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A guide to NEBOSH open book examinations

The National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) is a globally recognised provider of qualifications for health and safety and risk management professionals.

Earning a NEBOSH certification opens countless doors for professionals—not only do many job adverts specify NEBOSH qualifications, but National General Certificate holders also become eligible for membership of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (AIOSH and Tech IOSH) and the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management (AIIRSM).

In August 2020, NEBOSH permanently replaced in-person, invigilated closed book examinations with a digital assessment, or open book exam, across several qualifications. This applies to the following certificates:

British Safety Council is a NEBOSH Gold Learning Partner—meaning we “greatly exceed” the minimum standard across NEBOSH’s six key learning principles. In this guide, we will go through everything you need to know about taking the NEBOSH open book exam, from how to prepare to exam examples and getting your results.

What is the difference between the standard and the open book exam?

NEBOSH open book exams have now permanently replaced in-person assessments across a number of courses.

  Open book In person
Duration 24 hours 2-3 hours
Structure Scenario with 10 accompanying questions 10 short-answer questions, 1 long-answer question
Access to study materials Yes No
Invigilated No Yes


This change from closed book to open book exams was prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to offer remote assessments. However, open book exams have many benefits over their in-person, invigilated counterparts, including:

  • Savings on transport and accommodation costs
  • Flexible, individualised assessment times
  • Fewer barriers to entry for those with childcare or other caring responsibilities
  • Greater emphasis on applied knowledge over memorised facts.

What is in the NEBOSH open book exam?

The exact format of the NEBOSH open book assessment will differ depending on the qualification for which you are studying.

In all cases, you will be presented with a scenario and given a fictional job role within that scenario, such as a site manager or health and safety advisor.

The example below is adapted from a real NEBOSH exam paper.

Example scenario: You are a newly appointed health and safety advisor for a construction company. You work in the head office, which is a two-storey office building. The office building is in a business park away from main traffic routes. The office has its own on-site car park, but spaces are sometimes limited. No one has assessed the risks in the car park. In your role as a health and safety advisor you would like to improve health and safety because you take your responsibilities seriously and want to make the workplace safer for everyone.

You will then be asked to apply your health and safety knowledge to the scenario in a series of questions.

Example question: You have been asked to chair the health and safety committee meeting. Before the meeting, you decide that you will open the meeting by reminding everyone of moral expectations of health and safety. Prepare notes of the moral arguments you will use at the meeting.

How long does the NEBOSH open book exam take?

Most NEBOSH open book exams take place within a 24-hour window, except for the NEBOSH Health and Safety Management for Construction Certificate, which allows 48 hours. You are not expected to work for the entirety of this time. The assessment itself takes around 4-5 hours to complete (10-14 hours for the Health and Safety Management for Construction Certificate). The remaining time can be used to draft answers, make notes and troubleshoot any unfortunate technical problems.

Don’t leave your assessment until the last minute of your 24-hour period. If you submit your assessment after the exam window ends, you will automatically fail the qualification. It’s up to you to plan your time effectively.

What is the word count for the NEBOSH open book exam?

Your exact word count limit will depend on what qualification you are taking.

The recommended word count for the NEBOSH General Certificate, NEBOSH Certificate in Fire Safety and NEBOSH Environmental Management Certificate open book exam is 3,000 words.

The recommended word count for the NEBOSH Health and Safety Management for Construction (UK) open book exam is 4,500 words. This excludes the risk assessment task, which has no word limit.

Across all assessments, there is a 10% leeway either way.

The 10% leeway explained

Minimum word count

Recommended word count

Maximum word count








What materials can I access during the exam?

During the assessment, you will be allowed to access both written and online materials, including:

  • Textbooks
  • The Internet
  • Study notes
  • Academic journals.

You should make sure that any materials referenced in your exam answers are relevant, up to date and correctly signposted. Your assessment will be scrutinised for plagiarism.

You must not:

  • Contact your tutor or any Learning Partner employees about the topic of the assessment
  • Communicate with fellow learners on the topic of the assessment
  • Receive assistance of any kind—including proofreading—from anyone else, such as friends and family.

How to prepare for the NEBOSH open book examination

Depending on which qualification you’re taking, you’ll need to complete between 40-120 hours of study. This includes 28-68 taught hours and 20-40 hours of private study and background reading.

Although you’ll have access to study materials and the internet, you should still revise and prepare as thoroughly as you would for a closed book exam. The digital assessment tests your understanding of the course material and your ability to apply this to real-world scenarios.

How much private study is needed for my NEBOSH certificate?


Hours of private study

NEBOSH National General Certificate


NEBOSH International General Certificate


NEBOSH Certificate in Fire Safety


NEBOSH Health and Safety Management for Construction


NEBOSH International Certificate in Construction


NEBOSH Environmental Management Certificate


Tips for taking the NEBOSH open book examination

  • Personalise your learning: Not everyone learns the same way. If reading endless printouts, PDFs and textbooks isn’t working for you, switch up your revision techniques. You could come up with your own scenarios, use flashcards, get advice from your tutor or even listen to NEBOSH's learning materials as an audiobook or podcast if you get tired of reading.
  • Organise your notes: Organising your revision notes and study materials ahead of time will save you a lot of time and energy on the day. The last thing you want is to waste exam time shuffling through endless papers, so colour-code, bookmark and highlight sections you might need to reference in your answers.
  • Plan your time: You may have 24 hours to complete the assessment, but we all have a limited amount of brain power. Make sure to look at how many points each question is worth and plan accordingly—more points usually mean a more in-depth answer is expected.

Steps for taking the NEBOSH open book examination

  1. Register for the exam: Your Learning Partner is responsible for registering you for the NEBOSH open book exam. It is important that you confirm your personal email address and discuss with them any reasonable adjustments you require before they register you.
  2. Confirm your exam information: Once NEBOSH has received your booking form, confirmation of your registration will be emailed to your email address.
  3. Prepare for the exam: Time to revise! We’ve outlined some exam advice below to help you be as prepared as possible.
  4. Log in to the assessment portal: You will receive your login details the NEBOSH online assessment platform 7 days before your exam. It’s a good idea to log in before your exam day to familiarise yourself with the portal and ensure you have no technical difficulties.
  5. Take the exam: You’re all set! Make sure you are in a quiet space where you can concentrate and allow yourself enough time to thoroughly answer each question.

What happens next?

The NEBOSH closing interview is a mandatory meeting between you and a representative from your Learning Partner. It is the final stage of the open book exam process. Its purpose is to check that no plagiarism or other malpractice has taken place during your digital assessment.

The closing interview must take place within two weeks of your exam submission. Fail to show up and you will automatically fail the qualification, as the integrity of your assessment will not have been verifiable.

During the interview, the Learning Partner representative will verify your identity and discuss the exam questions with you to scrutinise your knowledge of the material.

This part of the open book exam is not assessed—you will not be marked on the answers you give during your closing interview.

Preparing for the closing interview

Ensure you have a valid photo ID (passport, driving license or national identity card) ready. This will be required to confirm your identity.

Choose a private location for the interview. Your Learning Partner representative will ask you to show them the room you are in and ask that the camera is facing the door to verify that you’re alone. If you have childcare or other caring responsibilities, the Learning Partner should be notified well before the interview—ideally during the application process.

Read through your exam answers before you submit them on the day to re-familiarise yourself with the material. Again, your verbal answers will not be marked, but it may set your mind at ease.

Getting your results

It can take up to 50 working days from the date of the examination for learners to receive their NEBOSH open book exam results.

Digital assessments go through a rigorous marking and quality assurance process:

  • Marking: Each assessment is marked by a qualified NEBOSH examiner within the online assessment platform.
  • Clerical check: This ensures that all parts of the assessment have been marked and that the marks have been totalled correctly.
  • Examiner check: To assure the standards of each examiner, and therefore the fairness of all open book exams, a second NEBOSH examiner reviews a sample of papers.

The minimum pass mark for NEBOSH open book exams is 45 out of a possible 100. If this has been attained, you will receive a certificate that will be posted to you within 20 days of receiving your result.

If you have failed to achieve the minimum mark for qualification, you will receive a referral and must resit the exam. You can resit the exam up to five times.

If your result does not meet your reasonable expectation—whether you have passed or failed—you can submit an Enquiry About Result (EAR) within 20 days of being notified of your result.


Is the NEBOSH open book exam easy to pass?

The NEBOSH open book exam is a very challenging assessment—it has to be! NEBOSH certificate holders are responsible for keeping workers safe. It stands to reason that they should be held to the highest possible standard of qualification. The OBE therefore demands an extremely thorough understanding of the course material and, more importantly, the ability to put this knowledge into practice in real-world scenarios.

Does a NEBOSH certificate expire?

NEBOSH certificates do not expire, they are valid for life. However, it is important to keep your health, safety and risk assessment knowledge up to date with changing legislation. So, although your NEBOSH certificate will last for life,

Even though your NEBOSH certificate will last indefinitely, it is still important to keep your health, safety and risk assessment knowledge up to date with changing legislation.

What is the NEBOSH pass rate?

Average pass rates for NEBOSH qualifications vary between courses, providers and exam groups, but generally fall in the 60-70% range. Those who study for NEBOSH open book exams with British Safety Council consistently exceed these national average pass rate.

If you haven’t yet started your NEBOSH journey, choose British Safety Council as your course provider. Learn more about our NEBOSH courses.

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