Compiling a “Personal Learning Portfolio”


Anyone intending to take the BOHS Certificate oral examination to achieve the Certificate of Operational Competence in Occupational Hygiene who has taken one or more of the International Modules is now required to submit a “personal learning portfolio” (PLP). This is meant to be a reflective record of continuing learning through:

  • Relevant practical experience in the workplace
  • Continuing enhancement of knowledge through reading of relevant books and articles, attendance of meetings, conferences etc.

Students can register for their PLP at any point from when they have achieved their first Module, and then submit their PLP within three years of completion of all six Modules. Candidates can’t take the oral examination unless their PLP has passed muster.

PLPs also have to be submitted by candidates who are exempt from the Faculty’s written exams for the Certificate and the Diploma because they have an accredited degree.

I attended the BOHS Associates day a few weeks ago and there were a couple of presentations about the PLP by Terry MacDonald, who, until recently, was the BOHS Chief Examiner and the main driving force behind the introduction of the PLP. Copies of the slides he used are up on the BOHS website here

I’ve had a number of queries about the PLP from people who have gone through our courses. And from reading the guidance, listening to the presentation at the Associates day and discussions I’ve had with some candidates who have been successful in having their PLPs accepted, I’m now beginning to understand what’s required.

Candidates who have completed 6 International Modules need to submit three example reports and a number of sheets recording their additional learning and application of knowledge. In other cases the PLP only needs to cover the International (W) Modules taken and not any of the now defunct “M” Modules.

There are two types of sheet:

  • Experience Record Sheets should contain brief details of surveys or other activities where the knowledge from the Modules is applied and where lessons are learned in the field. Essentially, following on from an appropriate survey, students should provide brief details of what the work involved and then list the key things they’ve learned both from things they feel they’d done well but also the things they hadn’t done so well and would do differently next time – i.e. showing how they had learned from their mistakes as well as their successes.
  • Additional Learning Sheets which record what has been learned by reading relevant books and articles, or by attending meetings, conferences etc. Again  students must reflect on what they have learned and provide a brief summary.

But how many sheets need to be included? It is difficult to say but  the PLP should cover at least 6 months after the module course. I would suggest that  1 or 2 sheets per month  would be needed to demonstrate learning over that period so 6 to 12 sheets per module is probably be enough – but quality is more important than quantity and at the Associates day the impression I got was that and average of 6 per module (so about 36 in all) would be enough.

The sheets don’t necessarily have to be evenly balanced across all the modules. The 4 core subjects are more important so fewer will be needed for the optional modules (i.e. thermals and ergonomics).  And a single sheet can cover more than one module – e.g a particular job may count towards effects, measurement and control.

With topics like the thermal environment, many candidates may only have limited experience of direct application of the principles. However, they can get round the problem by reflecting on the issue even if they don’t have the opportunity to undertake a survey. For example, I was discussing the PLP with someone recently who was using a dust survey in a quarry as the basis for one of his experience sheets. I suggested he could reflect on the thermal environment aspects of working in a quarry and jot down something about this. That should count as it would still be application of learning even if no measurements were involved.

Compiling a PLP can be a chore if it’s left until the end of the period of study just before taking the oral examination. The best approach is to work on it regularly. For example at the end of each month, or even each week, stopping and thinking about anything new that has been done, any relevant books, documents  or articles read, or any meetings attended, and deciding whether there is anything that could be written up and included on one of the sheets. In that way the PLP can help with personal and professional development as well as increasing the chance of passing the oral examination.

Examinations Update – International Modules

From 1 January 2012 BOHS is introducing a major change to its examination system. The current occupational hygiene modules will be replaced by the International Modules developed by the Occupational Hygiene Training Organisation (OHTA)

As with the current system, candidates intending to obtain the BOHS Certificate via the modular route must complete six modules (four compulsory and two optional) and then pass an oral examination. An additional requirement is being introduced – the completion of a personal learning portfolio (PLP)

New Modules

The compulsory modules are:

W501 Measurement of Hazardous Substances
W503 Assessment and Control of Noise
W505 Control of Hazardous Substances
W507 Health Effects of Hazardous Substances

and the optional modules are:

W502 Assessment and Control of the Thermal Environment
W504 Assessment and Control of Asbestos
W506 Ergonomics

They can be taken in any order and can also be taken as stand alone courses by candidates who don’t intend to obtain the BOHS Certificate.

Candidates who have already passed any of the existing BOHS  modules will be given full credit for them and will not be required to complete a PLP in those areas. For example, someone who has taken M102 (measurement of hazardous substances) will not need to pass the new W501 course. Also, anyone who has taken and passed any of the International Modules before the 1 January 2012 will be able to count them towards the UK Certificate. However, they will have to complete a PLP for those topics.

Full details on the transitional arrangements are available on the BOHS website here.

The OHTA manuals will form the basis of the courses. These do not cover any British legislation and in some cases some important information needed by occupational hygienists working in the U.K. is not included. However, it is important to note that candidates taking the BOHS Certificate oral examination will be expected to know British legislation and occupational hygiene practice and will be asked questions on these topics even though they are not covered in the OHTA materials.

We will be providing supplementary information on legislation and other aspects of British specific practice in our course materials as we want to ensure that the course is relevant to the day to day work of our course delegates. It should also be helpful when taking the oral examination.

Course assessment

There are two major changes to the method of assessment during the course. Currently at the end of the course candidates sit a 3 hour written examination consisting of 40 short answer questions (SAQs) and 8 “micro essays” (of which 5 must be attempted). For the International modules the exam will be of two hours duration and will consist of 40 SAQs – there will be no “micro essays”. The new examination will be open book. The SAQs will only cover the content of the OHTA manual for the module. This means that there will be no questions on British legislation and standards or any other materials we provide during the course.

In addition, during the course, candidates will have to carry out basic practical assessments under the supervision of the course tutors.
BOHS state that this is primarily aimed at giving candidates hands-on experience in the use of simple measurement equipment but is not meant to test the their ability to use such equipment in real world situations.

Personal learning portfolio

The personal learning portfolio (PLP) is intended to demonstrate that candidates have continue to develop their skills through practice in the work environment. BOHS advise that the PLP should be started as soon as possible after completion of the first module.

The PLP is intended to be a structured record of the candidate’s workplace learning, practical experience and skills development. The portfolio should contain:

  1. A diary of relevant experience of practical application in all of the relevant subject areas.
  2. Evidence of any relevant additional learning such as meetings and training courses attended, further reading in subject areas etc.
  3. Copies of three relevant reports produced by the candidate.

Candidates have to register with BOHS after taking their first module and then complete and submit their portfolio within three years of completing their last module.  It will be assessed to ensure that it shows the depth and breadth of practical experience required. If the portfolio is deemed to be satisfactory the assessor will notify BOHS that the candidate can proceed to the Certificate Oral Examination.

The BOHS guide on the PLP can be downloaded from their website here.

Update on BOHS Module P601

P601  January 2011 016

Report Requirements

Candidates taking the BOHS proficiency module P601(Commissioning and Thorough Examination and Testing of Local Exhaust Ventilation Systems) who successfully pass the written exam, case studies and practical test during the course  are required to submit two test reports to BOHS within 6 months of the course (there are a lot of hoops to jump through to achieve this qualification!). There have been a high level of failures at the report stage and to try to overcome this the Faculty have developed some guidance for candidates.

There are two guidance documents,

which can be accessed by clicking the hyperlinks above or by visiting the Proficiency Modules section of BOHS the website.

We always advise candidates to arrange to carry out the tests and submit the reports as soon as practicable after they have taken the course to ensure that they don’t forget what they have learned. “If you don’t use it you lose it” may be a cliché, but it is still true! It’s also sensible to select systems that are not too complicated to make it easier for both the candidate carrying out the test and the report assessor.

We’d also recommend that candidates refer to the model test report form made available by HSE on their website. This is very comprehensive and more complex than necessary for simper systems, but it can be cut down as necessary.

Examination Timing

In February, we raised with BOHS our concerns regarding the timing of the P601 written examination. At the beginning of January the time allowed for the Certificate Module exams (M series) was increased. These changes included increasing the time allocation for short answer questions from 2 minutes to 3 minutes. However, the time allowed to answer similar questions for the Proficiency modules was not changed – i.e. it remained at 2 minutes per question. Our view was that this was inconsistent and rather unfair, and we wrote to the Faculty pointing this out. I also discussed the issue with the Chief Examiner, who promised to consult other Proficiency Module providers about this.

BOHS have now announced that that from 1 July 2011 all short answer question (SAQ) examinations will be extended in length to allow for an average of three minutes per question. This means that the length of the P601 exam will now be 105 minutes. We feel that it is a positive development and are pleased that the Faculty have taken on board the views of course providers

BOHS Diploma Preparation Taster Day

For the second year, we’re running a “taster” day aimed at Licentiate Members of the Faculty of Occupational Hygiene who are intending to sit the BOHS  Diploma examination – either the written exam and or/ the oral – to help them prepare for the exam(s)

The principal objectives of the day are to:

  • Provide an introduction to the format of the written exam – i.e. how the papers are structured, what topic areas are covered
  • Provide an introduction to the format of the oral examination – i.e. the makeup of the panel, exam duration, how questions are  asked, topics covered
  • Discuss example questions and approaches to answering them

We will spend an hour or so on the exam structure and format. The rest of the day will be devoted to discussing example questions that could appear on the written exams and also typical questions that could be asked at the oral exam.

We have limited time, so will not be able to cover every topic area, nor is it intended to teach advanced occupational hygiene to someone with limited experience. It will, hopefully, be beneficial to those who feel they are ready to take the exam but need to know more about it and want to get some idea how to tackle it and identify topics they need to revise.

If you’re interested, you can book here via the BOHS website.

BOHS Exams update – Proficiency Modules

Most of the the BOHS courses we run are in the “M” series – the modules leading up to the BOHS Certificate of Operational Competence in Occupational Hygiene taken by candidates who want to qualify as an occupational hygienist. In a couple of recent posts (here and here), we outlined the changes that have been introduced to the examinations this january, in particular the increased time allocated per exam question.

This week we’ve been running the course on “Commissioning and Thorough Examination and Testing of Local Exhaust Ventilation Systems“. This is one of the BOHS’s “P” series of proficiency courses. The assessment of the candidates includes an examination of 35 short answer questions (SAQs). For the M series courses, 3 minutes is allowed to answer each SAQ. However, I discovered yesterday that the timings for questions on P module examinations has not been changed. Consequently the  allocated time for the P601 examination remains at 1 hour 15 minutes.

Given that the questions on the P601 paper appear to be taken from the same question bank used for one of the M series courses (M103), this does seem inconsistent and rather unfair.

Update on BOHS Modules


I hope everyone had a good Christmas break and are looking forward to 2011. It’s year that is going to see some significant changes to the BOHS examination system.

Module Examination Timings

As mentioned in a previous post, this month sees an increase in the time allowed for BOHS Module examinations. For the SAQ section of the papers, candidates will be allowed an average of three minutes per question, i.e. 120 minutes for Part A. For Part B, the time allowed will be extended to 60 minutes (12 minutes per question). This means that the exam duration will be increased to 3 hours.

The increase in the length of the examination means that if we continue with our current policy of starting at 11 a.m. it wouldn’t finish until 2 p.m., so candidates wouldn’t be able to have lunch until mid-afternoon. We were, therefore, faced with the choice of starting the examination earlier in the morning or after lunch.  After consulting with candidates attending the last few courses during 2010, the overwhelming response was that it would be better to start earlier, so that is what we’ve decided to do.  From now on we’ll be starting the final revision session an hour earlier at 08:30, allowing us to run the examination between10.00 and 13:00.

International Modules

Another development on the horizon is that BOHS intends to align their Modules with the International versions, developed by the Occupational Hygiene Training Association, at the end of the year.

The International modules were based on the BOHS system, so the overall structure will be very similar. There will be some modifications to the content as the syllabi have been reviewed, but they will largely cover the same ground. The main change are that there will be a compulsory assessed practical element to all the courses. Also, the International version of the exams are “open book” consisting of 40 short answer questions (with no “micro-essays”). This would be a major change to the current way courses are examined in the UK if it is implemented here.

The changeover will inevitably have some implications for how we run our courses and, having reviewed the OHTA syllabi and course contents, we have highlighted some issues to the Faculty that we feel need to be addressed. We’ll keep you posted on developments, so watch this space!

BOHS Examination timings

Last November BOHS introduced some major changes to the Occupational hygiene Module examinations. The multiple choice questions in part A were replaced by 40 short answer questions (SAQs) and the longer question in Part B was replaced by “micro essays” (5 from a choice of 8). The exam timings were not changed – 90 minutes for Part A and 45 minutes for Part B – i.e. a total of 2 1/4 hours. I do not think any consideration had been given to whether it was practicable to complete the new style exam during the time available.  Our experience was that most candidates found it hard work; the “micro-essays” in particular.

We advised candidates to spend no more than 2 minutes for the SAQs leaving about 10 minutes per “micro essay” but this did not seem enough time to allow candidates to think before putting pen to paper and then produce a well written, structured answer, particularly for Part B.

Course providers have given some feedback to BOHS on this and they’ve had a rethink. There were two main options – reduce the number of questions or increase the length of the exam. As might have been expected, they have chosen the latter approach.

From January 2011, for the SAQ section of the papers, candidates will be allowed an average of three minutes per question, i.e. 120 minutes for Part A. For Part B, the time allowed will be extended to 60 minutes. This means that the exam duration will be increased to 3 hours.

We are considering the implications of this for course timings and will be consulting candidates attending our next few courses on the options. If you have a view, get in touch.