Special Bulletin: Latest on Remote VE Testing

Despite limitations placed on many organizations due to the virus
pandemic, there are a lot of good things happening on the Volunteer
Examination program, both on the ARRL front, and also with the Anchorage
Amateur Radio Club (AARC) VEC remote testing program. (More on the
latter in a later news bulletin.)

For most of us, the below is a repeat of what the ARRL sent out in their
last newsletter. I thought I’d send it to the whole NW Division just in
case some are not subscribed to the ARRL Letter, or missed it. ARRL VEC
Manager Maria Somma, AB1FM and her team are working very hard to put
together a viable remote VE program for the League:

Facing a growing demand for amateur radio exam sessions in a time of
social distancing and stay-at-home orders, sponsors of some Volunteer
Examiner (VE) teams have risen to the challenge and are developing
systems to remotely proctor test sessions.

“Many of our VEs and VE Teams have been working on remotely proctored
exam session ideas, employing both video and in-person components —
following social distancing protocols,” ARRL Volunteer Examiner
Coordinator (VEC) Manager Maria Somma, AB1FM, said. “We have been
receiving interesting and innovative suggestions, and we appreciate the
dedication and ingenuity our examiners have shown.”

The Spalding County Amateur Radio Club in Georgia is among those that
have come up with plans to remotely administer amateur exams while
complying with ARRL VEC testing standards during COVID-19 stay-home
mandates and social distancing guidelines. Current systems leverage Zoom
video-teleconferencing technology, the “Fill & Sign” feature of
Adobe PDFs, reliable email, appropriate computer equipment and internet
connection, and no volunteer examiners (VEs) present at individual
remote test sites. The Georgia club collaborated and shared ideas with
the Emergency Amateur Radio Club (EARC) in Hawaii, which has
successfully conducted sessions since 2011 with its own remote testing
system, initially with paper exams with a proctor on site and now with
fillable PDFs, with no on-site proctor.

The Georgia club obtained ARRL VEC approval to administer
video-supervised exams. The club’s David Robinson, K4WVZ, said the
first exam session took place this week, with another set for next week,
and “many more in the pipeline” going forward.

“We have started with testing just one candidate at a time but are
planning to ramp up to multiple candidates — probably two or three —
simultaneously,” Robinson told ARRL. “Before we do that, we want a
few more single sessions under our belt and a few more Video VEs
trained. It also gives us an opportunity to garner lessons learned from
each test session and upgrade our procedures accordingly.” Robinson
said this week’s session went “exceedingly well,” and the
candidate passed the test.

The club’s procedures entail a pre-exam video interview with
candidates to ensure they understand all the requirements and
procedures. “This also allows us to test the candidate’s ability to
work with the video and computer technology before the actual exam,”
Robinson explained. “Training sessions were conducted for VEs to make
sure they understood their role and how to use the technology.”

Following the exam, the VEs score the test and sign off on the
paperwork, with the VE Team Leader submitting the application online and
by mail, per ARRL VEC instructions. Application and successful exam are
first accepted and then submitted to the FCC for processing.

New England Amateur Radio Inc (NE1AR), an affiliate of New England
Sci-Tech, (NESciTech), has taken it one step further, Somma said. It got
the approval of ARRL VEC to begin trials of what it describes as
“completely online testing with strict rules and protocols for
maintaining the integrity of the testing environment.” NE1AR is
limiting candidates to one exam per candidate, due to the current
candidate backlog and the “difficulty of administering exams
online.” Candidates must agree to a list of protocols, which include
no visitors (or pets) in the exam room and a cell-phone camera scan of
the entire room and exam area “to show that there are no materials or
people [in the room] that could aid in taking the exam.” If the VE
team suspects the possibility of cheating, the exam may be terminated
and the candidate barred from future online exam sessions.

“We began a series of trials on April 1 under ARRL VEC review and have
now been asked to help train more VE Teams on the process,” NE1AR
President Bob Phinney, K5TEC, told ARRL. “We have now tested 12
applicants and are still working on streamlining the process. We are
working with the software developer of the exam delivery system to help
them adapt the system for video-supervised testing.” At present,
Phinney said, only one person at a time can be tested. Another
time-related issue is how long it takes a candidate to go through the
NE1AR security protocol. “Sometimes, the setup and follow-up for an
exam take far longer than the exam itself, in order that we provide
complete integrity of the exam session,” he said.

With pressure continuing to build to provide testing compatible with
COVID-19 guidelines and stay-home orders, ARRL VEC Manager Maria Somma,
AB1FM, has asked the amateur radio community to be patient. “Please
remember that with the introduction of significant new processes such as
these, that there should be proof of concept, establishment of protocols
and procedures, and beta testing, before expanding to a larger
audience,” she said this week. Somma said video-supervised exam
sessions require a different skillset than in-person exam
administration, and not all teams will be equipped to deliver video
exams right away.

“ARRL is pleased to be one of the leaders in providing an opportunity,
although limited initially, for video-supervised exams in this time of
social distancing and isolation required by the current health
situation,” Somma said.

As mentioned earlier, I’ll publish a special bulletin regarding the
Anchorage Amateur Radio Club (AARC) VEC remote testing program, and its
recent successes very soon. Stay tuned!

Mike Ritz. W7VO
Director, ARRL NW Division

ARRL Northwestern Division
Director: Michael T Ritz, W7VO

2 thoughts on “Special Bulletin: Latest on Remote VE Testing

  • Thanks, Bill. The plan is to roll out electronic e-filing, similar to what some of the other VECs are doing. We just need this pandemic to ease so ARRL staff can get back to work!


  • Thanks for the heads up Mike. I also sent this to the CARA io group. ~30 members. Due to the obvious complicated nature of Remote testing, I have no plans to embrace this form of testing. However when ARRL allows electronic submission of CSCE and associated forms, I will gladly take advantage of that.
    The advantage of that is the successful applicant using LAUREL VEC and maybe others don’t have to wait a week of more to have their license granted.
    The Laurel VEC typically submits exam results the next business day so that new licenses appear in the ULS database 1-2 business days following the exam date.

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