Guide to NEBOSH General Certificate Open Book Exam

Open Book Exam (OBE)

Unlike an invigilated paper-based examination, the new OBE is taken remotely online in your own home or another safe and suitable location safely and comfortably without needing to attend an exam venue.

NEBOSH has prepared detailed information on the open-book examinations along with some useful resources which you can access from the NEBOSH website. You must read and familiarise yourself with the resources NEBOSH has provided, Horizon’s guidance is complementary.

The NEBOSH General Certificate (2018 specification) has 2 assessments:

  1. NG1:an open-book exam (OBE) and a closing interview.
  2. NG2: a 3-hour practical assignment in your workplace or any other workplace you have access to.

The new OBE assesses the same learning outcomes from elements 1-4, but with scenario-based questions. This helps to test your understanding of the knowledge, the ability to apply your learning and address the question asked rather than just copy or reference key bits of information. The exam is taken entirely online and is not invigilated, so you are free to use any learning resources to which you have access, e.g. your coursebook, course note, HSE website, other materials and digital resources to help you during the exam.

The exam will open with a realistic scenario to set the scene. This will typically describe a realistic organisation or workplace with an outline of normal operational activities and worker behaviour. The scenario may go on to outline a developing situation, such as a real-life incident or safety intervention. You may be asked to assume a particular role, for example, a health and safety manager.

You’ll be asked to complete a series of tasks based on the scenario. These tasks will partially or entirely draw on relevant information, the signposts and evidence within the scenario. Remember, the aim of the OBE is to test how you apply your knowledge of risk management in the real world. Your answers will need to be relevant to the scenario you’re presented with and, in some cases, reference specific evidence from the scenario itself.

The paper is worth 100 marks and you need to achieve 45 to pass. NEBOSH specifies 4 to 5 hours to complete the exam. As there is an expectation of more detail and reflection, you’ll be given 24 hours to research and complete the examination, this allows you enough time to plan, develop your answers and reflect your answers.

There is a word count currently specified of 3,000 words in total which you would not be expected to exceed. Be aware that it will be more difficult to pass the exam if your word count is significantly below the specified figure. The word count will guide you to the amount of information required in your response, it might provide a guide as to the depth of information in your answers. If we assume a word count of 3,000 for example, distributed across all the questions, ten 10-mark questions require around 300 words while 15-mark questions would require around 450 words. Single-word answers or lists are unlikely to gain marks as this would not normally be enough to show understanding or a connection with relevant information in the scenario.

Marks available will always be shown in brackets at the end of each question, with 1 mark for each correct answer given by a learner. This gives the learner an indication of the minimum number of answers they must give for each question. For example, ten marks are available for a question and therefore it is expected that a minimum of ten mark-worthy answers should be given.

Basic Exam skills

In the Open Book Exam, it is very important to answer the questions that are being asked and to relate your answer to the scenario given. So, you need to understand the questions and the scenario. If you interpret a question wrongly and provide an answer which is not what the question asks you to do. You will not be awarded marks. Below is a step-by-step question answering approach that you can adopt when answering exam questions:

Step 1: Read the scenario carefully, pay attention to the signposts and evidence within the scenario.

Step 2: Look at the task (or question) carefully. Avoid misreading words in the rush to get writing. Read all parts of the tasks (or questions) as there may be information in the later part that help you understand the first part.

Step 3: Look at the marks. This gives the learner an indication of the minimum number of answers they must give for each question.

Step 4:  Make sure you understand what are you asked to do. Read the scenario and task questions(s) again, to check you have understood what you are being asked to write. You need to consider which NEBOSH syllabus element/topic each task is examining you on.

Step 5:  Develop an answer plan. This may be a list of topics or keywords as headings to help you structure your answers.

 Step 6: Relate your answers to the scenario. Develop your answers based on the answer plan and use relevant information in the scenario to support your answers.

Answer Plan

You can write an Answer Plan (a simple list of topics or keywords as headings) depending upon the number of marks available for the question, then follow when answering the question.

The purpose of the answer plan is to help ensure that your answer covers all the issues required by the question, remains focused on the question, does not repeat itself; is structured and follows logically; prioritise the markworthy answer and not listing all you know. With an answer plan, you can concentrate on each point of the question in turn and add additional points while you are writing.

Look out for the Instruction words that give you a big clue as to how NEBOSH expect you to answer the question, for example, what, why, how, discuss, comment and justify.


  • Look at the number of marks for each question/ part of a question and aim to make a point for each mark.
  • Manage your time for each question and keep in mind how much are you writing.
  • Balance familiar and unfamiliar, there are no marks for ‘star quality’.
  • In general, one mark is given for each correct technical point that is clearly demonstrated. But you shouldn’t limit yourself to just 10 points for a 10 mark question. Unless you are confident that all points you made are mark-worthy.
  • Don’t write large amounts of text on a single topic where only 1 or 2 marks could be awarded.

You must monitor the time and be aware of your progress. Do not leave everything until the last minute. Build in some time to deal with any unexpected challenges such as slow internet connection or technical issues that may require assistance.

Following the exam, there will be a closing interview. You must take part in this for your mark to be awarded.

In addition to Horizon’s guidance, you must read the NEBOSH Open Book Examinations: Learners Guide which you can download from the NEBOSH website.

NEBOSH has prepared detailed information on the open-book examinations along with some useful resources which you can access from the NEBOSH website:

Please contact us if you have any questions.

What is a suitable and sufficient risk assessment?
NEBOSH online training partnership for Horizon Risk Consultancy Ltd and Astutis