Trouble understanding theory and circuit concepts

Discussion in 'Becoming an Amateur Radio Operator/Upgrading Privi' started by W5PB, May 27, 2017.

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  1. W5PB

    W5PB Ham Member QRZ Page

    It seems I often have difficulty really understanding many of the concepts relating to electrical theory and circuit design. It's very frustrating because I do want to have a deeper knowledge and am currently studying the Extra class material, albeit slowly.

    After being inactive for years, I sailed through the Tech test pretty easily. General was a bit harder but not by much. Now, while I only have two chapters to go, the Extra class material is quite difficult for me. I was never great at math or science, and I'm having to go back and consult sites like Kahn Academy to learn about logarithms, basic trig, etc, and consult other tutorial sites for more information on electronic theory.

    Does anyone else struggle with this sort of thing? My dad was an electrical engineer his whole career and knows this stuff like the back of his hand. I'm a musician and teacher who has always been fascinated with technology and electronics, but struggle to have a deep, thorough understanding of things. I'm getting through the material, memorizing formulas, and passing the practice tests, but really want to have a deeper understanding, and even some hands on, practical experience.
  2. KJ4VTH

    KJ4VTH Ham Member QRZ Page

    Conversely I was good at math and while I enjoy music, I still suck at it.

    Now this might upset some folks but I haven't found the need for 95% of what is on the Amateur Extra exam, so I recommend memorizing the formulas and taking the free practice exams of Then you can continue to learn while you operate, and some of the obscure questions may eventually come back: "oh, that's what they meant to say."
    K8MHZ, AE9AM and W5PB like this.
  3. AB3TQ

    AB3TQ Subscriber QRZ Page

    I'm glad VTH said that first. When RNS said he was having trouble with the Extra exam because he lacks understanding of circuit design, I tried to think which questions he could have in mind? And I am still quite familiar with the current exam, even though it was the previous one that I took.

    There are some basic formulas, and a little bit of math. But with a little understanding of the factors that go into determining the answer, probably 85% of the math becomes totally unnecessary. A calculator is a luxury, but I could easily do without it. And I an NOT an Electrical Engineer. Far from it.

    If you have any specific math questions, PM me with them. But what circuit design issues are you having? There are quite a few prospective test takers with little or zero technical background. Of course they struggle with the Extra exam. It wasn't designed to be easy for everyone.
    W5PB likes this.
  4. W5PB

    W5PB Ham Member QRZ Page

    Yes, I've passed several practice tests. With careful reading, and noting some patterns in how the questions are worded, you can make it through the test without a calculator. It's not so much individual questions as it is certain chapters, and concepts that are given seemingly without any practical relation to other things.

    For example, the section on bipolar transistor amplifiers in ch 6. I found myself having to go back and review the basics of bipolar transistors and how they function. There were so many things in chapter 5, that I had forgotten the needed details when I got to chapter 6. In chapter 5, knowing the details about logic circuits, and remembering the details of the many types of diodes can be a bit confusing. In other words, there are so many "things" to remember that I often have to go back and review.

    Also, in another chapter there was a section on scattering parameters. There are only two questions on this, so it's easy to memorize. My problem with this was that it didn't seem to be critical to understanding the larger concepts in the chapter, and seemed to be just stuck in there.

    I'm quite confident that I could pass the test if I took it, but for me the challenge is learning and understanding the material, not merely passing a multiple choice test.
  5. F4WBW

    F4WBW Ham Member QRZ Page

    Don't get too hung up on a perfect understanding of the material just yet. I passed the Tech and General in a single pass, but then discovered I had misunderstood the reciprocity rules and couldn't even get on the air until and unless I passed my Extra. (France has only one license class and the French study material is completely devoid of any application to practical matters - besides being all in French.) In my case, our math classes specifically skipped logs and trig, so I had to fall back on polar coordinates and rough guesstimation for anything based on logs. But once you pass, you use those bits that are practical for you and how you want to "do radio." I admit to being a ham mainly for the "social" aspects - though with the poor propagation, I am getting into digital modes and find that the techie stuff I had to learn is coming back and starting to make more sense.

    It's AFTER you pass the test that the real fun (and understanding) starts.
    W5PB likes this.
  6. SM0AOM

    SM0AOM Ham Member QRZ Page

    I have searched in vain for circuit design material in the FCC exam pool, but circuit analysis on a quite elementary level is however covered.

    The exam questions follow a quite recognisable pattern, and the "math" involved can in most cases be done entirely in your head.
    Most important is to find the answer alternatives that are close to correct, but differ in a small but important way.
    This is most easily done by applying first principles to the case in question, and identifying what is important.
    Questions that involve impedances and phase angles can be very successfully tackled with this.

    The exam question pool is a somewhat disparate mixture of old and new, and some questions about more modern technologies sometimes
    appear to have to be "┬┤thrown in".

    As I do not have the study guides before me, it is a question how such topics like S-parameters and DSP/SDR are handled in the guides.
    Just asking questions that are not founded in teaching material, especially when concepts that are wide-reaching are introduced. S-parameters are good examples, as they represent a generalised way of looking at transmission lines and RF circuits.

    Also,it depends on what your objectives with your extra class licence are, if you are content with just using ready-made equipment a cursory knowledge may be fully sufficient, but if you want to get below the surface and actually understand the principles behind the operation, it is necessary to study more in-depth. But this is something that has to come with the years, as experience cannot be acquired just from books.

    Anyway, I wish you luck in your endeavours and you will find that a deeper knowledge of radio and electronics principles will
    add to the enjoyment of amateur radio.

    W5PB likes this.
  7. W5PB

    W5PB Ham Member QRZ Page

    Perhaps what I should have said was "circuit analysis" versus design. "Ready made rigs", which has been all of my experience, is what I will be spending my time with. But, I've really admired the home brew build projects that I've seen. Also the ability to trouble shoot and repair older equipment. I think hands on experience is where many things start to make sense.
  8. KA0HCP

    KA0HCP XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I applaud you for making the effort to learn radio and electronics rather than looking at the exams as a "check in the box" to be completed and forgotten as so many do.

    Heathkit used to have an excellent series of study courses for the exams. Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any similar offerings today. When I studied for Extra, I used the question bank as a study guide. Principles I did not understand launched me into researching the topic in other books and online resources, until I comprehended it.

    Here are some resources to aid you:

    Navy NEETS Course. In use for probably 50 years, it is wonderful resource. It can be found at several sites and also in PDF form for download or printing.

    RF Cafe. All sorts of reference material, formulas, programs, calculators, etc.

    Tube Books, has a large collection of technical manuals, references, and importantly, old training courses! Old courses are often very well written, explain principals in more exact but simpler language.

    Best wishes on the your studying. I hope it sparks your interest and motivates you! bill
    Last edited: May 27, 2017
    W5PB likes this.
  9. WB0MPB

    WB0MPB XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I agree that the stuff for the extra makes me have to study and even though I spent my life in the electronics industry when I look at the extra stuff I have to study it to take it in. It is just not stuff I used as a Biomedical Engineer. And I am told all the time it is so easy an 8 year old can do it. Well I guess I am not an 8 year old anymore and have to work at learning it. A lot of people just want to say it is so easy. Well not for me. (I guess I am not very smart!!) I can study it or I could memorize it. Well I am not a person that memorizes stuff real easy so I have to study it and learn it instead of memorizing. So just keep plugging away at it and you will finally learn it. (Unless you are 8 years old then you can just walk in and get the extra).

    John, WB0MPB
    W5PB likes this.
  10. W5PB

    W5PB Ham Member QRZ Page

    These links look great, I will take a look at them. Even when I was younger, I was good at putting stuff together, could do dimple projects etc but still my understanding was very surface level. I've been looking at the home brew forum hoping to find some simple DIY project. Also have some older shortwave and amateur radio books by Bill Orr that have some home brew projects. It's dated, yes, but still could make for a fun project if possible. When I was, maybe 8 or 10, my dad bought me a "50 in 1" kit that had all sorts of electronic experiments for kids, it was a lot of fun at the time.

    As I go through the Extra Class Study Guide, I find taking notes and distilling things a bit more helps as well and saves time when I need to review a formula or something else.
    KA0HCP likes this.

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