  • 3 new items regarding neighbours and logging
  • A ‘plug’ for RSGB EMC literature and the EMC committee
  • Use of dummy load for EMC testing

Operating Practices and Procedures

Stays at 3 exam questions. 19 new syllabus items added here, including:

  • Meaning of “Centre of Activity”
  • 3 items on logging (what to log, why to log, and logging in UTC)
  • 2 items on band plan – location of narrow bands, avoid beacons,
  • Shared spectrum with other users
  • More on repeaters: time-out, reset tone and the rather vague “voice procedures”
  • RST code becomes examinable
  • 6 items around Digital Voice & Digital Data: Modes, embedded callsigns, checking frequency “in use” by other modes
  • 2 items on use of amateur satellite frequencies


Increases from 2 to 3 questions, and a whopping 31 syllabus items are added here. This increases from 17 items to 48 in the new syllabus. Additions include:

  • Earths:  non-removal and need to consult DNO (PME reference removed)
  • 2 items on fuses
  • RCBO – including 30mA trigger level and L-N / L-E shorts
  • 3 items on batteries and chargers
  • 2 items on tools and drill swarf
  • 3 items on soldering (which is introduced at Intermediate)
  • 5 items on ladders and working at height (inc 4:1 ratio), from Intermediate
  • RF dangers including body heating  and eyes
  • Bodies responsible for guidance on RF radiation (PHE and ICNIRP)
  • Waveguides (introduction and safety)
  • Lightning and local authority advice
  • 5 items on working portable (inc need for risk assessments)

Practical: Voice QSO

Some minor changes:

  • Requirement to tune in to a VHF/UHF voice and data signal (8e.1), HF voice signal and HF CW signal (8e.3) and to read signal strength, all appear to have been dropped
  • Requirement to use volume control (8e.2 and 8e.4) appears to have been dropped
  • Requirements to use the RIT, RF Gain and an ATU (8e.4) appear to have been dropped
  • Requirement to include “location” in both VHF/UHF and HF QSO has been added
  • Logging the QSO has been added as a requirement
  • As mentioned above, only a Full licence holder can now supervise Foundation course QSOs (Licence Conditions 1B1)

Practical: Antenna Tuning

A few changes here, with possible implications for trainers:

  • A transceiver or transmitter plus an SWR meter is explicitly specified for antenna tuning. Many trainers currently use an analyser for this, but now it needs to be a twin-meter SWR meter  or a rig’s SWR meter plus a transmitter – 10A4
  • Antenna SWR matching now needs to be done on two bands (previously one) – 10A5
  • Antenna SWR matching now requires a manual AMU – 10A5

Practical: Station Setup

Some minor changes:

  • The power supply now must be mains – 10B1
  • Microphone or PC interface is now included – 10B1
  • An “external item” is now included (VSWR, AMU or filter) – 10B1

Practical: Morse Assessment

As mentioned earlier, trainers can go for Morse or another non-voice mode (such as data). If sticking with Morse, the only noticeable change is a ‘relaxing’ of the exchange. The wording “No residual errors are permitted” (10a.1) has been replaced with “sufficient correct code must be exchanged for the contents of the message to be understood” (10A1)


A quick scan of the first release of the new syllabus highlighted a few oddities. Some of these have now been addressed (since we pointed them out):

  • It appears that the requirement to convert frequency to wavelength been dropped from Foundation. It was a requirement in the old syllabus (“use a graph to convert…” – 3c.3), but that sentence has been removed (See 2E7 of the new syllabus). Oddly, 2E7 implies the chart will still be provided in the exam, even though it appears to no longer be examinable. The conversion  moves from Foundation to Intermediate (Intermediate syllabus 2E7 states “Calculate frequency or wavelength given the other parameter”)
  • “Recall that tuning of a receiver is carried out in the first stages of the receiver” has been removed.
  • The dangers of using home-made filters or fitting things to mains wiring, have both been removed – are these no longer a safety risk?
  • “Recall the frequency bands for HF, VHF and UHF” appears twice – Questions 8 and 22 (2E2 and 7B2)

Syllabus 2019 – Foundation Changes Quiz!

Just for fun, can you answer 12 questions? Foundation Syllabus Quick Quiz

Background Stats

This graph shows that the number of candidates sitting Foundation is at its lowest in 10 years. This should be of concern to RSGB, and many feel that toughening the entry requirements to the hobby and lengthening courses to accommodate the new content, may not halt the decline.

RSGB stats on candidates taking Foundation (2006 to 2017)
RSGB stats on candidates taking Foundation (2006 to 2017)

As part of our submission to RSGB on the consultation in 2017, we polled 276 amateurs. 66% disagreed with proposed changes to increase the level of technical difficulty at Foundation.

Feedback from our July 2017 poll of 276 amateurs. 66% disagreed with the proposed changes at Foundation
Feedback from our July 2017 poll of 276 amateurs.

As part of our submission to RSGB on the consultation in 2017, we took a straw poll of tutors, who were also generally opposed to many of the changes in the final syllabus. Here is a summary of what the tutors wanted to see changed:

Feedback from our July 2017 tutor poll
Feedback from our July 2017 tutor poll

Related links


Your thoughts?

Please let us know what you think. We’re particularly interested to hear what trainers have to say!



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