Training focus: Getting ahead of the pack

13th December 2013


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Yvonne Obree

Achieving top marks in the IEMA Associate exam is down to the groundwork you put in

Preparation and planning are the keys to exam success. Both are vital to securing a high mark in the entry exam for Associate membership of IEMA – the Institute’s first level of professional membership and a qualification increasingly demanded by employers for environment and sustainability roles.

The first step to AIEMA status is to select the right route, either self-study or via an approved training course. Choosing which route to travel will largely depend on your level of knowledge and experience, as well as your preferred way of learning. IEMA recommends the self-study option for individuals with a good level of environmental awareness and knowledge and who are familiar with the 10 areas of the AIEMA syllabus.

Conversely, an approved AIEMA certificate-training course is likely to be preferable for someone whose knowledge needs updating or who is new to the environment agenda. IEMA’s professional development adviser, Dipvandana Mehta (see below), can offer advice on the best route.

Mind the knowledge gap

There are no formal entry requirements for candidates seeking AIEMA status, although IEMA recommends that candidates have completed the Institute’s foundation course in environment management or have an equivalent level of knowledge or experience.

Candidates are advised to be properly prepared before sitting the exam, with IEMA expecting self-study candidates to clock up about 80 hours of independent study before attempting the exam. Although completing an approved training course will provide a candidate with a level of knowledge adequate to pass the exam, those wanting to excel by expanding their understanding of environmental issues are advised to supplement the course with extra reading and exam practice.

Harriet Wilson, a member of the safety, sustainability and resilience team at National Grid, recently achieved AIEMA status via an approved training course. Wilson describes the course materials as very good, but says she also looked at other resources to gather further information, including examining legislation available online, through portals such as

IEMA encourages all AIEMA applicants to map their knowledge against the Associate standard and the learning outcomes a candidate will be expected to know, understand or be able to demonstrate. These are set out in the Associate specification (available at Even as a practising environment professional you will need to ensure you are fully conversant in all 10 learning outcome areas, from understanding environmental and sustainability principles (outcome 1) to having the ability to influence behaviour and implement change to improve sustainability (outcome 10).

Mehta advises all AIEMA candidates, whether they are going through the self-study or training route, to look at the specification. “It should be downloaded and used as the basis for all revision as it contains all the criteria on which a candidate can be examined,” she says.

The specification information pack provides details on each learning outcome and the relevant assessment criteria. “Reading up on each topic is good preparation, and the accompanying ‘prescribed content’ is a useful indicator of things you need to have knowledge and understanding about,” she explains.

Learning outcome 2, for example, focuses on candidates’ knowledge and understanding of environmental policy issues. The related assessment criteria look at candidates’ ability to:

  • outline the key principles of environment policy – including knowledge of the polluter-pays principle, best available techniques, the precautionary principle, producer responsibility, lifecycle thinking and avoidance vs mitigation;
  • describe the main policy instruments available to effect change – from fiscal and legislative measures to market- and voluntary-based instruments; and
  • describe key environment policies – such as international and national policies on the natural environment, water, waste, energy, low-carbon technologies and resources.

IEMA’s approved training providers offer courses to suit different learning outcomes and may provide an ideal way to bridge an identified gap in knowledge, such as assessing and managing greenhouse-gas emissions (see training tables, p.xix–xvii, for an up-to-date list of courses).

IEMA has also put together a comprehensive suite of online documents and tools to assist those taking the AIEMA exam to address any lack of knowledge ( This includes details of online support materials, downloads, reference links and a core reading list.

The IEMA handbook – Environmental management in organisations (now in its second edition) – is an essential resource for the AIEMA exam and will assist anyone studying to achieve a good level of environmental knowledge in most areas of the standard. It is available to buy through Amazon in hard copy or Kindle editions. Articles in the environmentalist and on are also rich sources of information (see, for examples).

A webinar featuring AIEMA chief examiner Helen Manns provides guidance and advice for candidates, while a step-by-step video guide to the exam is also available – both can be viewed online at

Exam technique

Candidates have 2.5 hours to complete the exam, so practising sample questions beforehand will help ensure you make the best use of your time. Practice will help to familiarise you with how to prepare an outline structure for your answer; how to make sure you get the key points down; and with developing and expanding your answer.

Sample papers are available in the exam guidance document from IEMA ( Each sample question is accompanied by comments from the examining team, highlighting what they want to see in candidates’ answers. For example, to achieve high marks for a question asking for a description of two ways human interventions can impact the water cycle, the answer would have to include contrasting examples, potentially including positive and negative effects. “The impact on the water cycle needs to be clearly described to get full marks,” states the advice.

“Definitely practise some questions if you can,” says Wilson. “I did a lot and it helps you get used to the style of the questions and what the examiners are looking for in your answer.” Wilson also advises the use of revision cards. “I summarised topics in my own words on cards and posted them around my house.” She also used sticky notes to highlight core passages in the course material, so they were easy to locate and refer to when she was revising.

It is worth remembering that there is no reason to complete the exam paper in the order it’s written. Starting with the question you find the easiest has two advantages: answering it can boost confidence, helping you to answer subsequent and harder questions; and the easiest questions tend to take less time to answer, meaning you’re ahead of schedule from the start. Candidates have a maximum of 15 minutes to answer each question so if you can save time on one question, you’ll have extra time to spend on others.

“Read all the questions thoroughly and decide which order you are going to answer them. Also, plan your time in the exam – how much time you are going to spend answering each question,” advises Wilson. As the examination is online, candidates can edit their answers onscreen, and move forwards and backwards between questions.

The exam results are reported as pass or fail. To achieve a pass, a candidate must score 72 out of 120 (60%). The candidate will also receive details of their total score, along with their mark per question. A candidate who has achieved a pass will have demonstrated satisfactory knowledge, understanding and application of environment and sustainability issues at Associate membership level.

Interview: Dipvandana Mehta

What do you do on a day-to-day basis?

A variety of things! With a wide range of members at various stages of their careers and membership levels we have developed and are still developing, lots of different support mechanisms to help them. Some examples include answering queries about IEMA membership, providing careers advice, checking draft application papers for Full/dual (with CEnv) membership, matching members to mentors and delivering presentations at events or companies.

What plans for professional development has IEMA got for 2014?

We will be starting a webinar series focusing on careers and membership, which will be held on the third Wednesday of each month. We have had a successful mentoring scheme in place for a number of years and we will be reviewing this in 2014, exploring ways of further expanding it. Finally, continuing professional development (CPD) is an area that members are keen for IEMA to engage in more, so a key project in 2014 will be developing a practical methodology for CPD that will benefit members and ensure the profession is maintaining its high standard.

What do you enjoy in your role?

I really like helping to resolve members’ queries, whether it is clarifying the membership application process, linking them to a mentor or showing them a jobsite that they may not have known about. Having been an IEMA member working in an environment consultancy before joining the Institute I completely understand how difficult it can be to keep up to date with developments and find time to maintain and upgrade your professional membership. I aim to make that process as easy as possible.

Mehta can be contacted at [email protected].


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