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I solely learned to copy cw via a computer program using the Koch - method (http://f6dqm.free.fr/soft/cwplayer/en/cwplayer.htm) I never learned how to send and if it is no big disadvantage, I would prefer to learn this at the end, when I am comfortable with copying.

When I listen and write down exercises with 15wpm (standard spacing) I get a bit over 90% correct.

My problems:

  1. On lower speeds, I get even 95% right, but I am not able to pass the cw - test that requires not more than four faults within three minutes on speed 12 wpm. Even with 10 wpm I can't make it.

  2. I am far away from copying in my head. Even with 10 wpm I catch not more than 30% of the letters.

My final aim is a speed of 20 to 25 wpm. I could continue like in the past, each time I reach 90 - 95% to increase the speed... But it took me very long to reach 15 wpm and I am still not feeling "secure". Currently I have doubts whether increasing speed is wise for improving my cw-copy-skills in general.

What would you recommend as a next step?

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I've been working in CW only for about two months. But during this time I made over 200 QSOs (I'm on the air only during weekends) and made a progress from 15 WPM to 18 WPM. Thus I hope my advice might be useful.

When you reached 15 WPM, it's time to start making your first QSOs. The first few will probably be a little bit embarrassing, but that's OK. Don't think too much about it and continue to work in CW. When calling CQ, use QRS frequencies, around 14.055 MHz and (unofficial) 7.035 MHz. (At least for IARU Region 1, find a corresponding file for you region if necessary). Don't be afraid to make mistakes. When you are using 15 WPM everyone realizes that you are new to CW. Don't be shy to ask for QRS when necessary.

There are different opinions on whether you should start with a straight key or a modern one-paddle or two-paddle keys. Personally I choose a two-paddle key. uniHAM UNI-730A is not a bad option to start with. It's not the best key on the market, but it works quite well for a price. You can learn to transmit at 15 WPM with it in no time, and it doesn't create an unnecessary stress on your wrist (I'm a software developer and I already have some issues with my wrists). Later you can learn to use straight key as well. It will be much easier when you know how proper CW sounds like.

Soon you will notice that your current speed is not challenging anymore. Personally I start to notice it when I start losing dots in the beginning of the letters, because I expect that they should be transmitted faster. This is a good sign that it's time to increase the speed.

If you are interested, you can also read my blog post on how I learned CW. It's in Russian, but I believe Google Translate should manage.

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First, do learn how to send. Learning to send is much easier than learning to copy. One mistake I made when I was first starting was to send faster than I could copy, which is surprisingly easy to do with a straight key. If you send faster than you can receive, then you risk the other operator sending at the same rate you are, which can lead to disaster. (I terminated my very first DX QSO by switching off the rig in the middle of the QSO because the other op sent faster and faster, and I couldn't copy at all eventually. What a memory!) If you start with a keyer, then you won't have that problem.

I echo Aleksander's advice to start making QSOs, assuming that you're licensed to do so, and to not be shy about asking the other operator to QRS when necessary.

The best way to learn to copy faster and better is to make QSOs. Not only will your receiving speed increase naturally, but you'll also learn how to deal with noise and bad fists, which aren't as common these days as they were when I started. By the way, I recommend not avoiding QSOs with operators with bad fists, once you learn to copy them; some of my most memorable QSOs (and favorite QSL cards) have been with old-timers whose fists weren't the greatest.

Another way to learn to copy faster is to teach yourself to "throw away the pencil", as my Elmer put it, which means to learn how to copy in your head. I taught myself how by listening to Morse code recordings from the ARRL with no pencil handy, and just trying to copy in my head. What is surprisingly effective is to listen to code that is faster than you can comfortably copy. (I discovered an interesting thing when listening to these recordings in the car: when the sound source comes from several speakers, but the sound is all at a single frequency, then there are nodes, places where the sound is louder, and anti-nodes, places where the sound is weaker, which you can explore by moving your head around.)

A fantastic way to practice copying call signs and numbers is to use Morse Runner, the Morse code contest simulator by Alex Shovkoplyas, VE3NEA. Thanks to Morse Runner I can copy contest QSOs much faster than I can copy ragchew QSOs. (This too can lead to disaster in a contest, so be careful.)

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Some random untested ideas:

Don't get stuck using just standard spacing/timing. Variation (data augmentation or novelty) proves effective for both machine learning and human learning. It's also more realistic to what you will hear on the air.

Use Farnsworth timing, with the character WPM set at different speeds each session, but always at least at or slightly above your target goal WPM.

Then change the letter and word spacing a few times per session, from really easy to full speed (non-Farnsworth). Don't just copy stuff you feel secure copying, occasionally try speeds where you can only copy 50%. Maybe note the characters you always fail to copy fast, and at the next session try a set of mostly those characters at an extra super slow spacing to regenerate your confidence.

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The Art & Skill of Radio Telegraphy by N0HFF is available as a PDF download.

That's what I highly recommend as a next step. I'm not posting an excerpt in this answer because it would probably exceed the character limit.

It was so good and so highly motivating that I had my wife print and bind it. I found that it is not necessary to read the entire book to benefit from it.

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I know a dozen hams who have quickly learned to send and receive 20WPM CW using Morserino. The beauty of Morserino is that it uses sending to reinforce copying by completing the feedback loop in your brain. There are demonstration videos on YouTube. Looks to me like the fastest way to become "on the air" proficient.

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