Becoming a Radio Amateur
Do It Yourself 5 WPM Morse Course
Note: In the following specific reference is made to the MorseCat morse trainer.
This is simply because this is the trainer I mostly worked with. You may have a different trainer which
may be more recent or better. If so, simply adapt the following to your trainer.
That's all there is to it. Combine your 5 WPM morse results with AOCP theory and regulations
and you'll have full access to all Australian Amateur frequencies.
- What this course does
This course does not aim to turn you into a morse code wizzard. It won't get you up to a level
where you can comfortably QSO on CW. It does, however, teach you more than enough to
pass your 5 WPM NAOCP exam comfortably. Moreover, you can learn comfortably at home
at your own pace. Just follow the steps faithfully and, after a few weeks
of consistent practice, you'll be ready for your test.
- Set up your MorseCat
- Install the software on your PC and check that it's working generally.
(see note 1)
- Connect your morse key to your PC with a short length of shielded cable.
You may find you have to connect it to the parallel port (LPT1) for reliable operation.
I got uncontrollable howls when I tried to connect it to the joystick port
- Edit the lessons. Click on "Character Set" - "Edit Lessons"
- "Clear all field". Then enter just two characters:
L and V in the Lesson 1 field. Save.
- Set Farnsworth speed. Click on "Preferences" and set the Farnsworth speed
- Set skill level on main page to "New lesson: 1", set "Mode" to
"Groups", "Length: 5".
Make sure the box "Expert mode" is NOT checked.
- Set speed and "Var. max." both to 8 WPM. Set "Duration" to
180 seconds. Now you're all set to go.
- Get into the right frame of mind
This is most important especially for the first few lessons. You have to fully concentrate
on copying code and you should not be distracted. Make sure you've walked the dog. Turn
off TV and Radio. Unplug the phone and, above all, turn off that mobile!
Sit down comfortably with a ruled pad and your favourite pen in front of you. Relax. Be at
peace. Empty your mind.
Close your eyes for a few seconds if you like. That's better. Now you are ready to start.
- Lesson 1
- MorseCat's main panel will show pushbuttons for L and V, which are the
first two letters you'll learn. Push one of them
and you will hear the codesound associated with that letter. Push each button a few times
until you think you're sufficiently familiar with each letter-sound. Take your time. Don't
- When you feel you are sufficiently familiar with the sound, pick up your pen and push
"start". Morsecat will give you the "commence transmission" prosign ([CT])
and then transmit five-letter groups with your two letters in random order. Try and copy the
groups down as best you can. You'll miss a lot and you may lose concentration from time to
time but don't worry about that, just hang in there. The "end transmission" prosign
([AR]) will probably come as a relief.
- You may feel you've done very badly, but you've probably done better than you think.
That's why it is so important to compare your results with the "check" window and
work out the percentage you got right. See? You did do better than you thought.
- Have another go at exactly the same thing when you're ready. Again, tally up the result.
There. It's getting better already.
- Stay with lesson one through this training session, possibly also the next session. Your results
will go up from 50% correct to 70, 80, until eventually you get 90% correct. As soon as this
happens, you are ready for lesson 2.
- Learning the Characters
As soon as you can copy 90% of your first two letters correctly, add a third character
and do a practice session. At first your accuracy will drop like a brick, but don't worry. Just
keep on practicing, faithfully tally up the result each time and you will soon be back
up to 90% again. Then add a fourth character, practice again, and so on, until eventually you
have mastered the 39 characters you have to know for the NAOCP morse test.
How long this takes depends on you. How long and how consistent are your training sessions?
Whatever time it takes, it will go a lot faster than traditional methods. Just keep going
at your own pace and you'll get there.
Your progress will be quite uneven. Some days you may be able to add more than one character,
some days you just can't get anything right. You've heard about "bad hair days"? Well, you'll
have some "bad morse days" for sure.
As you get to the stage where you have a mixture of letters and figures, you may have to
adjust MorseCat's settings somewhat. The default settings may give you too many figures
and not enough letters. Adjust the settings so that you get no more than, say, 10%
If you have a lot of trouble with one or two particular characters, manually type them in a
few extra times in the "characters" editing window. That way you'll get them fired at
you more often. A great way to overcome sticky problems.
- Order of learning the characters
With our method the order of learning the characters is not very critical. This is because
you spend the amount of time necessary to assimilate each character before adding another one.
Still, don't start with extremely short characters like E and T, you won't be able to
write fast enough!
Here is a suggested sequence:
L V K M R S U A P T
O W I N J E F 0 Y G
5 Q 9 Z H 3 8 B 4 2
7 C 1 D 6 X
(prosigns) [CT] [AR] [error]
Note that you don't have to know any punctuation signs for the NAOCP exam.
Sending morse is considerably easier than receiving. This is why you should spend most of your
time honing your receiving skills.
Conventional wisdom has it that you mustn't try sending before you're perfect at receiving.
With the Koch method, however, it's quite OK start doing some sending once you know, say, 20
or more characters. The MorseCat can be quite a help here.
- Get yourself a reasonably sturdy morse key, especially if you think you may be using
it for real eventually.
- Adjust the key's gap clearance to about the thickness of a piece of manilla folder
paper. Don't worry to much about the tension for now, you'll be adjusting that
later, when you've been keying regularly.
- Screw the morse key down to the table or at least to a large piece of plywood so it
doesn't move about when you're keying
- Sit comfortably in front of the key. Your upper arm should be about vertical and close
to the body, your forearm shouldn't touch the table. Experiment a bit until you've
found a comfortable position
- Hold the knob with your thumb against the left side, your forefinger over the top and
forward, as if you wanted to pull the key towards you (that's why you screwed it down).
Middle finger against the right side of the knob, the remaining fingers curled up. This
way you have good control and can "pull the knob up", so to speak. Keying action should
come from the wrist, keeping the fingers fairly relaxed.
- Get MorseCat up and running, click "send" - "start send mode". Now try keying
some of the characters you know, trying to reproduce the sound the MorseCat makes when
sending them. Watch your dot : dash : pause ratio on the screen. It'll take a bit
of practice until you can get the ratios near enough for MorseCat to recognise the characters
you sent. It's a great feeling, though, to see MorseCat recognise some of your keying!
- From here on, do about 3-4 minutes of keying every day or two. Your aim should be to
achieve a steady rhythmical sound. Keep checking your dot : dash : space ratios on the trace
and aim for a maximum percentage of character recognition. What you send is unimportant.
- Don't get too wrapped up in this keying business. Keep concentrating on your
receiving for now.
Now you know all the characters and you make few mistakes as long as you get them in strict
five-letter random groups. It's now time to get you out of the "comfort zone".
- For a start we'll get rid of Farnsworth. On MorseCat's main screen tick
"Expert Mode" on. Untick "Farnsworth". Reduce "Speed" to 6 WPM.
Now do a number of 3 minute five-letter group sessions. At first it will sound pretty
strange but you'll soon get used to the new rhythm.
- The next step is to vary the length of the groups. On the main screen click "Groups",
set the minimum to 3 and the maximum to 7. This will throw you for a while:
you've lost your 5-letter crutch! Again, do a number of sessions until you get comfortable
with the variable format.
- Gradually increase the length of your receiving sessions to 5, then to 6 or 7 minutes.
When you have become reasonably comfortable with all this you are ready to move to clear text.
- Moving to Text
It is handy, at this stage, to have a friend provide you with diskettes of short plain text files
so you don't know what's on them. Text excerpts from books, newspapers, just about anything
will do. That's what you'll get on the actual exam. Otherwise just rummage through old files
on your computer or download some text from the internet without looking closely at the
Load the first file into your MorseCat, set the speed to 6 WPM, the time to 3 minutes and
Your first results may be pretty dismal. This is because you
won't be able to stop yourself from doing what you've trained yourself so hard not to
do, viz. think. It's almost impossible in the beginning to stop yourself from guessing ahead
or looking back over what you've written. Next thing you know you're miles behind.
Don't despair, this is quite normal. Just return to a brief session of random groups
and you'll see you can still copy morse! Just persist. Do a a few clear text sessions every
day and you'll soon improve. In the beginning it may help if you use your left hand to obscure
the text you've just written, that way at least you can't look back.
The MorseCat has a handy setting that sends you the words of your text file in random order.
That way you can use text files (especially longer ones) over and over without getting
familiar with the text.
Once you're getting comfortable with copying text, start sending the same text back after
you've copied it. If you're sending clean signals MorseCat will recognise your words
and you can compare your results with the original text on the "Check" window.
Finally, lengthen your session times to 5 - 7 minutes and vary the speed between 5 and 8 WPM.
Install at least one other morse trainer on your computer and use it occasionally.
All morse trainers sound a bit different and it's good to train yourself to a variety of sounds.
- Final Touches
You are now copying and sending plain text. During the final week or two before the exam lengthen
your session times to 7 minutes and vary the speed between 5 and 8 WPM. If possible play your text
on 2 or more different morse trainers.
Then, as a final confidence booster, go to the Radio and Electronics School site at
and download the 7 WPM morse MIDI files you'll find there. Play them on your computer's
MIDI player and copy them like any other text. Note that you're doing quite well considering the
speed is almost 50% faster than what the actual exam will be.
You are now ready for your exam
- The Receiving Exam
For the receiving exam you'll be played a cassette tape. The tape starts with a practice session
followed by some silence, then the exam test. You can write the practice session text down on
a piece of scrap paper, the exam test you copy on your exam paper.
The exam proper is 5 minutes long and consists of the equivalent of 25 words in a mixture of plain
language (mostly) words and (a few) figures. In other words it's exactly the same stuff you've
been doing in the course so there's nothing to be scared of.
Better still, you are allowed to make ten errors with a maximum of three errors counted
in any one word. This makes the exam pretty hard to fail. Just relax, close your eyes for a few
seconds before the tape is started and you'll be fine!
- The Sending Exam
In the sending exam you will be given a morse key (unless you prefer to bring your own) and a
practise oscillator. You will then be given a short period of familiarization. Then you will
be given your exam test which consists of the equivalent of 12.5 words in a mixture of plain
language (mostly) words and (a few) figures. You have 2.5 minutes in which to send this, which
should be more than plenty if you have faithfully followed the course.
Your results are recorded on a cassette tape. You are allowed four errors and you'll still pass.
It's pretty hard to fail this test once you have completed this course.
Last minute hint: Whatever you do don't forget to send the [CT] signal at the start,
and the [AR] signal at the end of you exam text. But then, you already had this drilled into you
during your MorseCat sessions, did't you?
73s, and I'll hear you on air!
Note 1: MorseCat may have trouble finding your sound card if you have a late model PCI sound card
or on-board sound chip. This is because the software doesn't use Win9X's sound system but relies
on old-style DOS calls to fixed addresses. If this happens MorseCat simply uses the PC speaker, which
also works quite well.