Struggling with the exam? Some revision advice

Exams aren’t for everyone, and some of us haven’t had to sit an exam for 20-40 years since leaving school.  We’ve recently been contacted by someone who’s after some extra help in passing their amateur radio exam.

We put together some suggestions for that person, and thought we’d share the notes on studying for the Foundation exam, in case it’s helpful to others.


Ways of studying

There are several options, including:

  • Online, distance-learning study – Our free Foundation Online course is a good place to start, with text, handouts, slides, videos and mock tests
  • A classroom-based training course with a local club. See RSGB Club Finder
  • One-to-one tuition from an experienced radio amateur
  • Studying from a book
  • Study groups with others in the same boat
  • Taking mock tests

Foundation content

There are several modules that have to be studied for Foundation, and they all require a slightly different approach when it comes to studying. Looking at it section-by-section:

  • Licence & Operating – This is 9 marks of the 26, so worth studying carefully. It’s largely “remembering stuff” and looking stuff up in the 4-page booklet supplied for use during the exam.
  • Safety – Largely common sense with some “remembering”
  • EMC – Some understanding is required, but there’s also a number of things that you’re required to remember
  • Technical Basics – This I grant you can be challenging, especially if you have little basic electronics knowledge. You also have to “understand” the content, not just remember it. It’s only 3 marks though
  • Transmitters & Receivers – The box diagrams can be tricky
  • Feeders & Antennas – A lot of “remembering”
  • Propagation – Just two marks, and it’s mostly the basics about the ionosphere and how waves travel

The numbers game

If there is something you don’t understand – don’t stress. At Foundation, you can get 7 questions wrong and still pass. Here’s our guide:

  • Licence Conditions and Operating Procedures – 9 marks (a third of the exam), and you’ll need to know most of this when you have your licence. Put in some effort, and take your time here! At least 3 marks are in the 4-page exam booklet somewhere, so use it!
  • Safety – 3 marks, mostly common sense
  • Interference (EMC) – 3 marks, fairly straightforward stuff
  • Propagation – Only 2 marks, and useful stuff to know
  • Antennas – 3 marks. The antenna types is useful information. Remember that the gain table is in the 4-page booklet
  • Transmitters and Receivers – 3 marks – The box diagrams and Sidebands can be tricky
  • Technical Basics – Possibly the hardest section, with the formulas and circuit stuff. Most new hams don’t need to know much of this, and the good news is you can fail this section, get another 4 questions wrong, but still pass. Don’t stress this one too much!


If the problem is that you just can’t remember the facts (like callsigns, what goes where in the box diagrams, etc), then there are a bunch of tricks, such as repetition, making up rhymes, mind maps, etc. Here are a couple of links on the subject that may be of help:



If you fundamentally don’t understand something, then you need it explained to you in a way that makes sense. We all learn differently. If you’re reading the book, watching our videos and it’s not making sense, then you need to find a way that it can start to make sense.

The best way of doing this, is often to find someone patient and sit down with them one-to-one and gaining that understanding. They may need to draw you diagrams, show you an antenna or point you at things to read. It’s hard to remember things you don’t fully understand, so perhaps write down a list of all of the concepts that you just don’t “get”, and go through them with people until it all starts to make sense.

Exam style

If you understand/remember everything but get thrown by the style of question, then that’s down to practice – do as many mock tests as you can, over and over again, until it’s second-nature. As well as our mocks, there’s the RSGB mock papers, the Exam Secrets book (with mock tests), an app of mock tests, and websites offering mock tests. You’ll see that question authors are all different and write in different styles, which should prepare you for any question style thrown at you.

Sometimes you may see a question that seems to have two right answers. Here is an example that a student reported to us: He was asked what would happen if he transmitted without having an antenna connected. The two answers that looked correct were:

(A)No-one will hear him

(B) He’d damage your radio

Both answers are correct, BUT you should be more worried about blowing up your radio, than people not hearing you. Using a radio with no antenna or with a broken antenna can cause expensive damage to the radio. For that reason (B) is the MOST CORRECT answer, as buying a new £1,000 radio is worse than someone not hearing you.

Exam Nerves

It may be that you know and understand everything, but the stress of the exam gets you. That is a tricky one, and the best advice is “not to stress”. This is a hobby, not a work qualification, so try to treat it as such. There are plenty of websites that give tips on how to prepare for an exam, and if you know your stuff and can ace mock tests, the actual exam shouldn’t present a problem.

Next Steps

If you’re struggling, I’d suggest the next step is to list out where you feel you are weak, and concentrate on ways of understanding the material or remembering the facts, then keep testing yourself until you’re 100% on each item.


Related Links

Good luck with your studies and exams. Any tips we’ve missed? Share them below!


  1. John Haskell 19 May 2020 Reply
  2. Greg Brinklow 9 September 2020 Reply
  3. Colin Howlett 12 September 2020 Reply

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