In the last couple of blogs, aimed at all of the NEBOSH National and International Diploma students who recently had their mid-January exams cancelled at short notice, I have written about the emotions of having your exams cancelled at short notice and the importance of giving yourself a break when you have been working hard to achieve a peak performance in an exam. I have also written about re-engaging with your studies by reminding yourself why you started the Diploma course in the first place. Remembering your original aims and objectives to try to rekindle the flame and get your mojo back because keeping yourself motivated is essential if you are to successfully pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start the hard work all over again.
In this third blog I would like to share some ideas that might help with the preparation and build-up to your next scheduled exam (whenever that may be).
Recognise your currently position
You can’t do this now. Because as you read this blog you are just getting over the cancellation and have not perhaps reclaimed your motivation and restarted your exam preparation. You also haven’t yet forgotten all of the things that you are going to forget over the next month or two. Short-term memory being what it is.
This is for then – when you restart your exam preparation.
Get hold of a copy of the current NEBOSH Diploma syllabus guide (free downloadable .pdf available from the NEBOSH website) and specifically look at the unit (or units) that you are studying. This is best done by printing out the relevant pages of the syllabus guide covering all of the relevant elements (A1, A2, A3, etc.) in the unit. For each element read the learning outcomes and then focus on the contents under each topic heading (topics A1.1, A1.2, etc.).
For each topic read every word of the contents listed under that topic and ask; what is your current level of knowledge/ ability on that topic? Give yourself a score out of five for that topic. Be honest – if the examiner asks you any questions about that topic how do you rate your chances of writing a decent answer? 5/5 brilliant or 0/5 I didn’t even know this topic was in the course!
If you do this exercise properly then it will give you a very clear snapshot of where you currently are as judged against the course contents. You can then use this as a foundation on which to build your exam preparation schedule. Why waste your time reading and preparing on a topic area that you are already very strong on? Spend time on the topic areas where you are weak. This exercise will reveal your strengths and weaknesses.
Figure out your best revision techniques
I have written about revision techniques in previous blogs. But since you are here on this page I’ve saved you effort of a mouse click and have pasted the relevant section below:
So picture the scene. A quiet room. Your Diploma exam is two months away. Your eye rests gently on the first line of a paragraph of text. You read. You pause for thought. You have a nagging feeling that you have left the cat outside yet again. You read some more. The laundry is calling you. Another line or two. The pile of bills by the microwave need reconciling. You realise that you have dozed off and have completely lost the thread of the single paragraph that you were trying to read. You start again. Your eye rests gently on the first line of the paragraph…
If you recognise the above then you will have already realised that simply trying to read course material in preparation for an exam is an exercise in futility. You have to read with a purpose. You have to be doing something with the material that you are reviewing. There has to be some activity.
Find the study technique that works for you
- Summarise the material by distilling ideas and key information down to skeletal bullet points.
- Now turn over your bullet point notes and write them out again from memory.
- Draw mind maps that summarise the contents of sections of your course. Put colour in the mind map. Draw silly/ smutty/ outrageous images on it. Make it memorable.
- Put bullet points onto index cards with the topic title on the flip-side and test yourself for recall.
- Prepare a slide presentation on a topic and inflict this on your work colleagues, fellow students or long-suffering family.
- Find some more victims and do it again.
- Draw a poster that summarises a topic that you struggle with and put this on the office wall at work or in your living room at home.
- Record audio notes of key information so that you can revise when driving/ commuting.
- Leave pauses in the audio recording so you can repeat key phrases or test yourself. “Ecoute et répète” (listen and repeat) as my French language-lab tapes used to say when I was at school (yes I did say tape, yes I am old enough).
- Stick post-it notes with difficult to remember info on your fridge door/ dashboard/ desk/ forehead.
- Test yourself by looking at these revision aids and then try to recall and note down their contents.
- Get other people to test you – get your partner to give you a pop-quiz based on your mind-maps.
- Explain topics and ideas that you find awkward to your friends and work colleagues. While you still have them.
- Now go back to square one and do it again.
Repetition, repetition, repetition
It is not enough just to read your textbook. You have to be able to recall this information under the stressful conditions of the examination and that sort of quick, efficient recall can only come through active learning and preparation.
And through repetition, repetition and repetition.
…Think Groundhog Day but without the comedy.
Repetition, repetition, repetition.
…Or Edge of Tomorrow but without the violence (or Tom Cruise).
How was Private Cage transformed from a coward and a deserter into a hero? By reliving the same battle over and over until he got it right. Live, die, repeat.
And finally to misquote Master Sergeant Farell a second time:
“NEBOSH exams are the great redeemer.
The fiery crucible in which only true heroes are forged.”
and most importantly:
“Through readiness and discipline we are masters of our fate.”
(with apologies to the late, great Bill Paxton)
And finally Esther don’t forget to make full use of the NEBSOH Examiner’s reports that contain past exam questions (available as free downloads from the NEBOSH website). These are excellent resources that you can use as an indication of the sorts of exam questions that you might face in your exam. And they are also very useful as examination preparation projects in their own right.
If you find an old exam question that you probably can’t answer very well then that’s a fantastic research project to get you into the relevant parts of your course materials and an opportunity for some background reading and research.
If you find an old exam question that you think you can answer quite well then there’s a fantastic opportunity to write a full answer using good examination technique against the clock. You can then share this with a colleague, fellow student or tutor for some feedback. Or you can read the examiner’s comments and your course materials etc. to try to figure out if what you wrote would be a good answer or not. This is often not as easy as it sounds so I would recommend that you make use of the Learning Centre and your RRC tutors. After all it’s what they are there for.
Dr Jim Phelpstead BSc, PhD, CMIOSH
RRC Consultant Tutor