Passing the RSGB Intermediate Licence Exam

Since my post in May about completing the RSGB’s amateur radio foundation licence, I’ve been working towards obtaining the next certification, the intermediate licence. Yesterday I received my intermediate license certificate after passing the exam a couple of weeks ago. In this article I’ll be recapping my experience obtaining the intermediate amateur licence, hopefully for the benefit of fellow amateur radio operators who are working towards it.

About the Intermediate Licence

The intermediate licence is the second of three levels in the UK’s amateur radio licensing system. It follows on from the foundation licence and builds upon the basics learned at the previous level. The Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB), who administer the licensing exams has this introduction on their website:

The Intermediate Licence carries with it more privileges and also more responsibilities on you as a radio amateur. The main advantage of stepping up to the Intermediate Licence is the increase in permitted operating power. You will be able to go from the 10 watts of the Foundation Licence, up to 50 watts as an Intermediate Licence holder.

In addition to the power increase, intermediate licence holders also benefit from permission to:

  • Transmit on all of the amateur bands
  • Operate unattended beacons
  • Operate stations remotely
  • Build, modify and repair amateur radio transmitters

Upgrading to an intermediate licence is well worth it if only for the ability to use 50 watts and to build your own equipment.

Like the foundation material, the intermediate exam is quite straightforward and shouldn’t be too challenging for anyone with a prior interest in physics or electronics. The full intermediate exam syllabus can be downloaded from the RSGB website here.

Exam and Practical Assessments

Similar to the entry-level foundation licence, the candidate must complete a series of practical assessments before passing an exam to gain their intermediate licence. This second level of qualification as an amateur radio operator is a bit more involved than the foundation, so it’s best undertaken with the support of an instructor at your local amateur radio club. Unlike the foundation licence, there doesn’t seem to be many places offering formalised training courses for the intermediate licence.

The exam has 45 questions each with four possible answers and a time limit of 85 minutes. A fee of £32.50 is payable to the RSGB to sit the exam (£5 more than the foundation exam). The RSGB has just launched a new way to sit the licence exams ‘online’, but I sat a traditional ‘pen and paper’ exam.

There are a number of practical assessments which must be signed off by an RSGB registered instructor before the exam can be taken:

  • Read resistor colour codes and confirm values via measurement
  • Demonstrate good circuit soldering skills
  • Terminate PL259 connectors to suitable coaxial cable
  • Construct a simple circuit
  • Measure voltage and current
  • Demonstrate the operation of diodes and transistors
  • Demonstrate correct assembly of a fused mains plug
  • Calibrate a variable frequency oscillator
  • Complete a construction project

A number of these can be combined together during the assessment session(s), for example reading resistor colour codes while assembling a simple circuit. A wealth of information about the intermediate licence practical assessments can be found in the RSGB’s requirements document.

My Preparation

To learn the theory material, my main approach was self-study using the official RSGB intermediate licence study guide book. As this book is written by the same people who set the exam questions, this seemed like a good place to start. The official study guides are usually cheapest when purchased directly from the RSGB shop, rather than from Amazon and the like. I found a thorough reading of this book coupled with some focussed Q&A sessions with my instructors at the local radio club was all I needed to be ready for the exam.

For exam revision, I also reviewed the Bredhurst Receiving and Transmitting Society (BRATS) intermediate study materials and used the practice questions available on the Hamtests website. These two websites are both very good – I think it could be entirely possible to get a good exam pass without buying the official study guide and just using these two free websites.

Since passing the foundation licence exam, I have been operating under my M6 call-sign which has proved to be an excellent way to practice and experience much of the theoretical material covered in the intermediate syllabus. If you are working towards your intermediate licence, don’t underestimate the value of practical hands on operating experience!

I completed the practical assessments with my instructor over two radio club meetings. Allowing time for the instructor to discuss things and assess multiple students together, this took us a total of about 4 hours to complete (not including my construction project).

For me the most interesting aspect of the practical assessment was completing a DIY radio-related construction project. For my project I built an XR2206 based DDS function generator, using a cheap kit from eBay. There’s no need to build anything overly complex and it doesn’t have to be a self-designed circuit either. I assembled and tested it in an evening and then took it to the radio club for my instructor to inspect and signoff.

The photos below show the XR2206 function generator kit being constructed.

The XR2206 function generator kit parts.

The kit comes completely unassembled, with some fairly useless instructions and a neat laser cut plastic enclosure.

XR2206 kit PCB, partially assembled.

Soldering the components to the board is a simple ‘through-hole’ job. This kit would make a good introduction to soldering with PCBs.

Completed XR2206 signal generator PCB with unassembled acrylic case.

A clear acrylic case is included with the kit which must be assembled using the included screws.

Finished XR2206 function generator in plastic case.

Here is my finished construction project. It’s quite a reasonable bit of kit for less than £5, but obviously not lab quality!

The Exam Day

About a week before the exam I completed the first of the two official mock exam papers available on the RSGB website. I used this to do some last minute revision on any weak areas. I took the second of the two mock papers the day before the real exam as a final ‘dry run’. I passed both of the mock exam papers so this was a nice confidence boost in advance of the real exam.

On the exam day, proceedings were much the same as when I sat my foundation paper – sign some forms, prove my identity and take the test paper. This time I didn’t repeat the mistake of forgetting my calculator. The questions were expectedly harder than the foundation paper, but still mostly straightforward. I completed my exam paper in about 25 minutes but spent the rest of the time triple checking all of my answers. Afterwards I was given an indicative score of 95% and then left the test centre. I had to wait about two weeks before I received my official pass certificate from the RSGB in the post.

So, what now?

My adventures in amateur radio are set to continue, as I have signed up to a popular six month ‘distance learning’ course to study for the full licence exam. This is going to keep me busy until next summer when hopefully I will be transmitting at up to 400 watts and writing about how I found the full licence exam. Between now and then, I’m going to be operating HF bands at 50 watts with my ICOM 746, finishing my Bitx40 transceiver kit build and looking at buying a cheap mobile VHF/UHF radio for my car (perhaps a QYT 8900D).

Finally, by the time you are reading this, the RSGB are said to be making the foundation and intermediate exam papers more difficult in early 2018. This is supposed to reduce the currently large difficulty jump between the intermediate and full licence exams. So make sure you get in plenty of revision!

If you are thinking about or preparing for your intermediate exam, good luck and thanks for reading.

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