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  • Writer's pictureZeezBeez

My date with a Module...

or tips to help pass Module 5 - Bee Anatomy - of the British Beekeeping Association (BBKA) suite of exams.

I thought I would share my experience of sitting April’s (2021) online BBKA exam for Module 5 – Bee Anatomy. For those of you who may be unaware, there are 7 Modules to amuse you. After passing 1,2 & 3, and either 5,6 or 7 you get awarded an Intermediate Theory Certificate. If you pass all the modules you get an Advanced Theory Certificate. If you successfully perform some practical elements you can even progress to being a Master Beekeeper, but that’s a story for others to tell. Having already bagged Module 1 – Honey Bee Management - I took the advice of a Master Beekeeper and targetted Module 5. His view is that if you understand what a bee is and how it works, it is a great base from which to tackle the other modules. I think he is right.


Many reasons. For me, I want to know more about the creatures that I am responsible for so that I can improve as a beekeeper. I find the subject fascinating and enjoy researching. However, I am easily thrown off course by something interesting ‘over there’ – especially with the internet. Targetting an exam helps me focus and learn. I get all the enjoyment and something at the end. I feel that I understand the bees better having done Module 5, albeit still so much to learn.


I offer these up as ideas that may help others plot their own course.


First of all, I had to start at rock bottom. I did not study biology at school and until recently had other interests than the birds and the bees. Ahem, well, you know what I mean. I will introduce the first invaluable tool. The introduction of Celia Davis’ book ‘The Honey Bee Inside Out’ covers biological basics. Celia (I’ve never met her or seen any of her presentations, but the vibe from her words is very friendly and I have spent so much time with her recently that I feel I can call her Celia), anyway, Celia advises anyone who was ‘a whiz in biology lessons and can remember it all’ can skip the introduction. I couldn’t, and I even had to study what a cell was at the start of the first chapter! However, this book is brilliant at gently leading you by the hand with a lot of cheeky humour and interjections of empathy that did make me feel better, particularly after a cascade of Latin names. The book is a joy to read, and I read it lots of times. Without it, I don’t think I would have made it.

The next tool was Ian Stell’s ‘Understanding Bee Anatomy’. This was much more formal and provided so much detail, with excellent illustrations and drawings. Drawings were often used to explain the photographs and this works really well. Ian (I’ve never met him, but he seems a nice bloke) has also released lots of videos available through his website or on YouTube if that helps you to learn.

I found myself jumping from one to the other and back again in working up my model of bee anatomy. I’d look at the detail in Stell and then the story in Davis. (formality deliberate & respectful of these two masterpieces). As the penny started to drop and some understanding of the mechanics arose, the final chapters in Celia’s book brought everything to life. The chapter ‘Keeping it all Together’ describes how things change with age, how some things degrade and how some things develop or even change function to enable the bee to carry out the tasks required of it. The effect of pheromones, food sharing (trophallaxis), & other means of communication on the bees' behaviour and growth are described. This helped me get to grips with how the bee works rather than just what it is composed of. It helped the penny drop. Not only did this help with the exam, but I believe it will help my beekeeping.


The two books above took me a long way, but there were articles in the BBKA magazine and revision notes available from the Welsh Beekeeping Association website too. I won’t name individuals for fear of forgetting someone, but discussions with fellow beekeepers were very much appreciated and helpful. If you are a member of an Association I'm sure you will find plenty of help there. If you aren't, please consider joining your nearest branch of the BBKA.


1. Do read all the BBKA says about the module – syllabus, reading list etc – so that you understand what you are letting yourself in for. This will save you wandering off-piste.

2. A quick run-through - I started off reading through my two main sources without worrying too much about the information sinking in.

3. A detailed look - I then took a more detailed approach and read up on each topic (eg eyes) flicking from Davis to Stell and any other sources before moving on to legs (or whatever). As I said above, the final few chapters in Davis kind of wrap everything up in a bow.

4. Practice past exam questions – This was the donkey work, but vital. You can nab 5 years of past exam papers from the internet. These are excellent practice but are getting old now, so it is worth investing the few pennies required to get the two most recent papers emailed to you from the BBKA. I simply worked my way through them. You’ll notice some subjects appear regularly so it is good to practice these more often. The drawings that requiring annotating are very useful in testing your knowledge. If you can name all the components of the sting apparatus then you’ll probably remember how it works. If I knew I would be stranded somewhere for a while I would often have these to hand to test myself.

5. Review your answers - by nipping back to the sources and red penning corrections and adding information you have missed.

6. In the final days, I concentrated on my practice answers, particularly the bits I missed/mucked up.


Now, I was ready for this when the pandemic arrived and wiped out all the examinations. I endured the pain of revising for the exams again this April, as my memory is like the proverbial sieve. The exam was online, so I didn’t have to drive to Buckfast Abbey. A few weeks prior, we participated in a mock exam. This was to help us familiarise ourselves with the process and to test the software at both ends. Although we were sitting at home, big brother could tell whether anyone had left the room or if anyone had entered the room. Spooky. I decided not to cheat in the real exam – look, I wouldn’t have anyway – I’m not that kind of person…honest.

Seriously though, it was a good system. Take advantage of any mock opportunities to get used to the system rather experience it 'cold' on the day. There are several time-saving tools and tips available. We were given an extra 15 minutes for sausage-fingered typists like myself to cope and, if you were only sitting one exam, you could take it at any time during the morning. If you sat two, then it became more time-critical. Once you typed the first syllable the timer was off, and at 1.45 hours that was it; the screen offered you a cheery goodbye and shut you down. I was impressed & would sit future exams this way rather than pollute the countryside making my way across the county.


Well, I managed to pass, with Distinction too, and who doesn’t mind a bit of success eh? I now am the proud owner of a brand new Module 5 and you could be too! I consider it well worth the effort as I believe that I understand my bee-friends a little better. I would urge anyone who satisfies the experience criteria to give the modules a go.

Good luck and best wishes. I hope this helps.



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