As I write this for our new (and continuing) students I’m also thinking of my daughter who is starting her first year of her degree at University. And it made me think – what can I do to advise someone studying for a higher level (level 6 and above) qualification. I’m also going to try to give you the secret “shortcuts to success” that I have developed over the years, so read on!
Do I still need to study for an OBE?
First of all, as my old tutor/guru Dr NEBOSH (yep, that’s what we called him) used to tell me, this isn’t like school and there is a different expectation of students studying for the diploma compared with a certificate level qualification. No course provider (even an awesome one such as RRC) can produce materials that you can open and find the perfect paragraph to answer any question, and this is especially true when it comes to scenario based assessments (SBA) (more on the SBA format later.)
At diploma level delegates are expected to read around the topics and engage with materials to help with their learning, rather like university students are expected to find out more and study broadly. This isn’t a course just to get you through the assessment, its intended to train health and safety professionals, so for goodness sake don’t even think about only studying for the topics in the assessment. Can you imagine going to a GP with an ailment and being told “oh they didn’t ask about ears in the assessment so I didn’t study them, let me find my books….”
Whilst the new assessment format is open book, its called “scenario based assessment” not “an easy route to the diploma” and the questions asked are equally challenging and you will need to know the materials in order to understand what you are being asked. Trust me, if you haven’t opened the books you’ll have to be a magician to be able to pull a good result out of thin air. So study – you have been warned!
Don’t learn it, understand it
“How on earth will I learn all of the stuff in these files” I wailed to my tutor 200 years ago (well, ok 20 years ago). Dr NEBOSH relied with a grin “ahh, don’t learn them, understand them – if you learn the notes you can only repeat what you’ve memorised if you’re asked the right question, what you need to do is understand the materials then you can answer anything”. So that’s what I tried to do, I tried to understand them. But that takes effort, and commitment, so with that in mind plan to succeed and allow yourself time to study. I’m also going to add some balance here too and say plan to also have a life. I LOVED my diploma, I really did. I want every one of my students to love it too so plan your time to allow you to succeed and have some work-life balance. If you want to go for a run, plan that in as a reward for an hour’s study. If you want to walk the dog or you take the kids to sports practice that’s great. Can you do an hour before or after? If you get up slightly earlier can you fit a bit of study in while you’re fresh? My daughter found (to my amazement) that she was a morning person whilst studying. She started to get up and work before college as she wanted down time in the evenings and that worked for her. I am going to confess something here – I like watching Eastenders on TV – so when I was studying I planned to watch Eastenders as my “brain off” time. It refreshed me, I felt ready to go again and I found I learned more that way.
Active learning is the key. Engage in the questions in the RRC notes, look topics up, make flash cards, use apps such as “quizlet” to aid your studies whatever works for you but do NOT just sit reading aimlessly. Trust me, your eyes will be moving but your mind will have left the building.
The best kept NEBOSH secret
Now I need to tell you about the MOST important document NEBOSH produce – the course “syllabus guide”. There is a version for “learning partners” that I highly recommend you download from the resources section of your course on the NEBOSH website. In here you will find the breakdown of what NEBOSH tell the course providers to cover. So if you use this as a checklist you can see if you feel that you have adequately studied each topic. This is the framework for the course notes I write for RRC. As I’m teaching DN2 at the minute let me use an example from DN2/DI2 – learning outcome 10.1 “The basic principles of the bio-psychosocial model and how it relates to the health of individuals”. Firstly ask “do I remember this at all” and if no, get the books out! If you have a vague recollection but couldn’t explain it to someone else, get the books out. If you are confident you could stop someone in the street and wax lyrical about it, tick it off and move on! (Note – probably don’t stop random people in the street to tell them about NEBOSH or they may run away from you.) I can’t stress enough if it is in the syllabus it is examinable. Every single word – like biopsychosocial, one word, it can be examined and unlike me NEBOSH don’t woffle. I used my syllabus not because I’m clever, far from it, I used it because Dr NEBOSH told me to and it was my checklist. It also kept me honest. It’s hard studying difficult topics you’re wrestling with and it’s much easier studying things you’re happy and confident with. But guess which one helps you most.
Sometimes the structure for an answer could come from the syllabus too – if you want to know the “factors to be considered when assessing risk: access arrangements” look at the syllabus – DN3/DI3 11.2 states that these are “likely atmospheres to be encountered (including oxygen enriched, oxygen depleted, toxic and flammable); the task, materials and equipment; people at risk; reliability of safeguards (including personal protective equipment)”. My word couldn’t that be useful if you are asked about confined space risk assessment! Can I stress this isn’t cheating – it’s the syllabus, you are supposed to read it and it’s freely available to you all.
The 2023 NEBOSH diploma (and the 2021 before it) syllabus also contains a section right at the back called “prior learning”. This is “things you’re expected to know from your earlier studies” and it is REALLY important. It’s expected that you will have already studied (or will read) the NG course material and so some areas are not covered in the diploma course but are considered fundamental. So for example, we don’t consider the “moral, legal and financial” reasons for managing health and safety – you should have knowledge of this already. This means if you haven’t formally studied the general certificate as a minimum I’d advise you buy the course book and study away. It’s worth noting that RRC diploma students have online access through the learning centre to the NG books already but they are also available as a priced publication from RRC.
As a tutor, I can tell you about a topic but you need to be inquisitive. If there is a guidance document on a topic, have a look at it, see what it contains, make your own notes and keep a link to the reference so that you can find it again! Anything you use in your assessment will need to be given as a reference – even your course note and the NEBOSH syllabus, so keep that list up to date. Use different resources available to you. I was teaching the respiratory system last week and mentioned the BBC GCSE bite size resources available online, these are brilliant for “school science” and again are freely available. If you think “oh I’m not sure about that” make it your business to read around the topic. I would also caution here that you need to use “authoritative” reference sources. A rant on Facebook is not going to be considered reliable in the eyes of NEBOSH so look for references from e.g. HSE, IOSH, RoSPA, SHP online etc. There is an excellent NEBOSH link to reference sources at References – NEBOSH which you can also use, and as I said before, keep a link to the reference so that you can find it again!
Engage with your tutors or find a friend
I have been teaching for a shocking number of years now (amazing I know when I look so young!). So I’m either doing something right or I’m yet to be found out. One thing I have noticed is that the students that engage seem to succeed. Of course we all have different personalities and not everyone likes to talk in a group, but please do engage with the tutors if you are on a tutor led course (classroom or online). Ask for help if you need it. RRC have an excellent team of face to face and online tutors and we work together to support students. Download the sample assessment for your course and study it – not to learn the question but to understand the assessment format.
Do the mock!
If there is a mock for your course you’d be daft not to attempt it even if you’re not “exam ready”. I’m going to make a sweeping generalisation here but I find students who take the mock seriously get better results. There, I said it. Do the mock. If you are lucky enough to be an RRC student, use the RRC learning centre too. Classroom and live online students have access to the distance learning materials and sometimes reading, watching a video or doing an activity can just clarify a point in your mind. Again, active learning trumps reading every time.
Finally talk to fellow students, that helps too, find a “study buddy”, encourage each other, whatever works for you but please remember that once the assessment period opens you can’t collaborate or ask anyone about the assessment – that would be malpractice. But remember no two students have the same learning style so whilst I scribble mind maps to help me learn my daughter uses the “quizlet” app – both are equally “right”. I don’t personally even advocate sharing mind maps. Two reasons, firstly the initial value of the mind map comes from the reading you do to develop it, it’s a great form of active learning. Secondly, my mind map is structured by me in the way my mind works. One of my (awesome) students once shared his somewhat extensive mind maps with a group and what they learned was that his mind was a terrifying place!
As always I get carried away writing and therefore I will cover the assessment in the next gripping installment of my blog, I bet you can’t wait!
Oh I nearly forgot the shortcuts to success – ah, sorry, I’m afraid there aren’t any! Sorry but I had to get you to read it somehow didn’t I.
Tutors are sneaky.
RRC Lead Tutor