Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Certificate of Successful Completion of an Examination

I left this topic out of my previous post because it wold have lengthened it considerably and made it too dense for a single post that was already getting overly long and dense anyway.  The document that a VE team gives to someone who has successfully completed a licensing exam is called a Certificate of Successful Completion of an Examination, which is such a hideously long phrase that everyone simply calls them CSCEs.  There are an inordinately large number of rules and, more importantly (at least to the person seeking a license), exam questions related to these documents, which used to be much more important than they are today.  I would hazard to say that the amount of testing related to these documents more reflects their historical importance than their (much smaller) current importance.  The reduction of importance is the consequence of two things: the simplification of the licensing system (which I talk about more here) and the deployment of ULS (which I discuss to some degree here).

At the time the VE system was introduced, there were five levels of license and every license required the successful completion of at least two exam elements (at least one theory element and one Morse code element).  The CSCE is the answer to the situation in which one passes some, but not all, of the elements required to qualify for a given license.  Instead of having to retake all these elements, the partially-successful examinee is given a document, a "certificate of successful completion of an examination", that certifies that he or she successfully completed an examination.  This document is good for 365 days (note that that's 365 days, not one year; if a leap day intervenes the document is good for one year less one day) and, if presented at an exam session at a date not more than 365 days in the future, will result in the examinee being given credit for that previous successful pass without retaking the exam.  This meant that if you should flub the theory test but pass the code, test, or vice versa, your day (and testing fee) wasn't a complete waste; you cold go home, bone up on whatever you missed, and try again without having to go through the whole process from scratch.  The CSCE is issued to any examinee who passes any element, whether or not the examinee qualified for a new license or upgrade at that session.

CSCEs also served two other purposes (one of which still obtains).  First, a CSCE which attests the successful completion of all the elements required for an upgrade of an already-licensed amateur entitles the bearer to operate with the privileges of that new class for up 365 days (or until the FCC either issues an upgraded license or notifies the licensee that the upgrade is being declined for some reason).  Before ULS, this was a big deal: it could take a month or more for an upgrade to post to the FCC system and for the FCC to mail back confirmation of the upgrade.  Waiting months to use newly-earned privileges was deemed unacceptable.  However, upgrades post now in typically under a week, and so the window in which a newly upgraded ham has to use the upgrade-indicating call sign suffixes (/KT for a recently upgraded Technician, /AG for a recently upgraded General, and /AE for a recently upgraded Extra, required whenever one is using frequencies that are available to the operator by virtue of the upgrade and the upgrade has not yet been processed by the FCC) is now typically quite short. 

The other purpose that CSCEs used to serve was as evidence of the pseudo-upgrade from Technician to Technician Plus.  A CSCE for the 5 word per minute Morse code element (regardless of date; the CSCE could even predate the Technician license) combined with a Technician license entitled the holder to Novice privileges on HF.  This was the sole exception to the 365 day rule for CSCEs; such a CSCE was good for the life of the underlying license.  This is partially because the FCC didn't (at first) treat this as an upgrade and so no record of the completion would be sent to the FCC.  Fortunately, this all went away in 2007, when the Technician Plus license was folded back into the Technician license and Morse code competency testing became a thing of the past.

We still issue CSCEs for successful examinations, of course, and they still have the purpose of authorizing an upgraded licensee's newly-earned privileges during the short period it takes the FCC to process the upgrade.  And in the unlikely event that someone were to pass, say, Element 3 but fail Element 2, we can still issue a CSCE for just Element 3.  However, that's extremely unlikely to happen; VEs are discouraged from allowing examinees from taking elements out of order, mainly because it doesn't make a lot of sense.  One can only wonder if we'll be simplifying this process in the future, or if the NCVEC will be reducing the number of questions related to this process on the exams in the next round of revisions.

This post has been brought to you by pool questions T1A05, G1D01, G1D03, G1D06, G1D08, and G1D09.