Sunday, March 05, 2006

A Potted Guide to Taking NEBOSH Exams

A Potted Guide to Taking NEBOSH Exams

Created March 2006, published 5 March 2006


It’s a well-known fact in health & safety that NEBOSH exams are tough, but that’s not to say they are impossible. The guidance that follows is intended to give you some final key pointers for the big day, and coupled with a comprehensive study and revision programme, should get you through just fine.

Action Verbs

Take note of the “action verb” at the start of each question. As a general rule, if a question asks you to “Identify”, “state” or “list” then a simple list will do. If however, the question asks for “outline”, “describe” or “explain”, then your answer should be in sentences, preferably with an example to illustrate.

Read the Question

The clue is in the question! However simple it may seem, make sure you read the question properly, maybe even underlining key points (you can write on your question papers). It is imperative that you answer the question that has been set, not the one you wish had been set.

Keep it Brief

We have already said that you must comply with the action verb, but do not be tempted to waffle on or give long introductions to your answer – this is not required. If a question asks for control measures for working at height, that is what will be on the marking scheme. There will be no marks available for introducing your answer with statistics on numbers injured falling from height.

There are no marks for “star quality” or knowing Lord Roben’s birthday – just answer the question.


Certain questions allow you to give your answers in a certain structure. Sometimes there will be marks available for just using the structure, but even if they are not, the structure will help you think a little more laterally.

As an example, if the question relates to risk assessment, it is helpful to go through the 5 steps of risk assessment. This applies whether the question relates to a specific situation or type of risk assessment e.g. manual handling, fire, COSHH etc.
If the question is about human factors, then split your answer into Organisation, Job and Individual factors.

For questions about management systems or strategies, split the answer into the elements of HSG65.

If the question relates to reasons for improving safety, structure the answer into moral, economic and legal factors.

Plan Ahead

For the longer questions (20 markers or case studies), then an answer plan should be prepared. This is a simple outline of what you will cover in your answer. It might be bullet points, or a mind-map – whatever suits you.

When you’re done, draw a line under it and start putting your plan into proper sentences.


This is important. There are certain answers which will be relevant time and time again, for example: risk assessment, training, supervision, PPE etc. Put reproducing this list without relating it to the specific question will not gain marks – let’s look at some examples to illustrate the point:

“Outline the precautions to be taken when a minor repair is to be carried out on a fragile roof” (NEBOSH Diploma Part One, June 1998).

Carry out a risk assessment – 0 marks
Carry out an initial risk assessment to identify the hazards from roof work and decide on the necessary precautions – 1 mark

Provide adequate information, instruction and training – 0 marks
Provide information, instruction and training on the hazards and associated precautions involved in roof work – 1 mark

Provide suitable PPE – 0 marks
Provide PPE for groups at risk, e.g. hard hats for people below – 1 mark

Provide adequate levels supervision – 0 marks
Provide adequate supervision to ensure that the method statement/safe system of work is followed – 1 mark


Question timing is vital to success. You cannot afford to spend too long on some questions, to the detriment of others. The approximate timings you should try to stick to are as follows:

Diploma 1 Paper 1

Action Timing
Read through exam paper 5 minutes
15 Short answer questions (10 marks) 9 minutes each
Check answers 10 minutes

Diploma 1 Paper 2

Action Timing
Read through exam paper 10 minutes
5 Long answer questions (20 marks) 25 minutes each
Check answers 15 minutes

Diploma 2 Paper 1

Action Timing
Read through exam paper 5 minutes
10 Short answer questions (10 marks) 8 minutes each
Case study (100 marks) 1 hr 20 minutes
Check answers 15 minutes

Diploma 2 Paper 2

Action Timing
Read through exam paper 10 minutes
5 Long answer questions (20 marks) 30 minutes each
Check answers 20 minutes

For Cert, on a 2 hour paper 120 minutes

100 marks (20 x 1, 8 x 10)

Approx 1 mark a minute

5 minutes, read paper,
20-25 minutes 20 pointer
10 x 8 minutes short questions
10 minutes, check paper

Of course these are not precise, but are useful as a general guide. Even if you are an expert on a particular subject, there is no benefit on writing reams and reams on the answer – use your allocated time and move on. Similarly, if you get a question where you have no idea, try not to leave it blank and move on – use your allocated time and try to get something down. Maybe a couple of “bankers” might be relevant? Those couple of points may just make the difference.

Legislation/Case Law

Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to be a law expert or have a photographic memory to pass NEBOSH exams. What you do need though, is a grasp of fundamental principles of legislation and case law, and be able to relate them to different scenarios. It is not important to remember the precise years of legislation or case law (although if you forget the year of the Health & Safety at Work Act, do you expect to pass????). Neither is it a requirement to learn regulation numbers off by heart – if you could say, for example, that the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regs require all employers to carry out risk assessments, or the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regs require all work equipment to be maintained, that will suffice.

Abbreviations are fine, but give their title in full to start with e.g. The Personal Protective Equipment Regs (PPE) require employers to provide PPE to employees where required.

Check your Answers

As with any exam, leave yourself some time at the end to go through your answers. Make sure you have answered the question that was asked and add any extra points that have occurred to you – it can’t hurt, and they may just make the difference!

At the end of the day it's a numbers game. You need 45% to pass, anything else is just icing on the cake. Answer half the twenty pointer well, along with three good answers from the 8 pointers (like lists or identify) and you're at 35 marks already. Only 10 marks to go from 7 other 8 pointers and you're there.....

The majority of the questions will be outline, a couple of explain/describe and 2-3 list identify. The list/identifys are the easy money. The outlines should be too.
I'll start a new post with a worked example to help you along.

You can read the worked example to help you along by clicking the following link, or by browsing the articles section:

NEBOSH Exam Worked Example

Above all don't panic.

Good luck

Nick Higginson MSc CMIOSH Dip2.OSH SpDipEM MIIRSM of Phoenix Health and Safety Consultancy