Black and white diploma hat on a table
NEBOSH & Assessments

The Diploma Exams

The NEBOSH Diploma Exams

‘Three hours of mental torture’ – this is how one of my students once described the diploma exams. She was wrong – its actually NINE hours! This post gives some advice to help you avoid feeling the same way and dispels some common myths.

Those who may have read my previous posts will not be surprised when I say that preparation is the key. Not only must you revise well (see my third post in this series) but you should know basic things like how many questions you need to answer (believe me, some don’t); you can then start to develop your plan of attack.

Settling down

You’ll have ten minutes reading time before the exam. Use it. It is natural to feel anxious (you have either spent many weeks revising and want to give a good account of yourself, or you have not revised well (or at all) and now realise that you’re about to be found out) – either way, use the reading time to help overcome the panic. When you first look at the paper, your mind might go blank – this is normal (for me anyway). Take a few deep breaths and look again; gradually, familiar themes will start to emerge from the haze.

Question Phrasing

I regularly see candidates posting on forums things like “That question was poorly worded” or “I have no idea what they wanted”. Well, someone always scores high marks on any question, so it couldn’t have been that hard to understand. Yes, the questions are testing – at level 6 they are meant to be, but rest assured that there is no secret language known only to NEBOSH examiners. Therefore, any properly prepared candidate with adequate comprehension skills should be able to answer the questions.


Aim for 10 minutes per question in Section A – one mark per minute. For Section B, spend no more than 40 minutes per answer – one mark every two minutes. If you look at the difference in the rate of scoring, it becomes clear that you need to work harder to score marks in Section B, which tests depth of knowledge.

Good time management is important. Think about being asked a question in a classroom – you might come up with several good points in the first couple of minutes, then start to dry up. The same happens in the exams. So, by the time you have been working on a 10 marker for eight minutes you may struggle to think of something else to write. If that’s the case, why not just move on to the next question and increase your scoring rate? You can always come back to it later on.

If you finish before the 3 hours are up, go back through your answers and check what you have written. Add things in if you like – you won’t be penalised. Never, ever, leave early.

How much to write?

It depends on the question! Ultimately, its about quality rather than quantity, although its probably right to say that a page for a 20 mark answer isn’t going to get too many marks.


Lots of students get scared off by questions that require a calculation. Let’s get something straight right now: this is not a maths exam – they are always amongst the easiest questions on the paper! So, if arithmetic is a weak point, use your revision to turn it into a strength.


A lot has been said about exam marking – most of it by ill-informed people who have nothing to do with the marking process. Candidates all start with zero and marks are awarded for anything that is both correct and relevant. Your score is totaled up at the end. It’s as simple as that. There is no negative marking. There are no quotas. Not passing the exam simply means that you have not yet reached the required standard.

To summarise …

Exam questions are carefully written to ensure they are a fair test. Make good use of the reading time and stick to your timings. Have a go at questions requiring calculations and make sure you are doing something right up until the moment you are told to put down your pen.

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