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April 21, 2016

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Exam technique – guidance for taking NEBOSH certificate exams

Jonathan Backhouse explains how to tackle the NEBOSH general certificate, giving tips on how to answer questions as well as useful resources for studying.

books-1012088_640Undertaking any exam can be daunting. For example, the NEBOSH General Certificate consists of two, two-hour exams as well as a practical workplace assignment to complete.

The article will draw examples from the NEBOSH General certificate, however the principles covered will be beneficial for all NEBOSH certificate level exams, and for many other exams.

This article will:

  1. Identify useful documents to be used when preparing for your examinations.
  2. Give an example of studying incorrect/out of date information.
  3. Outline common myths concerning NEBOSH exams.
  4. Explain the meaning of the command words used in certificate exams.
  5. Describe with a practical example what is required for each command word.
  1. Supporting documentation

The internet includes countless NEBOSH resources – some good, some bad and some quite ugly! The best staring place will be the NEBSOH website.

The following list should be helpful in downloading useful documents for exams and the practical assignment:

Downloading the syllabus will give you an amazing insight into what is needed – likewise understanding the command words will help you with your exam preparation.   The syllabus also includes links for reference material, which will be beneficial for the trainer and student.

If you need to research a particular area on health and safety you are best focusing on the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE’s) website.

The two main two publishers for NEBOSH text books are:

The book Essential Health and Safety Study Skills has been developed to help students study a range of health and safety qualifications including the NEBOSH General Certificate.  It also provides information about study skills and preparing for an exam.

  1. An example of studying incorrect/out of date information.

For example, hierarchy of control.  This was once learned as ERIC PD (Eliminate, Reduce, Isolate, Control, PPE  and Discipline), well Eric left the building many years ago!

The syllabus requires candidates to apply the general hierarchy of control with reference to OHSAS 18001 (soon to transitioned to ISO 45001):

  1. eliminate the hazard;
  2. substitute with less hazardous materials, processes, operations or equipment;
  3. use engineering controls;
  4. use administrative controls; and
  5. provide and ensure use of adequate personal protective equipment.

If you learn ‘ERIC PD’ and a question asks you to:

  • identify examples of the general hierarchy of control; or
  • outline ways the general hierarchy of control can be applied to a specific situation

then it is unlikely that you will gain the maximum marks available.  Remember PPE is the last resort not Discipline!

Another mistake (i.e. bending with your back straight) with regards to correct lifting techniques for manual handling, is often taught.

  1. Common myths concerning NEBOSH exams

There are many myths about NEBOSH. The most common are:

  • You have to learn NEBOSH speak.
  • The course is too hard.

First there is no such thing as NEBOSH speak; you will have to learn terms and phrases that you may not be familiar with, like ‘hierarchy of control’.

For the certificate exams (not just NEBOSH) you will need to know the difference between Identify, Outline, Describe, Explain and Give.

  1. Meaning of the command words used in certificate exams

Command word Meaning Example
Identify To give reference to an item, which could be its name or title Normally a word or phrase will be sufficient, provided the reference is clear
Outline To indicate the principal features or different parts of Give a brief summary of the major aspects of whatever is stated in the question
Describe To give a detailed written account of the distinctive features of a subject. The account should be factual, without any attempt to explain When describing a subject (or object) a test of sufficient detail would be that another person would be able to visualise what you are describing
Explain To provide an understanding. To make an idea or relationship clear This command word is testing the candidate’s ability to know or understand why or how something happens. Is often associated with the words ‘how’ or ‘why’
Give To provide short, factual answers Normally a single word, phrase or sentence will be sufficient

Source: NEBOSH (2015) Guidance on command words used in learning outcomes and question papers – certificate qualifications.

  1. Practical example: NEBOSH style question

The following question shows a practical example of each of the command words

  1. Identify types (or kinds) of fruit. (2)
  2. Give an example of a fruit that would not be used in a fruit salad. (1)
  3. Outline steps to make a fruit salad. (2)
  4. Describe a banana. (2)
  5. Explain the benefits of eating five fruit and/or vegetables per day. (1)

The following shows a model answer to the question:

Identify types (or kinds) of fruit. (2)

  • Apple
  • Pear
  • Kiwi
  • Orange

Give an example of a fruit that would not be used in a fruit salad. (1)

  • Tomato

Outline steps to make a fruit salad. (2)

  • Wash fruit that does not need to be peeled
  • Cut the fruit into small pieces
  • Place the pieces into a large bowl

Describe a banana. (2)

  • The bottom end is narrowed, the top has a thick stem, attaching the fruit to the stalk
  • Ranges from about 10 – 20 cm in length and is curved/crescent in shape.
  • The colour changes from green (unripe), to yellow (ripe), to black (over ripe)
  • Has a thick skin that needs to be removed before eating

Explain the benefits of eating five fruit and/or vegetables per day. (1)

  • Provides a range of vitamins and minerals.
  • Provides fibre within a diet.

N.B. You only need to have the number of answers per mark. For example, identify types of fruit offers 2 marks, so apple and orange would suffice. If you put extra answers that are similar (e.g. clementine, tangerine, satsuma) they may not get the full two marks.

Practice makes perfect

On your course you will, hopefully, get a chance to practice many exam questions. An important lesson is to find out how long the exam takes you. Make time to sit a whole mock paper and practice in exam conditions.

Whilst your course book and other hand-outs from your trainer will be useful, the most important document you will be using is the syllabus (you can find a mock exam in the back of this document).

If you can answer the learning outcomes, then you will be able to answer the exam questions and using the syllabus will ensure you are learning the correct information.

Jonathan BackhouseJonathan Backhouse is a highly qualified, Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner, qualified teacher and author. Having over 14 years of experience in (environmental, health and safety, fire, first aid and food) management, consultancy, training and writing, in the UK.   Has taught a range of IOSH and NEBOSH courses in: Africa, Europe, Middle East and USA. Contact details: 07801 305653 | [email protected], LinkedIn

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Wayne Jones
Wayne Jones
7 years ago

I wish I had it explained to me in such simple terms when I started off !. Very good and simple article Jonathan

NEBOSH Terminology |
7 years ago

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