The Canadian Basic Exam

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ll be spending a few weeks in Canada this summer and will certainly play radio.

I’ve decided to bite the bullet and study to hopefully pass my Basic license exam while there.

I say “hopefully” because my timing couldn’t be worse.

I started studying about 2 weeks ago in earnest–allowing myself one month of prep before my trip–but frankly, I’ve been so busy I’ve had almost no time to dedicate to  studying. In fact, a good 5 days of my two weeks were taken up with a POTA camping trip in WV.

Why in the world do I do this to myself?

That’s what I keep asking.  🙂

There’s no logic in getting a Canadian license because as a US license holder, I can simply add /VE2 onto my call while in Québec et voilá I’m legally on the air!

That and, here at home, I’m juggling numerous projects before we leave, so study sessions are crammed into short openings and are sporadic. Not how I like to study for something like this.

Thing is, I want to fit in the bulk of my studies within the next two weeks so that as soon as I’m on Canadian soil, I can go ahead and schedule a remote exam (one must be in Canada to take the exam even if via Zoom). I don’t want to spend my whole vacation studying, so I’d like to knock this out very early on.

So why get a Canadian license?

In the past, our family has spent whole summers in Canada primarily in Prince Edward Island and Québec. We know there’ll be many more of these trips in the future and my wife and I even entertain the idea of spending nearly half the year in Canada once we’re empty nesters.

I feel like it would be beneficial to have an actual Canadian call for those extended trips; especially in PEI where it’s so easy to grab DX almost anytime I hop on the air.

In fact, my callsign–should I pass–will have a VY2 prefix because that’s where our mailing address is.

There’s another reason, if I’m being honest with myself: I like the challenge of trying to pass the test. It’s just…my timing is kind of [understatement]  crappy.

The Basic Exam: It’s not that hard is it?

No, it’s not that hard, but it’s still a bit daunting for me given my time frame.

Having recently taught a few Technician exam courses here in the States, I’m familiar with many of the fundamentals that are also included in the Basic material. That and I’ve been a ham since 1997 and have taken the Novice, Technician, General, and Extra exams so some of my experience comes into play with the no-brainer procedural questions and rules. The questions about frequencies, filters, modes, operating practice–the stuff we’re familiar with simply being on the air? That stuff is pretty easy.

Then again, I have no engineering background, so I have to re-familiarize myself with a lot of the content about reactance, resistance, inductance, block diagrams, etc. etc. Sure: I know what those things are, but I can’t always remember their characteristics. In the end, I’m a kit builder, not a kit designer, so I know only enough to be dangerous.

Question pool

Tadoussac, Québec

Also, the Basic exam, while quite accessible to anyone and everyone who’d like to pass it, has a large question pool to work through.

To put it in perspective:

  • The US Technician question pool contains about 400 questions
  • The General pool contains about 450
  • The Extra pool contains about 700

The Basic question pool? It contains 1,000 questions.

One thousand.

In other words, it has about 150 more questions in the pool than the Technician and General question pools combined.

The questions are no more difficult than the Technician and General pools, but 1,000 questions is a lot to run through even with only one review pass.

I’m getting there, though, and I’ve got the right tools in my Basic study guide (see photo at top of page) and using on my laptop and mobile phone.

A passing score for the Basic exam is 70% which is not a super high bar. Passing with 70% gives you the equivalent of US Technician privileges.

If you pass with 80% or higher, that’s passing with honors which affords you all frequency privileges.

To get HF privileges if you only pass with 70-79%, you need to pass the 5 word per minute CW test.

I would be quite happy passing with 70% and doing the CW test separately. Sure, I’ll aim higher because I want a wider margin of error, but I need to keep my expectations in check with such a short amount of time to study.

The exam itself has 100 questions.

Dedicating time to this…

I took this photo of the sun setting over distant Québec City while we enjoyed an evening picnic on Île d’Orléans.

Since I’ll be dedicating more of my free time to study, my posts here on QRPer will, no doubt, slow down for the next two weeks. In addition, if you send me an email, note that it might be a couple weeks before I reply. I’m pushing everything aside to concentrate. This guy just needs to hunker down and work through this question pool!

I still plan to publish a couple of field reports and videos, but the reports will be much shorter than I usually post.

Okay, back to the studies!

32 thoughts on “The Canadian Basic Exam”

  1. I did the opposite last year, as a Canadian “Snowbird” who spends most of the winter in Florida, and got myTechnician and General Tickets. (This winter I will study for my Extra in the USA). I have Basics with Honours in Canada, but looking at the Advanced Test in Canada makes my palms sweat. It is a tough one… gimme answers in that pool. Good luck, and enjoy the time in LaBelle Province!
    John DeBoer

    1. Ha ha! You’ll definitely snag your Extra. I’ll admit, I simply learned the answers for a good 40% of that test because I (again) was pressed for time. I had been casually studying for maybe two months and was at about 20% when I learned at a radio club meeting that in two weeks, the question pool was changing. So I hit the books hard and passed 7 days later. I won’t lie: it was a bear for me.

      Since I don’t operate high power, I really have no need for the Advanced test in Canada.

      REally looking forward to the trip!


      1. I did what you are doing and that test was a bit long. 100 questions was quite time consuming but taking the practice exams really helped. After scoring 90% on practice exams I took the exam in Edmonton and scored a 98%. Good luck sir and I hope you Nate successful in getting your Canadian license. I wish you tons of DX! Now will wait for the call sign and license.

          1. Studied for 2 months and was terrified. The examiner submitted the paperwork today so I guess it will take a few days to process. Will take the advanced exam next week. Am getting an 80% on the practice exams. As a VE in the USA, and an extra license and being a EE, the parts that are toughest to learn are the regulations questions. Once I get advanced and code, I may opt for a shorter call sign for code reasons.

  2. Tom

    There is one great benefit – I can test two antennas simultaneously for head to head experiments using WSPR. I have done it several times. The only way to do it legally is with two call signs you own.

    Ariel NY4G/ VY2AJ

    Guess who my examiner was – the great one Jeff Briggs VY2ZM/K1ZM – DXpeditioner/WRTC participant and one of the all time great DXers on 160m and no 1 in the all time list on top band

    1. And Ariel, it was you many years ago that first gave me the idea to get my Canadian license!

      You certainly got some good VY2 Mojo by having Jeff administer your test. 🙂


    1. It does indeed! 🙂 Well, only time you’d be doing the CW test would be if you didn’t pass with 80% or higher.

      1. Thanks for the clarification, Vince. Yes, it’s an option for those who want the HF goodies. 🙂

  3. Hi Thomas,
    This is quite interesting…

    First, I am sure that you will pass, and with honours. Stay positive and channeled, it will be a piece of cake.

    Second, I want to make sure I understand this: any nationality can take the Canadian test, as long as they are physically in Canada, even on holiday? I have many friends whom I visit (semi-) regularly, from the west coast to the Maritimes. If it is possible, I might do it the next time I visit.

    73, Garu JQ7BJB / KI5QYC

    1. Correct, Ernest!

      So you will need a mailing address in Canada, but citizenship or residency are not at all required.

      As a bonus, the license if free for life.

      You do need to be on Canadian soil to take the test, though, so just start studying in advance of your next visit. If I could go back in time, I would have allowed 2 months of regular study. I think that would work FB.


      1. Thanks Thomas,
        That is a brilliant scheme. I will make a memo to definitely do it when I plan my next Canadian trip. As for your test, don’t worry about what you don’t have or haven’t done, just positively power through the next two weeks and you’ll be fine. I’m looking forward to reading about your successful experience. Cheers!

  4. Tom-

    It does sound like the exam is more comprehensive than the ones we take here in the U.S. That’s interesting about how your license class depends on your exam score. (I suppose we could do the same by signing up for all the exam elements.)

    When I was in business, I had an Extra class customer ask me what I meant by ‘series’ and ‘parallel’. He was serious, and I was astounded. I shared it with my wife. She gave me a funny look, and exclaimed “Are you kidding? I learned that in fourth grade…in parochial school!” She’s not technically-oriented, but that detail stuck with her. It seems technical prowess is no longer a requirement for any of our amateur radio licenses here.

    Tom- you’ll do fine on the Canadian exams, though. The question pool sounds more daunting, but only because it’s larger. You’ve got the basics down. Bonne chance, mon ami, and have a great stay in Canada! -K1SWL

  5. I passed the Tech and General without studying and tried the Extra twice with both failures

    So it is harder than the Advanced with Satellite and FCC rules

    The past 5 years we have seen new hams take the $200 Kijiji route and it’s evident that they bought their tickets while chatting on air. A bad Ham is offering a 2 letter callsign for $200 on the Ontars SwapNet. Canadian Hams are self policing with ISED not interested.

    RJ put a great website that has helped many pass at least 50 that I examined.

    He planned several practical sessions that I will assist himto teach the stuff new hams need to know:

    How to tune the antenna with a manual tuner
    Calling CQ
    Contesting Basics
    How to set up a shack
    How to sell your car to buy a complete station and have money left over for a ARRL subscription

    Let me know when we can set up a Zoom so you can write it. I have over 200 that passed.

    Probably a dozen failed it on first try

    I have only administered 2 for CW exam

    John VE3IPS/VE3IQ/K6WR

    Only US hams can operate W1AW so I am blessed to have run the Old Man’s station many times because of it

    I am in Nova Scotia right now so am envious of your time out in PEI as reaching the UK with QRP is easier from what Marconi told me

  6. Don’t worry about the number of questions in the “pool” but concentrate on the content. Ham exams existed long before “question pools” which were really something that came to the forefront when the FCC handed off the duties of administering exams to Ham organizations such as ARRL as a Volunteer Examiner Coordinator (VEC) and Hams with the Volunteer Examiner (VE) program. From what I recall that was at about 1985 or so. Prior to that, the FCC may have internally had their own question pool, but it had not been published. So, back before 1985 hams had to study for content, not specific questions. That was how I passed my Novice and General tests, however the Advanced and Extra written exams fell under the VE program by the time I was ready to upgrade.

    For example, if you know the formulas for antenna lengths, Ohm’s Law, reactance, resonance, etc., then you can answer ANY question that involves those formulas, whether a specific question was published in a pool. Rules and Regulations, yeah, they take a lot of memorizing as well, specifically for what frequencies/modes a given license class can operate.

    So, as I say, study for the content, not worrying about the number of questions in the “pool” at any given time.

    1. Thank you, Mark!

      Yes, that is what I’m trying to commit to memory: the formulas. That way I can also check my work along the way.

  7. When I was a 2E0 2011 in the UK I was heading to Toronto for a month and contacted the Canadian Amateur Society RAoC, they said very much to my surprise I could operate 50 MHz & above In line with my Intermediate license which was excellent. I decided to bite the bullet and take my Advanced which I passed the week before I flew out. Had a ball as VE3/M0SFX & VE2 plus the USA W1/W2 Sgc2020 & a T1 , so go for your + etc if you have the time. Damian de G4LHT – V31HT – ex 2E0SFX/M0SFX.

  8. I made a small site to help me pass the Canadian exam – free testing tool. You don’t have to create an account – there is a random 10 sample quiz bit too. Or create an account and it will track your tests. Good luck! VA3BCV

  9. Ooh, zone 2! I haven’t made any contact from zone 2! I’d very much love to make a QSO with zone 2 and the ham friend there it’s you! Almost incredible! I’m a long time follower on YT, never commented though but I left any “Likes” 🙂
    Break a leg? Knock on wood? How do you say? Good luck my friend!
    BTW I hold the extra class NM0NM because I wanted to challenge myself. I very much liked studying “again” those subjects.

    73! Norm IZ6FXS

  10. Having watched a lot of US YouTube videos about the ham exams there I was certainly jealous of how much easier they seem. It took me two tries to get Basic with Honours here in Canada. I used the Coax Study guide here and their online support materials. Also, I downloaded an iOS app that uses the question bank and shows which areas you have mastered and which require more review. There were theory questions I just did not master so I studied harder on the topics I found easier so as to ensure no errors on the easy parts to make up for my areas of weakness. The App is Ham Basic. Well worth using it. Bonne chance! VA3MZD

  11. Good luck and Bravo for your perseverance. I’m now in my mid 70’s and with 2 years of electronic technology school many, many years ago I still needed to study hard for my tech, general (13 WPM) advanced, extra and GROL. If I had to do it over now in Canada…well, it would be an effort.

  12. Any time we can take the opportunity to reach a personal goal is a huge bonus. I know if I don’t do this , my mind becomes restless. You’ll do fine and have a new achievement under your belt. GL my friend.

  13. I don’t see the point, other than to use a Canadian callsign.

    Fifty years ago you had to visit a DOC office and take the exam. That included drawing five schematics, and explaining them. I was twelve, I had no problem. I did fail the code receiving in May, so I had to go back in June to retake that test.

    I got every privilege except voice on the HF bands.

    I haven’t seen a test in fifty years. The big reason for restructuring in 1990 was to make entry easier, so the Basic has got to be easier. I return, you can’t use home built transmitters with that first license.

    People seem to want a simoker testing no matter how simple it already is.

    So for most, there’s little incentive to get the Canadian Advanced.

    We used to have to renew the station license each year. So they’d send inserts pertaining to issues and changes. Did that change in 1990? I can’t remember. But I’ve not gotten mail in a long time. Once the station license was permanent, nothing.So while you have to keep them informed of a mailing address change, they never mail anything.

    1. Advanced allows 1kw, remote ops and make your own gear

      Come on guys its not that hard

      If you are qrp then study antennas instead of more electronics

      John VE3IPS

  14. Good luck on your Canadian Exam. I sent you an email regarding your trip. Enjoy your time up here.


  15. From what I recall, many of the questions in the pool test the same concept, but they flip the direction of the variables needed/provided, or just ask a complementary question. That helps prevent memorizing answers, but it does mean you don’t have to learn 1000 unique facts.

  16. I passed my Extra in 1969 without studying. I had taken the 2nd class Radio Telephone test in front of FCC and barely passed it. My car had been towed due to me parking in the wrong place, had no money so went back up to where the FCC was testing and took my Extra with 20 wpm code test. Long time ago.

    But I have taken Extra practice test and no way would I pass today. Back in 69 only digital was RTTY and no internet and no HotSpots, no repeaters, was more like the General. Also no question pool. but to take Extra then had 20wpm code test and also had to be licensed as General for 2 years. Also General had all Ham privileges, no advantage to get the Extra although later did add some things like my vanity call, there were no vanity calls in 1969, they opened from free for Extras in 1977, had special call sign opening.

    73, ron, n9ee

  17. One thing. In 1970, I thought I’d have to wait five years, because you had to be fifteen or older to get a license in Canada. At that point I knew I was going to get a ham license. So I read what there was in the children’s library, got access to books actually about electronics and ham radio in the adult library. Even bought a telegraph set “to learn the code” even though it wasn’t helpful.

    In January 1971, I found the hobby electronic magazines. Lots of ham projects. By April, I was an associate ARRL member (full membership required a ham license) and reading QST.

    In December 1971, there was a tiny thing in the paper, the law was changing, you didn’t have to be fifteen or over. It actually didn’t change till April 30, 1972.

    I did some preparation for the test, but by May 1972, I had almost a year and a half of reading about electronics. The test wasn’t a hurdle to overcome, or something to get out of the way and forget once licensed.

    It was part of ham radio. Looking back, I didn’t know much fifty years ago, but I always read as many magazines as I could find, and learning kept going.

    So if the only point of the test is to pass it, of course it may be perceived as “hard”.

  18. Hello,

    Well, once you pass the exam, you already know it you get it, and then you have to ask for your callsign, by sending 60.00$ CDN .

    You have to follow the instructions by going there:

    It is easy as A B C .-

    At the same time you can choose the callsign you want by looking at the available one’s . Like VY2SWL which is already available… Hi!

    You need a Canadian address, if you want to receive your certificate which is also your new licence with the callsign on it.

    Good luck with this, and bravo for you perseverance.

    And let us know of your progress,

    73 Mike VE2TH The QRP’er

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