BY:William Joshua Tate (KF4EAG)
My name is William Joshua Tate (KF4EAG) and I have been a Ham Radio Operator since 1995, when I was first licensed as a Technician. At that time, your only option was to take your examine person. I remained a Technician for many years until this year (2020) when I decided to go for my upgrade to General and then my Extra. There was only one problem, COVID 19. This was particularly a problem for me since I was considered high-risk because of my Asthma. I had studied for almost 6 weeks at this point and was ready. However, I could not take the risk of doing a “in-person” exam. After researching alternatives on the ARRL site and HamStudy.org, I found groups that were starting to conduct “online” testing. I thought about it a while and decided to go ahead and register for a spot to take my General Exam “online”. The registration process to take my General exam was easy to follow through HamStudy.org, allowing me to pay for my exam fee via PayPal. It appeared that the fee depended on the group offering the testing session and ranged from $10.00 to $15.00. My General exam session I choose was on a Saturday, although there were many other days and times available. The day of my exam I was extremely nervous. I was especially nervous about taking an online exam through a process that I had never been exposed to. On the day of my exam I was sent a zoom invitation by the team lead or organizer. In had no problems signing onto the zoom session. Upon entrance, I was greeted by achost and waited a few minutes while the other VEs who were overseeing my testing session got ready for me. Once the other VEs joined in, they started through some verification procedures to identify that I was who I said I was by showing a photo ID (My Drivers License). They also asked me to present a secondary photo ID and verified with me that I was taking my General Exam. The next thing that I was asked to do was to take my camera and show them my testing area / room. I had to show the ceiling, walls, my desk area, and under my desk. I also could not have a headset on and any papers that were lying around had to be removed from the room. The door to the room was shut to ensure I would not be interrupted or that someone could provide information during the exam. The VEs asked me to share my desktop and made sure all applications were closed apart from my chrome browser and a basic calculator app. Once all the VEs were satisfied they gave me some final instructions about keeping my eyes forward on the test materials. After receiving a final word of encouragement, I was permitted to start the exam. While taking the exam the VEs placed themselves on mute and stopped their video. This prevented the VEs from distracting me and helped to ensure test integrity so that if a VE reacted to a question I answered I could not see their reaction. While I was taking the exam the 3 VEs could see my desktop and my face. They would watch my eyes and my body movements to ensure that I was not looking somewhere else that would indicate cheating. They could also hear me and any other audio sources in the room. I was instructed to make sure no one walked in the room to interrupt the exam. As far as taking the exam itself, it was a really good experience. The online test itself utilized hamstudy.org and followed a similar format as to what I had used while taking my practice exams during my studying. It took me about 30 minutes or so to finish the exam and look over my answers. The VEs unmuted their mics and re-started their video. They ask me if I was ready to have my exam graded, which of course I said “Yes, Let’s do it!” I was instructed to click “grade exam” and instantly got my results; I passed and only missed one or two questions! They congratulated me, encouraged me to study and go for my extra exam. Since the experience was so positive, I decided to study for my extra license before the extra question pool changed in July. I continued studying for an additional three weeks and then registered on HamStudy.org to take my extra exam with the GLAAR group. My experience sitting for my extra exam was very similar to my General with some differences. The controls put in place to ensure exam integrity were the same. However, this group had designed their process to allow for simultaneous testing of multiple participants with the use of rooms. They had 6-8 exam rooms and one room that was a welcome room. When you first entered you were placed in a welcome room. The lead in the welcome room asked you to confirm the exam you were taking and verified your identity with your photo ID. I had brief wait in the welcome room with other candidates till an exam room became available. Each exam room had 3 VEs and 1 room lead. The welcome room was a great idea in allowing me to chat with other participants, which helped to relax me as a candidate. Before I knew it, my time had arrived, and I was placed in an exam room with the room lead and 3 VEs. They welcomed me, sharing a little bit about themselves and where they were located. I once again was asked to present my photo ID and verify all my information. The VEs asked me to show them my room, walls, ceiling, desk, and under my desk. They also asked me to remove any loose papers on my desk or near me to ensure my testing area was clear. I was asked to remove my headset like before to prevent getting answers from a outside source. As before, I was asked to share my desktop, closing all programs with exception of my chrome browser and basic calculator. Once all the VEs and room lead was satisfied they brought up the exam and said I could begin. As before, the VEs placed themselves on mute and stopped their video. This prevented the VEs from distracting me and helped to ensure test integrity so that if a VE reacted to a question I answered I could not see their reaction. The VEs monitored my eyes, body language, and my screen/desktop like before. When I was ready the VEs unmuted and re-started their video. After making sure I had answered all the questions, I was asked if I was ready to have my exam graded. With a nervous “Yes”, I was instructed to click the “Grade Exam” button and instantly I received my results. Once again, I was successful!! I passed!! The VEs congratulated me and I received final instructions. I signed some documents and the VEs electronically signed the documents. Since then, I have become a VE for Laurel Amateur Radio Club and GLAAR. I have had the amazing opportunity to serve as a VE for a remote session with GLAAR and scheduled to help with another remote testing session this Saturday (7/18). Now having had the opportunity to participate as a student taking a remote exam and as a VE administering an exam, I have great confidence in the assurance of exam integrity while administering remote examinations. Both experiences have been extremely rewarding! Remote testing provides many potential ham radio operators an opportunity they would not otherwise have. As we seek to grow our community of ham radio operators in a very challenging time, remote testing can provide that opportunity in a way that can ensure exam integrity and encourage those people who really want to get involved in such a great hobby, but cannot sure to health reasons. As a high risk person myself, facing disappointment in not being able to finish what I had studied so hard for; remote testing provided a critical solution and in the end got me even more involved in service through Ham Radio!