Has the NEBOSH Open Book Exam reduced the standard of the NEBOSH General Certificate?

Has the NEBOSH Open Book Exam reduced the standard of the NEBOSH General Certificate?

Date Posted: 13th April 2021

The NEBOSH Open Book Exam: has it reduced the standard?

So tomorrow is the NEBOSH Open Book Exam day for the General Certificate. Ever since NEBOSH introduced an open book exam (OBE), there’s been a lot of debate raging. Has this reduced the standard, and therefore the desirability and recognition of the NEBOSH General Certificate (NGC). 

Well, it’s complicated. There isn’t a simple ‘YES’ or ‘NO’ answer. I guess, there are just arguments FOR and AGAINST the idea the Open Book Exam has reduced the standard.

For me, I generally lean towards the: ‘AGAINST’ argument. I don’t think the NEBOSH Open Book Exam has lowered the standard of the NEBOSH National General Certificate. And there are 1 or 2 arguments for it which I think we should bear in mind.

What are the arguments AGAINST the NEBOSH Open Book Exam?

Well I actually think it’s raised the standard. 

It’s actually made the exam harder, and it’s also made the NEBOSH General Certificate more relevant and more useful. I think it’s going to make better health and safety professionals. 

Before, in the closed book exam, you had to memorise lists of information. 

There’s always been a focus on ‘examiner reports’. Anyone who wanted to pass the NGC asked people for any examiner’s reports they had. 

And I managed to get through the NEBOSH Diploma with examiners reports.

I memorised, the examiner reports for units A, B and C from 1997 all the way through to 2007, and I had a big spreadsheet with all of the questions and answers on there. 

And partly thanks to that and my memorisation, I managed to get a couple of best candidate awards, so it really stood me in good stead. 

Did that make me a fantastic health and safety professional?

Well at the time no. I had a great memory. I had lots of lists of information. 

Did I have a true understanding of things? 

No. The understanding came later with experience. 

And my big criticism of the closed book exam has always been: what value does memorising lists give us in making people safer in the workplace? Surely, it’s understanding that really matters?

And I’d got to a point with the NEBOSH General Certificate where I just didn’t want to teach it anymore. I was so tired of teaching people lists. And I wanted to do something more meaningful. 

So the Open Book Exam came at a perfect time for me, and kind of re-energised my enthusiasm for the NEBOSH General Certificate qualification. 

But what about the potential for malpractice in the NEBOSH Open Book Exam?

There is the potential that people could hire someone, or pay someone, or ask someone to sit the Open Book Exam on their behalf, because you simply just have to log in, download the exam paper, write the answers and submit it. 

And that could be done on someone else’s behalf. 

Now, there are various checks and balances to try and minimise the risk of that happening:

  1. The Open Book Exam answers get scanned through some kind of Turnitin type system. So it gets automatically scanned looking for evidence of malpractice. If people have the same exam answers, then that’ll get flagged, and
  2. There’s also the closing interview, which is there specifically to try to identify potential cheats, people who didn’t write their own open book exam paper.

And this is standard practice, NEBOSH haven’t pioneered this system at all. 

If you take IOSH for example, if you sit an NVQ and apply for Chartered Membership of IOSH, you have to sit an open book exam, and there’s the closing interview, the closing interview is what we call the ‘peer interview process’.

If you sit an NCRQ Diploma, (completely different qualification, but of the same level allegedly), there are no exams, but there are dissertations, and again, you could just get someone to write the dissertation for you. You have assignments, you just get people to write them for you. There are websites where people offer to write these things, not necessarily for NCRQ, but for universities around the world, you can pay people to sit them for you. Again, there is a closing interview to check people have truly understood and that they are the authors of the assignment.

So how do NEBOSH catch people out when they cheat at the NEBOSH Open Book Exam? 

Well, through some kind of closing interview. You ask them about what they wrote. 

But does that eliminate the risk? 

No not at all, you could have a course provider, (because it’s the course providers who do the closing interviews), that is in on the scam, then that’s going to be very tricky for NEBOSH to identify malpractise.

Now my real concern with this is that NEBOSH give us questions to ask, (because I’ve done lots of these closing interviews myself), and I don’t think the questions are particularly useful in identifying cheats. They’re more questions that test understanding of the topic rather than checking that someone understands what they wrote or what the scenario was talking about. 

So, maybe there’s a little bit more work which can be done there, but I’m sure NEBOSH are looking at this, they’ve implemented the change and now they’re going to monitor the impact, monitor the results, and they will adjust as is necessary.

So on balance, I’m very grateful that NEBOSH have changed the closed book exam to an open book exam.

I think it’s made the qualification more relevant. It’s raised the standard of the NEBOSH National General Certificate in many ways. And I don’t think people like me should be particularly aggrieved. 

I have sat literally 20 hours of NEBOSH exams, and it could be so easy for me to feel resentful that instead of sitting in a room and getting writers cramp, while being supervised, not being able to go to the toilet very easily, people can now just log on to a website and have access to all the codes of practice, guidance documents, course materials, books. Well you know, you’ve got to go with the times and change.

I think it’s improved the qualification, but NEBOSH do need to control this cheating risk, so we’ll keep an eye on that.

Good luck to anyone who’s sitting the exams tomorrow, and if anyone wants to come pass the NEBOSH General Certificate with me, my next course is starting on the May 4th, (click here). 

Catch you later team!