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NEBOSH & Assessments

NEBOSH Exams – How They Work


Taking NEBOSH exams, whether at Certificate or Diploma level, can be a daunting task. It is true that NEBOSH have clear, often high, standards but the anxiety felt by many candidates is often increased by a wealth of misinformation (e.g. the ridiculous claim that NEBOSH operate a quota system that only allows a fixed percentage of entrants to pass). This blog (the first in a series), aims to help set the record straight and provide a useful insight into the world of the NEBOSH examiner.

First of all, what don’t the NEBOSH examiners expect from you? Well, they don’t expect you to memorise the entirety of your course notes and simply regurgitate them in the exam. Neither do they look for special ‘buzzwords‘ or a special language known only to NEBOSH. Instead, the examiners are simply looking for a clearly expressed understanding of the principles, demonstrated by giving a correct and accurate answer to the question. This might sound obvious, but you would be surprised how many students, at whatever level, give what might otherwise have been good answers if only a different question had been set! Therein lies the first lesson – read the question properly! Of course, there are many answers that are just plain wrong, but that has more to do with a lack of preparation than with how the question is asked.

NEBOSH exams do not just appear – they result from a strict quality process requiring ‘items‘ (draft questions and marking schemes) to be submitted and then analysed to ensure that the question is clear and addresses a specific point on the syllabus. In addition, a process known as ‘standardisation’ allows for good points made by students in the exams to be added to the mark scheme, thus increasing the number of points for which marks can be awarded.

Exams aim to test knowledge across the syllabus. This means that you will be unlikely to find more than one question on any particular point – if you think that is the case on your paper, then you should re-read the question as you have more than likely misunderstood it.

The maximum depth of question on any specific topic will be determined by the ‘Specific Intended Learning Outcomes’ (‘SILOs’) given in the syllabus. Thus, if the learning outcome says that students should be able to ‘Outline’ something, the examiners cannot ask for a candidate to ‘Describe’ or ‘Explain’, since these are more demanding than a mere ‘Outline’ – I will be covering these ‘Command words’ in my next article.

Exams are all marked by competent practitioners, many of whom have years of experience of practising safety, teaching and examining. Examiners always try their best to award marks where they are merited. Another popular myth is that papers are negatively marked – wrong again! Everyone starts with zero, with marks being totalled up at the end to give the final score.

In many cases, papers will be marked several times as part of the NEBOSH quality assurance procedure. The result is a robust marking process, which while not perfect, is repeatable and offers a high degree of confidence in the final mark awarded.

In summary, the exams are set and marked according to a rigorous quality process. There are no quotas and there is no such thing as ‘NEBOSH speak‘ – examiners would like nothing more than for everyone to pass, but poor preparation and inaccurate answers often conspire against this.

The next post will be up in a few weeks ‘Is there such a thing as NEBOSH speak? Action verbs and their importance’

Andrew Ashford Andrew Ashford BSc (Hons), GDL, Cert Ed., CMIOSH

Long-standing RRC Associate Tutor, NEBOSH Principal Examiner (Unit A), Barrister (non-practising) and Safety Practitioner