How to pass a NEBOSH diploma

Passing a NEBOSH Diploma

When approaching a Diploma level course on the face of it the demands can seem slightly daunting, but there is no need to be put off or panic over the challenges.

This is not to say that care and effort aren’t required; passing a NEBOSH Diploma in Occupational Safety and Health or Environmental Management will take a lot of hard work but this is outweighed by the credibility, career opportunities and self-confidence that the success will bring.

Whilst there are no official requirements to have previous qualifications in this area before starting a Diploma, it is a recommendation that you have studied at certificate level prior to starting a course at this level. The syllabus and course content for a Diploma qualification does not explain basic terminology as it is assumed at this level that students will have either work experience or previous studies that will have covered these areas.

The Environmental Diploma is mostly completed in 1 to 2 years and the Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety takes around 18 to 24 months to complete. This will be an intensive period of learning and so it is important to select the correct format in which to study.

Some students study better if they have a regular class to attend. However, in this day and age where life is busy, an online course can be effective if you have other commitments to fit in at work or at home. Both methods will require motivation and self-discipline as there is a great deal of research that should be done in addition to the taught hours.

To help make the journey a little more straight forward you can consider this blog to be your basic strategy guide on how to pass a NEBOSH Diploma.

How to start?

A lot of students look at the whole course and wonder how to start. It is a common question that tutors receive.

The first thing to do before reading through your course materials is to familiarise yourself with the syllabus. It contains information about the qualification, additional reading sources and guidance on the number of hours study recommended for each learning outcome, unit and overall qualification.

You may find that due to past experience and knowledge that you learn some sections more quickly however, some may require additional hours of study. Everyone is different which is why the hours are only a recommendation.

When first looking at the syllabus for a Diploma it can be very daunting – don’t let this overwhelm or intimidate you. If you feel that it is too much, take things one step at a time and look over the first Unit, or even the first learning outcome.

From the information in the syllabus, you can formulate a study plan, using the recommended study hours as a guide. You should factor in when you wish to sit the exams and make sure the plan is realistic in terms of fitting around your work and personal commitments. Don’t forget to leave some time to relax. It is also better to plan study periods in regular, short bursts rather than studying for hours at a time once a week.

Study and revision

There are a host of different methods to help you with your study and revision for the written exams. Not everyone learns the same way – some people prefer media such as video or audio, whereas some like to read from printed material or watch lectures. You need to find a method that suits you and it really doesn’t matter what method that is!

Usually a variety of different methods brings good results. I stuck flash cards all over my kitchen cupboards so that every time I went into the kitchen or opened a cupboard I had to read something. It worked for me as it gave me something to visualise when trying to recall information in the exam. I had friends who made up songs, raps, mind maps and mnemonics. Some even gave lectures on topics to their pet dog!

Choose what suits you and if you need inspiration, research different methods.

Utilise your tutor

There are likely to be areas that you are familiar with, but due to the range of topics covered in the Diploma, you may come across technical information that you need some extra help in understanding.

Utilise your tutor – they are there to help and guide you through the study for the qualification. It could be that they signpost you to other supporting information from reputable sources or they could explain the topic you are struggling with in more detail to help clarify meaning.


At Diploma level of qualification, it is expected that students will take time to research the topics outside of the course materials. This can include journals, guidance documents, Approved Codes of Practice (ACoP’s) and legislation. Internet research should be done with caution sticking to reputable websites such as HSE, ILO, DEFRA and IEMA.

Preparation for exams

It is important that when you make your study plan that you include time to read guidance and practice writing in preparation for exams. The written exams are three hours long and you will be writing, by hand, for the duration of the exam.

In this modern age, many people do not regularly practice handwriting and this can be a shock if you then write solidly for three hours! Practicing writing will help to prevent any cramping or strain on your hand during or after the exam.

Look at past papers to see how questions are structured and read the NEBOSH “Student Preparation for Certificate and Diploma written question papers” – these can all be found on the NEBOSH website and, if you are a SHEilds student, in your course materials. The Examiner Reports (which include the past question paper) give details of comments from examiners as they have marked previous exam papers and details of “common pitfalls”.

Studying the whole of these reports will help you understand how to direct answers during your exams. Other guidance information includes NEBOSH “Guidance on command words used in learning outcomes and question papers – Diploma qualifications” which clarifies the meaning of words used in the syllabus and exam questions such as “outline”, “give”, “explain” etc.

Practical assignments

In additional to the written exams, for NEBOSH Diploma courses there are practical assignments that are required for assessment of your understanding of application of the theoretical knowledge from the course (DNI and NDEM/IDEM2 assignments).

You should study the other units of the course and preferably sit the written exams first to be sure that you have covered all the information you need to compose a successful assignment. Again, your tutor will support you with this section of your course and there is guidance on the NEBOSH website for the practical assignments for each Diploma course.

Keep going!

Some students excel at exams on the first try – unfortunately I am not one of them. I did not pass all my units on the first attempt and this can knock your confidence a little, but only if you let it.
If you are unsuccessful in a written exam, or the practical assignment, don’t let it deter you from trying again. I found that I actually studied harder and gained a better understanding (and pass mark) when I re-took the exam. In my case, this was the Unit C. So, the message really is “keep going!” If you are unsuccessful in an exam, look at it as part of the learning process to help you identify areas where your knowledge is weaker and come back stronger.

There may also be times when you feel it is just not worth it and you are tired of studying, want to go out and enjoy the sunshine, spend more time with family, work more overtime etc. However, that feeling you get when you open your last result notification will make up for the sacrifices you make to complete your Diploma. Trust me, it is worth it!

Find out more about our NEBOSH courses.

Victoria Hughes
Student Support Tutor, SHEilds Ltd.

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