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Academic Skills

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Academic Skills

Writing the Bell-Ringer Exam

  1. Be quick. Be correct. Move on.
  2. What to expect
  3. How to approach a bell-ringer
  4. How to answer
  5. How to prepare

Be quick. Be correct. Move on.

 In a bell-ringer exam, you are expected to answer a different question or set of questions at each station, so you must focus on the specimen or task in front of you, provide a response, and move along. This quick-response format tests your knowledge of essential content and your ability to perform skills necessary for success in the discipline.

What to expect

Multiple stations will be set up in the classroom or laboratory, each with its own activity or specimen and a numbered label. You will have a short period of time at each station, often 2-5 minutes; a bell marks the end of your time at each station. Every student starts the exam at the same time at a different station. Note that you cannot return to a station once you have left it.

Instructors may provide a short review period before students submit their test papers. The type of question or activity required by the bell-ringer depends on the discipline of the course – chemistry, biology, forensics, and anthropology are some disciplines that use bell-ringers to assess student performance.

You may be asked to label all or part of a specimen, and there may be additional questions that ask you to explain a function of the specimen or how it differs from a similar specimen. Specimens may be live or preserved samples, objects, microscope slides, or photographs.

In a different discipline, you may be required to complete a laboratory exercise in order to respond to the questions on your test paper, generally by identifying and interpreting the result.

How to approach a bell-ringer

Read the instructions carefully

It is essential that you read all of the instructions very carefully before you begin to respond to the questions. Be sure you know where are you to record your answers, if marks will be deducted for incorrect spelling, units, or significant digits and if partial marks will be allocated for incomplete answers. Double-check the station number at each station, and make certain that you respond to that question.  Also ensure that you have clearly labelled your exam paper with your full name, student number, and instructor’s name.

Manage your time thoughtfully

Time is managed for you in a bell-ringer exam; however, it is still easy to spend too much time on one question or task, which can make you rush through or miss an item at that station.

Consider how much each question is worth and what you are required to offer as response; provide only the name of the bone or the results of a chemical reaction if that is all that is required.

  • If you are required to explain the function of the bone or stages of the reaction, offer a specific response that matches how many marks the question is worth.
  • If you are required to do a task, do it quickly and precisely; you will only have time to do it once.

Take the time at rest stations to correct or complete your answers from previous stations or to look ahead to questions at the next stations.

Manage your stress

You will be better able to control any stress you feel about the exam by taking a few moments to review and plan your approach.  Take some deep breaths.  Remember that the exam is about demonstrating your knowledge – nothing you will see will be unfamiliar nor should it be unexpected if you have prepared.

At each station, focus only on your question and its requirements – resist the urge to look ahead, and try not to anticipate what comes next or to dwell on what came before.

How to answer

At each station, read the question carefully to understand what is asked of you; focus on key words in the question and pay attention to the mark allocation.  Also be sure you understand how you are to respond to the question: one-word response, chemical name or formula, or completion of a chart. Your responses should be clear, direct, and accurate; be aware of expectations for correct spelling, units of measurement or significant digits.

Identify a specimen: Study the specimen closely, looking for important identifying traits that differentiate it from something similar. For similar bones in the hand, for example, you should examine the size and shape, while also considering neighbouring parts, which will help you to determine the difference between the hamate and lumate.

Lab Procedure: Be sure to think through the process before you begin, keeping a mental list of the necessary steps and important measurements. Consider how to correctly use the glassware, instruments, and measuring tools or how to properly mix reagents when you are required to complete a chemical reaction. Be sure to report the results accurately, according to expectations explained in class.

If you are stumped, or you are rushed, try to write something for an answer, focusing on the key words that will help you to complete the answer at a rest station. Don’t let a difficult station halt your momentum or progress; try to think about the question in different ways: review the process, consider similar items, think about how the item is classified or what it is connected to, or recall similar lab results and their meanings. Another specimen or activity at a different station may jog your memory and help you to correct or complete your response at a rest station.

How to prepare

Good study strategies through the course of the term are essential for success on this type of test. Be sure to attend class, complete weekly readings and assignments, and to review material regularly rather than cram the day before the examination. Your approach to study will differ based upon the type of questions asked in your bell-ringer.

Practical or Laboratory Exam

You may need to review techniques and laboratory procedures; for this, you can book extra time in the lab to practice different skills – ask your course demonstrator about this option.
Study required materials and implements, considering measurements and thresholds. You will often need to explain the results, so be sure to understand how results are classified or interpreted.
Preparing and reviewing a flow chart or list of steps in a procedure can make you more comfortable with a test that requires you to complete different tasks at each station.

Specimen Identification and Explanation

You may prefer to study from pictures (print or online), but you can also book the lab to examine slides or specimens. While you are examining these items, you may find it helpful to consider distinguishing characteristics. Also try to explain how an item’s structure is related to its function or purpose.
Create study charts or tree diagrams to distinguish items; include name, description, classification, function, location, or other helpful categories.  
Flashcards can be very useful; these can be purchased or made by you. The act of making flashcards is a study strategy: print an image on one side and list its name and any other important information on the other side. This can take time, so spread this work out over the term, and review regularly.