Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Exam technique for NEBOSH exams

Make sure that you study the past exam questions and suggested answers that are in your RMS study book (if purchased) available from  You can get access to examiner’s reports from the NEBOSH website (  These are produced to help students and tutors in future exams.  They are intended to be constructive and warn of the common mistakes made by people sitting these exams.  A common fault is that candidates fail to pay attention to the command word in each question. 
Understanding the command words
The phrase ‘command word’ is used to refer to the words specifically associated with the learning outcomes and assessment objectives of the NEBOSH Certificate qualifications.  The syllabus learning outcomes are concerned with what students can do at the end of a learning activity, to assess this command words used are action (active) verbs.

The most common 'command words' used in certificate examination questions are:
Command word
To give reference to an item, this could be its name or title.
NB: normally a word or phrase will be sufficient, provided the reference is clear.

To offer for consideration, acceptance, or use of another.
NB: Give an example of; Give the meaning of.
To indicate the principal features or different parts of.
NB: an exhaustive description is not required. What is sought is a brief summary of the major aspects of whatever is stated in the question.
To give a detailed written account of the distinctive features of a subject. The account should be factual, without any attempt to explain.
When describing a subject (or object) a test of sufficient detail would be that another person would be able to visualise what you are describing.
To provide an understanding. To make an idea or relationship clear.
NB: this command word is testing the candidate’s ability to know or understand why or how something happens. Is often associated with the words ‘how’ or ‘why’.
Source: NEBOSH Guidance on command words used in learning outcomes and question papers – Certificate qualifications

Certificate questions will predominantly assess knowledge, comprehension and application.
Knowledge requires an ability to recall or remember facts without necessarily understanding them.  Command words used in knowledge based questions include IDENTIFY.
Application is the skill of being able to take knowledge and apply it in different contexts and circumstances in order to understand why and where problems and issues arise.  The important thing to remember is that, whatever the context, e.g. a transport company, a communications centre or an oil refinery, the principles being assessed are the same, but will have different implications given the different industry or issue being considered.
Command words used to assess application include OUTLINE and EXPLAIN.
Comprehension requires an ability to understand and interpret learned information.  Command words used in comprehension based questions include EXPLAIN.
In every question the skills required by the specific command words are also shown in the marks allocated for the question.  In general there are going to be more marks available for application and comprehension skill questions than for knowledge based questions.
It is important to read the whole question and to understand what the question requires as the command word on its own will need to be reinforced by the remainder of the question.
The need to understand the meaning of the 'command word' and to read the question carefully is emphasised in the comments below that are taken from some recent examiner’s reports:

“It was disappointing to note that some candidates again misread the question and provided outlines of the duties of employers rather than employees”.
“While answers to this question were generally to a reasonable standard, many were too brief to attract all the marks that were available”.
“Some answers were extremely brief and candidates should remember that one-fifth of the marks for the entire paper are available for answers to this question (question 1).  Answers are expected to be proportionate to the marks available”.
Source: NEBOSH examiners report

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