After the Basic – What Next?

bee readingThe BBKA Basic Assessment is an enabling exam that frankly all beekeepers should plan to take within their first few years of beekeeping. But what happens next?

                Andrew Cornwall offers a personal insight into                      how he is approaching and tackling this question …

I don’t want to keep repeating my first few years of beekeeping over & over again. I want to learn more theory & practice.

To some extent I can do this by reading at home & going along to Henfold. However, I’m not very good at retaining what I read and am easily distracted, so work better when I have a goal to aim at. I was always the kid who took his toys apart to find out how they worked. It’s the same with my poor bees.

Preparing for Module 1

On a cold & snowy Saturday morning in March, I sat my first BBKA module exam. It wasn’t nearly as scary as it seemed in the long run up to the day. So how did I prepare to take the exam and what lessons have I learnt for taking further modules?

I did a vast amount of reading about bees & beekeeping this winter anyway. Whilst on my first book, I decided that perhaps the best way of taking notes (I’m an inveterate note taker) was to compile a glossary of terms used in beekeeping. Having to write explanations of terms & processes in my own words has proved a wonderful way of both making sure that I understood them and of getting them into my head. I also thought originally that it could make a handout for the beginners that I was going to supervise at Henfold this year. However, that was before it ran to almost forty pages. My first book this winter was Manley’s: “Honey Farming”. I highly recommend it to everyone. He was clearly a great observational beekeeper, who based all of his husbandry on what he’d witnessed personally. He wrote several books and copies of two of them are in the RBK library. I was so impressed, that I bought a copy of another one of his books that I found for sale on the internet.

I had taken Adam Leitch’s  module 1 course in the autumn of 2011, so already knew the rough scope of the syllabus, but downloaded a free copy from the BBKA website so as to make sure I had the up to date version.

Module 1 is on Honeybee Management. So in a way it’s similar to the basic, at least in the range of topics covered. There are additions, such as being able to discuss all the sizes & capacities of the different types of hives used in the UK. I re-read all of my beginner’s books, including my copy of Hooper (how I hate that book!). I also re-read my copy of the Yates’s Modules 1 to 4 book. This is now well out of date when compared to the latest syllabus, but gives much useful information, in bite size pieces. I also borrowed a number of beginner’s books from the RBK library. I stopped reading them when I got part way through John Williams’ book: ”Starting Out With Bees” upon finding that he quotes different figures for bee space, when compared to everyone else. Too many figures flying around in my head already, I put the book on the pile ready to go back to Vince Gallo (RBK Librarian) without finishing it.

I then downloaded the latest MBBKA (Mid Bucks Beekeepers Association) module 1 study notes. I’d been warned that study notes can contain errors. So to make sure that I challenged what I was reading, I only read each syllabus item after I’d tried to write some bullet points of my own. This proved useful, as I thought of a few that aren’t in the notes and I probably wouldn’t have come up with them if I’d read the notes first. Mostly though the notes contained many ideas that I’d not come up with. The study notes quote yet more different figures for bee space, but I persevered & worked my way through them. In the end, I had a set of study notes covered in my own additional notes & topics to research. I principally used BeeBase (the website run by the National Bee Unit) and the BBKA website for my research. The BBKA website has some very useful information leaflets you can download for free. All of the info on BeeBase is free to access. Even more importantly, unlike most websites, all the info on BeeBase is both up to date & is current best practice backed by the latest science.

I’d got copies of several years worth of exam papers when I did Adam Leitch’s course. I went through each of them and then downloaded and worked through the MBBKA sample answers for 2009. I left the 2010 paper to do as a timed test and then downloaded the MBBKA sample answers. You can buy past exam papers for all of the modules from the BBKA website for £1 each.

Examination Day Looms

I handed my exam entry form to Celia Perry (County Exam Secretary) at the February RBK winter meeting & was then committed to taking the exam. I felt it was only a couple of areas that by then I needed to swot-up on, one being anaphylaxis. A week later I realised that I’d over-prepared & couldn’t maintain that state of readiness until the end of March. I had supper that night with a former university tutor of mine. She just couldn’t stop chuckling at the thought that I’d actually done too much work. I put all of my bee books & paperwork aside and left them untouched until the second week of March. In a panic, I then re-read all of my notes, all of the MBBKA notes and answers, plus all of the material I had downloaded from BeeBase, the BBKA website etc. Phew! It was mostly still there in my head.

My erstwhile tutor gave me some good advice on exams. She well remembered just how nervous they always used to make me. All the usual stuff about answering the question asked, not the one you think they’re asking, plus keeping strictly to time. The day before the exam I ventured up to Ewell to find out just where the hut is. It’s not straight forward to find it, so I’d recommend anyone taking a module to have a reconnoitre first.

On the day, it was snowing again so I left more than enough time to get there. When I arrived, I sat in the car for a while to steady my nerves before going in. It turned out that Surrey had one of the largest groups in the country taking exams that day. I found a table & put my black pens, pencils and water down to reserve my place & went to find a coffee in the kitchen. John Gill was there helping in the kitchen and Celia was checking everyone off against her list. I took my coffee back to my table & sat down ready to receive instructions from Audrey Gill, the invigilator. And then we were off! Ninety minutes later, I had to stop writing. I hadn’t kept to time & didn’t finish the last question. I’ll find out in May if I’ve passed or not.

So, I’ve learnt that I can do it. Like decorating, preparation is all important. I need to plan my learning & revision time much better next time round. I also need to keep strictly to time in the exams. I need to make sure that my answers in section B are all bullet points & not complete sentences. Incidentally, the times suggested by the BBKA for each section & stated on the top of the exam papers, don’t allow you time at the end to quickly read-over & check your answers.

Then what next?

Well, I did the Module 5 workshop led by Celia Davis at the BBKA Spring Convention. When signing up for the workshop, all participants undertook to read several books & be prepared to discuss honeybee anatomy in detail. I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for. It would have been frighteningly difficult if I just tried to study on my own. That’s why a mere £10 for the workshop is looking like the best money I’ll be spending this year. Celia Davis was very enthusiastic & encouraging. Hopefully, I’ll be ready to take the exam in November. I’ve decided not to enrol on the correspondence course offered by the BBKA, as I’m better off going at my own pace without the further pressure of tests & deadlines.

I understand that the BBKA has been revising its “Recommended Book List For The BBKA Examinations” for quite some time now. The March 2011 version is available to download for free from their website.  I’ve submitted a list of resources that I found useful for module 1 that are set out in a separate post. Click here to view.

Andrew Cornwall

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