The New Exam Syllabus

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Colin Redwood G6MXL takes a first look at the new exam syllabus due to be introduced in August 2019

 

 

Colin Redwood G6MXL takes a first look at the new exam syllabus due to be introduced in August 2019 and considers some of the preparations that will be needed. He also has an interesting e-mail from a reader.

 

It’s well over a decade since the current three-tier amateur radio licence exams were introduced in the UK. During that time amateur radio has evolved but the exam syllabus for the Foundation, Intermediate and Full (Advanced) Licence has remained largely unchanged.

With the introduction of the new syllabus in August 2019, there are numerous changes at all three levels that reflect the changes in amateur radio over the years. As an example, some key concepts around Software Defined Radios are introduced, while knowledge of packet radio is no longer required.

 

HAREC

A further driver for the new syllabus is to retain broad compliance with the HAREC (Harmonised Amateur Radio Examination Certificate) T/R 61-02 standard – an Ofcom requirement. HAREC is a common standard that radio amateur qualifications need to comply with in order to gain a licence in another CEPT (European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations) participating country without having to sit and pass any further examination in that country. Essentially, a HAREC compatible licence, which the three new syllabuses between them are supposed to be, enables operation by Full licence holders in certain other countries under the CEPT T/R 61-01 Scheme, or by obtaining a locally issued licence abroad. Over the years, HAREC has evolved to reflect new topics in amateur radio such as Digital Signal Processing (DSP).

Incidentally, the CEPT is not a European Union organisation, so T/R 61-01 and HAREC will not be affected by whatever flavour of Brexit finally transpires.

 

The Changes

I’m not proposing to detail all the changes to the syllabus. They are documented on the RSGB website (below). However, I will, by way of example, point out a few of the differences. I think they will serve to illustrate that existing training materials in all forms (including the practicals at Foundation and Intermediate levels) will need extensive review and updating, to ensure that they include new topics and remove old topics. The changes range from adding and removing whole topics to merely changes to the sequence, numbering or section of the syllabus. In other cases the changes are quite small, perhaps adding or removing some relatively small details or re-wording to clarify something.

https://rsgb.org

 

Foundation

There are numerous minor changes at Foundation Level. Most of these will provide successful candidates with useful information to help them make a better start in the hobby. For example, the concept of feeder loss is introduced, to help newcomers choose feeder suitable for the VHF and UHF bands. Antenna gain now incorporates decibels (dB) in a simple table to help newcomers understand antenna specifications in advertisements. In addition to BNC and PL259 connectors, recognising N-type connectors and SMA connectors has been added. SMA connectors are found on almost all VHF and UHF handheld transceivers these days.

Looking at the practical side of the Foundation syllabus, the option of doing a data modes practical in addition to or as an alternative to the Morse assessment has been provided in the new syllabus. This reflects the way the hobby is evolving and also caters for clubs that wish to provide Foundation training but are finding it increasingly difficult to find a suitable Morse assessor.

Another new practical has been introduced using a simple battery, resistor and light emitting diode circuit to show correct polarity, make measurements and to see the effect of adding an additional resistor in parallel.

Under the new syllabus, Foundation candidates will also be made aware that there are a number of digital voice modes and that they are incompatible. This is to ensure that newly licensed amateurs don’t, for example, end up buying a transceiver for one digital voice mode expecting to work through a local repeater that uses a different digital voice mode.

The number of questions in the Foundation exam remains at 26.

 

Intermediate

There was a feeling that under the current syllabus the jump from Intermediate to Advanced was too big. Consequently, some topics have been moved from the current Advanced syllabus to the new Intermediate syllabus. I understand that a formula sheet will also be provided for candidates to use in the new Intermediate exam (as has been the case for the current Advanced exam). The resistor colour code will also be provided in the exam so that identification of resistor values will just require the technique rather than knowledge of the colours.

Several topics have been added, including some basic concepts regarding the sampling of analogue signals to convert them to digital signals, which is fundamental to their use in Software Defined Radios (SDR). Some of the principles of SDR are also added, including an outline block diagram. This will help candidates have an appreciation of this relatively new and evolving aspect of the hobby.

There have also been a number of changes to the Intermediate practicals. These should help bring to life some of the technical aspects of the syllabus. Included here, for example, is comparing and contrasting the stability of crystal and variable frequency (LC) oscillators when subjected to temperature changes and mechanical shock – something that hitherto was just covered in the Intermediate book.

The number of questions in the Intermediate exam has increased by one from 45 to 46.

 

Full (Advanced)

What was previously known as the Advanced exam is henceforth known as the Full exam. Some topics have been removed from the exam syllabus, including the section on packet radio, which is far less popular today than it was in its heyday. Apart from pointing out some safety considerations, thermionic devices have also been removed from the syllabus.

Several topics have been added to the syllabus for the Full licence to maintain compliance with HAREC. In many cases they require just a basic grasp of a concept, such as moonbounce and auroral propagation, Fig. 1. The questions on the licence schedule will in future focus on bands available exclusively to Full Licence holders − 600m (472kHz) and 60m (5MHz). The reason for using split frequency operation has also been added.

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With the increased use of switch mode power supplies, Fig. 2, their basic principles and operation at block diagram level have been added. The principles of SDRs are also covered in more depth than at Intermediate. In the propagation section, the use of Near Vertical Incidence Sky wave (NVIS) is covered, providing awareness of this useful propagation mode for the 5MHz band available to Full licence holders.

The number of questions in the Full exam has reduced by four from 62 in the current Advanced exam to 58 in the new Full exam.

 

Support Materials

The new syllabus, together with documents pointing out topics moving from one level to another or added or removed, can be found at the RSGB website at:

https://tinyurl.com/y7rn3ch2

At the time of writing a number of items were still to be published, including the supporting tables, block diagrams and formula sheets. Hopefully, they will be available by the time this article appears.

 

Books

The RSGB have already published the updated training book, Fig. 3, for the Full exam. No doubt, updated books for the Intermediate and Foundation exams will follow over the next few months. If you are taking or teaching an exam in the next year, you’ll need to be careful to buy the correct edition of the relevant training book. The covers of the books for the new syllabus differ in appearance from those for the current syllabus. Clubs and tutors will need to plan their book purchases carefully so as not to be left with outdated books.

 

Transition Considerations

Those already studying for one of the exams can sit their exams under the current syllabus provided they do so before the end of October 2019 and book their exam with the RSGB before August 1st 2019. It will also be possible to book resits under the current syllabus up to the middle of October 2019, provided that the relevant notice is given and the exam taken by the end of October 2019. All new exams booked from August 1st 2019 will be for exams based on the new syllabus.

 

Supplementary Training

Those delivering training at Intermediate and Full levels under the new syllabus may need to provide some supplementary training to those who sat their Foundation and Intermediate exams under the current syllabus so that they grasp the necessary concepts in the new areas of the syllabus before tackling the next level up under the new syllabus. In some cases, I don’t think this will be a big deal – perhaps just a slightly more detailed introduction to the topic. No doubt tutors will tailor this to their students. To help, there are ‘source’ documents on the RSGB website showing topics that have moved from one level to another.

 

Training Materials

Those delivering training, no matter whether classroom-based, Fig. 4, one-to-one or online, will need to review what they deliver for each topic at each level. They may find that they can adapt some of their current Advanced material for use at Intermediate level with some adjustments to ensure they reflect the new requirements of the Intermediate syllabus. Likewise, some of the current Intermediate material may be able to be adapted to the new Foundation syllabus.

I’ve found that care is needed when moving training material between levels to ensure that when covering the topic at a lower level, it is not covered in too much detail. This may only require a summary rather than the hitherto greater detail of the higher level. As always, it is vital to check that every point in the new syllabus is covered in the correct level of detail and not rely totally on the books.

It certainly makes sense to get the review of training materials underway at the earliest opportunity because there are plenty of changes to consider at all three levels before August 2019. It is only by actually making a start that I realised just how much needs to be done!

 

Mock Exams

Over the years a number of mock exam papers have been produced by various clubs and individuals. There are also some online mock exam questions. These will all need to be updated to reflect the new syllabus in order to retain their usefulness to candidates.

 

Switched-Mode Power Supplies

Changing the subject, some readers may be interested in the e-mail I received from reader Ian Field in which he makes some points regarding switched-mode power supply units (SMPSUs). “It is probably worth a reminder that many early SMPSUs were 220V types with a selectable voltage-doubling rectifier. You often find two reservoir capacitors in series that aren’t individually rated for the voltage (sometimes they double up full-rated reservoir capacitors for lower equivalent series resistance (ESR) and/or to confuse onlookers....).

“A few have a ‘non-user serviceable’ link inside to bring the capacitor junction to an AC arm of the bridge for 110V. Most complete equipments have a marked voltage switch on the back but you may need to open some of them to check. Usually the manufacturer sticks the appropriate label on the back before it goes through final test but that’s no guarantee that someone hasn't altered the setting at some point since. A local computer firm imported stock of open-frame SMPSUs and took long enough to figure out why they all went bang to give me a few months’ work. My original brief was to generate a report pending legal action but I ended up being paid to repair a pile of SMPSU boards.

“Since a certain date, anything over 50W must have power factor correction (PFC). The active PFC front-end is more or less a flyback boost converter with no input reservoir capacitor. In many cases, they take care of anything from about 90 to 265V”.

 

This article was featured in the December 2018 issue of Practical Wireless