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Succeed at Exams

What is a bell-ringer exam?

  • A type of lab exam in which a limited amount of time is given at each station, and a bell (or other auditory signal) indicates that you must move from one station to the next.
  • Because of this unique format, it's important to find out all you can about the exam.

What should I find out before I start studying for my bell-ringer exam?

  • How many stations will there be?
  • How many questions will be asked at each station?
  • How much time will you have for each question?
  • Can you revisit a station?
  • Are there breaks between stations or at other points during the exam when you can check your answers?

What are some strategies for studying for my bell-ringer exam?

  • For each lab, make a set of study notes that summarizes and integrates
    • pre-lab talk
    • class notes 
    • lab demonstrations 
    • lab manual 
    • visuals
  • Review the objectives and concepts presented in the labs and use them to anticipate the type of question you may be asked:
    • identification
    • function
    • compare and contrast
  • Make flashcards to test your ability to identify structures and recall information under time constraints.
  • Make charts to compare and contrast a lot of information in a concise and visual manner.
  • Create practice questions that require looking for relationships among the many pieces of information you're studying.
  • Practice answering questions under the exam's time constraints while using a bell or other auditory signal, particularly if it's your first experience with this type of exam.
  • At each station, decide if you will: 
    • Look at the visual first, or
    • read the questions first.
  • Practice both approaches before the exam to determine which approach you prefer.

What are some strategies for taking the exam?

  • At each station, take a few moments to orient yourself to the visual. Determine what the visual is and from what angle you're viewing it.
  • Read the questions carefully to ensure you know what's being asked.
    • Example: Do you need to identify the structure the pin is in, or identify the structure preceding it?
  • Keep in mind that each question may have multiple parts.
    • Example: You may be asked to identify the structure, state its function, and explain why the function is important.
  • Try to write something for each question even if you run out of time. At rest stations (if available) go back to complete your answer. If this is not possible, partial credit may be given for your attempt.
  • If you blank out at a station, remain calm and work your way through the question. Recall any related information and ask yourself questions to help stimulate your memory of the material .
    • Example: Ask yourself, "Which area of the specimen is the structure in? What structures are close to it?"
  • Since every station tests different information, not knowing the answer at one station should not affect your ability to respond to questions at other stations.

What should I do after the exam?

  • Look over your exam, if you get it back, to see where you have gone wrong, and what you have done well. If your instructor doesn’t routinely return exams, ask if you can see yours to learn from your errors.
  • Use this information to help you study more effectively next time.
  • Check out the Succeed at Exams: Analyzing Exam Errors guide to help you learn from errors and improve performance on your next exam.

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