BBKA Module exam bemusement

A few years after I’d started keeping bees I took the first of the BBKA’s exam modules (Module 1 – Honey Bee Management). It felt quite a struggle at the time as circumstances meant that two of us had to work through the material by ourselves with no outside guidance.

I passed the exam in the end, but I felt I could have given a better account of myself than I did. The experience kind of put me off doing further modules, particularly as I didn’t really have the time or opportunity to get to any of the local study groups — finding free time early in the evening isn’t particularly easy when you have school age children, especially if you add a drive of half an hour or more on the end of each meeting.

Last November however, the opportunity came up to do another module with the study group meeting on Zoom so I thought I’d give it another go.

I’m now wondering if I’ve made the right decision however. Having received the first bunch of paperwork, the syllabus is really quite open-ended and there’s no course text, so it’s nigh on impossible to know when you’ve done enough to be sure that you’ll have covered anything that’s likely to come up in the exam. It leaves me feeling quite uncomfortable about the idea of taking the exam (which I think now costs £40 so not cheap, though that’s refunded if you pass). This is quite different from other exams I’ve taken over the years, where there might have been a course textbook, or the topics on the syllabus are expanded to list the specific things you need to learn about. So, in the latter case, rather than seeing “The role of different pheromones on honey bee behaviour” as is the case for the BBKA syllabus, you’d see the pheromones of interest listed, perhaps with some indication of the behaviour they relate to.

Whilst the latter approach might help, I don’t see that it really gets me out of the woods with the BBKA syllabus though. For example, I’ve read one claim that there are thirty-two pheromones produced by honey bees, but I’ve no idea if that’s the most recent view or if it’s now considered to be a different number. And repeatedly this problem comes up that you can read around a topic, but find that some authors disagree with each other and never really know if you have the information that is considered “current” or even if you’ve read all that a given author has to say on the matter. There’s only a limited amount of reading around that’s practical, too. Beekeeping books are rarely cheap and neither is access to academic papers should that be required. Time available for studying always seems to be limited, too.

Perhaps it is practical to do it the BBKA way if you don’t have a full-time job, or work in bee-keeping (rather than it being a hobby) and therefore have something of a head start, I don’t know.

I believe this has led to the approach of many study groups where they begin by going through old papers to try to answer them, effectively trying to divine what the examiners will want to know from what they’ve asked in the past. Perhaps that’s all some study groups do. I don’t really see it as the most productive way forward in terms of learning more about bee-keeping myself as it may miss information that hasn’t been asked about for some time, or not cover some topics in sufficient detail.

So, for the moment I’m really in two minds as to whether I’ll take the exam or not. I’ll certainly work through the course as best I can with the study group (unless it turns into just going over old papers again and again) and see what happens in the time until I have to put my name forward. I don’t like giving up on anything I try, really, but I’m not interested in doing something poorly and I may have to admit to myself that this is one of those occasions where I can’t do better because I’m not confident that whatever I have learnt and the examiner’s idea of what I should have learnt will coincide.

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