How to pass your NEBOSH National Certificate exam – RoSPA’s top 10 tips!

Watch the video at the bottom of this blog to hear recent RoSPA NEBOSH Certificate candidate Roxanne share her tips for success. For more Workplace Safety related posts visit our dedicated blog at

The NEBOSH National Certificate is the UK’s most widely held health and safety qualification, currently held by 150,000 successful candidates. So, if you’re currently studying for your exams then these top tips, assembled from my team of RoSPA trainers, who also have experience marking NEBOSH exams, are for you.

Rob Burgon RoSPA's workplace safety team leader NEBOSH

Offering top 10 tips on how to pass your NEBOSH National Certificate exam is Rob Burgon, RoSPA’s workplace safety manager.

1)    Keep your eye on the prize

Yes, it’s a lot of work, and yes, it’s usually on top of all your work work, but the reality is that these days, and in this economic climate, the right qualifications are more important than ever.

In our latest poll, 88 per cent of RoSPA Members agreed that a nationally recognised health and safety qualification helps career progression, and you only need to spend a few minutes scouring the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s (IOSH) jobs pages to be reassured that a NEBOSH qualification really will help open doors.

With this in mind, focus on the task in hand and prioritise accordingly. It is far better to pass first time, than to waste time re-sitting.

2)    Know what you’re getting yourself in to

The National General Certificate is divided into three units, the first two of which, NGC1 and NGC2 are assessed by written exam. In order to maximise your point earning potential you need to understand how scores are generated. Remember:

  • Each exam lasts two hours
  • Each consists of 10 short answer questions and one long answer question
  • The short answer questions are each worth eight marks, and the long answer question is worth 20 marks
  • Time wise, this means that you should give yourself eight to 10 minutes for the short answer questions and 20 minutes for the long answer question. Our delegates tell us they find it useful to take their own watch into the exam and have it visible on their desk to help keep track of time
  • All questions are compulsory.

    Roxanne Woodiwiss NEBOSH pass distinction

    These top tips certainly helped recent RoSPA candidate Roxanne Woodiwiss, who passed with distinction in March 2012!

3)    Remember that the examiner is looking to give you points

The NEBOSH Certificate exam is positively marked, with points awarded for the correct application of knowledge, rather than deducted for incorrect answers. Therefore, if in doubt, have a go! You really don’t have anything to lose.

This means that it’s your job to make it as easy as possible for the examiner to find places to award you marks. Keep writing legible, with clearly numbered answers (if a question consists of different sub-sections make sure you number each sub section and address it separately within your answer e.g. 1a, b and c) and provide an answer for every question (although you may want to “warm up” by starting with those that you feel most confident about, rather than working chronologically through the paper).

4)    Attend a NEBOSH Certificate revision course

If at all possible we strongly recommend candidates attend a revision course. By putting yourself in an environment where you’re face to face with both an expert tutor and your peers, a revision course allows you to practice exam questions, get feedback on your performance and ask any outstanding questions. Tutors expect there to be things that you’re still unsure of, so if in doubt, just ask. Many organisations, including RoSPA, will accept candidates on their NEBOSH Certificate revision courses even if they studied elsewhere and, for the reasons outlined below, attendance is something that we can’t emphasise enough.

5)    Answer the question that has been set, not a question that you’d like to answer

A quick look through NEBOSH’s Examiners’ Reports reveals that it is not uncommon for candidates to miss marks simply by failing to answer the question as set. Comments such as: “Some candidates fail to answer the question set and instead provide information that may be relevant to the topic but is irrelevant to the question and cannot therefore be awarded marks”, regularly feature in the common pitfalls section. A good revision course will again help you with this, as indeed will a few deep breaths to calm yourself before reading each question – twice.

6)    Apply the command words

Another common pitfall is failing to apply the command words, or action verbs, when answering a question. Taken from RoSPA’s National Certificate Revision Course, the following guide to NEBOSH National Certificate command words should help you steer clear of this:

  • Define: Provide a generally accepted definition
  • Describe: Give a detailed word picture
  • Explain: Give a clear account of, or reasons for
  • Give: Provide without explanation (normally used with the instruction to give an example, or examples of)
  • Identify: Select and name
  • Outline: Give the most important features (less depth than either “explain” or “describe” but more depth than “list”)
  • State: A less demanding form of ‘define’ or where there is no generally accepted definition.

    NEBOSH National Certificate Exam RoSPA

    Look at past papers in preparation for your exam. Practice answers and submit them to your tutor. You could also sit a mock exam.

7)    Condense your notes as the date approaches

Days immediately prior to the exam are not the time for reading through reams of notes with a highlighter in hand. As the date approaches you should concentrate on condensed excerpts that you can actually commit to memory. Use your own revision cards to create these, or purchase revision cards to augment with your course notes. Remember, minutes of concentrated learning will prove more valuable than hours of reading that you can’t later recall.

8)    Revise the subjects that you like least

Although it’s tempting to delve further into the topics that you enjoy and understand, when it comes to revision it’s the areas that you don’t like, or even understand, that really deserve your attention.

9)    Always be prepared

Take the pressure off yourself by alleviating the potential for niggling anxieties. Make sure you’re equipped with pens and a watch and that you’ve double checked the exam date, time and location and are fully briefed with travel arrangements. Do this thoroughly, and then put it out of your mind, so that you can better concentrate on the        substance of the exam.

10)  Use past papers to practice your exam technique

You will look at past papers as part of RoSPA’s NEBOSH Certificate course. These are obviously the best way to assess the type of questions that you will face. Moreover, by practicing answers and submitting them to your tutor you’ll be able to gauge the depth of response required. We also recommend that you take the opportunity to sit a mock exam in its entirety prior to the actual exam as this will help you understand how much time you have per question, as well as allowing you to practice writing for a significant length of time.

And finally,  try to keep abreast of developments within the safety community, as doing so will mean you can stand out from the crowd by including topical examples and pertinent issues into your exam answers. Free news e-bulletins, such as HSW (the free weekly e-newsletter of the popular Health and Safety at Work journal) are useful for this.

Thank you for taking the time to read our top tips. I wish you the best of luck in your NEBOSH exams and for your continued journey as a safety professional. If at any point myself, or a member of my training team can be of assistance, please don’t hesitate to get it touch.

Rob Burgon, RoSPA’s workplace safety manager

Tel: 0121 248 2233

Further reading:

How to craft killer questions for NEBOSH exams

NVQ v NEBOSH Diploma – Which is right for you?

8 Comments to “How to pass your NEBOSH National Certificate exam – RoSPA’s top 10 tips!”

  1. This is a good tip particularly to those fresh to the
    blogosphere. Simple but very accurate information… Appreciate your
    sharing this one. A must read post!

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  3. Hello there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after
    checking through some of the post I realized it’s new to
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  4. Thanks for those tips, I am really impressed.

  5. This information has been helpful to myself, and i hope in trying the techniques, it will help in my exam.

  6. Thank you very much for this useful information, I hope I can apply these techniques in my upcoming NEBOSH IGC exam.

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