A recent in-person “social-distancing” amateur radio exam session in Indiana and a “drive-in” session in California are representative of those that are relieving some of the pent-up demand for testing. As the COVID-19 pandemic lumbers on, in-person exam sessions have begun to resume across the US and elsewhere in the world.
“With in-person sessions starting up again around the country, we are hearing the same story from volunteer examiner (VE) teams everywhere,” said ARRL Volunteer Examiner Coordinator (VEC) Maria Somma, AB1FM. “Large numbers of candidates who have been waiting to test are contacting teams and are thankful for the opportunity to sit for an exam. So far, we’ve heard mostly positive results; candidates are very prepared as they’ve had extra time to study. VE teams and candidates are following CDC and state guidelines for social distancing.”
Anderson (IN) Repeater Club VE Team Liaison Steve Riley, WA9CWE, told ARRL earlier this month that his club has been conducting test sessions every month since 2011, typically serving four or five candidates each session, but the May 19 session attracted 14 individuals.
“We were unable to test in April, but were able to get back in for the May session,” Riley said. “Several candidates were from Central Indiana, and we had a fellow drive down from Chicago, a couple from the Dayton, Ohio, area, and also from Fort Wayne, Indiana.” The team limited participation until it could conduct the trial run.
VEs and examinees alike wore face masks, and the test room was configured to accommodate the necessary spacing between individuals. “We questioned everyone entering with the usual health questions,” he added.
“Our VE paperwork became a serial flow for grading instead of our prior ‘huddle’ of the three VEs over the answer sheet,” Riley recounted. “As a result, things were a bit slower than in the past. The tables, pencils, and pens were disinfected.”
The result for the session was 11 new radio amateurs and three upgrades. “All went well, although we identified a couple improvements in paperwork flow for next month’s test,” Riley added.
“There is quite a pent-up demand for new amateur licenses and upgrades as a result of the number of test sessions that have been canceled,” he continued. “I hope that as sessions resume, they have the success that we had.” Riley said he’s already been contacted by six people who plan to sit for the exam in June.
In California, VE Larry Loomer, KI6LNB, told ARRL VEC that his team conducted a successful drive-in license testing session on May 16 the Concord Bay Area Rapid Transit station, “and we are encouraged to try it again, especially since we have 17 candidates to test on June 6,” he said.
Loomer explains that candidates fill out their paperwork in their cars. “I have circled in pencil all of the boxes on [Form] 605, the answer sheet and the CSCE (Certificate of Successful Completion of Exam) that the candidates need to fill in, to minimize the face-to-face time.” Once paperwork is completed, candidates take a test booklet and answer sheet on a clipboard and sit in a chair in front of their cars, taking the test in front of the VEs.
Completed tests go into a box on the VE table, and candidates back their cars into a holding area, to let other cars park by the testing chairs. Once a test is scored and signed, the CSCE goes to the waiting candidate, who then may drive away.
“I’m seeing videos of remote test taking sessions, and they still look labor intensive to me,” Loomer said. “We are sticking with the drive-in format for the present time.”
ARRL VEC Manager Maria Somma, AB1FM, said, “Our VE teams are doing a great job! I’m impressed with their attention to safety, their professionalism, and their innovative tactics.”
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