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Toby Howell AIEMA BA PGDip

IEMA Foundation Certificate in Environmental Management: Learner Diaries #2

This blog is part of a series of blogs that look at how I passed the IEMA Foundation Certificate in Environmental Management first time with a pass mark of 77%. This particular blog is Learner Diary #2. If you have yet to read Learner Diary #1, we recommend doing so before carrying on. 

January 2023

Welcome back to my IEMA Foundation Certificate in Environmental Management Learner Diaries! In my first instalment, I covered elements 1-3, consisting of;

  • Element One: Core Environmental Principles
  • Element Two: Sustainability and Mega-Trends
  • Element Three: Policy and Legislation

In this blog, I will go through my encounter with the following three elements, those being;

  • Element Four: Environmental Management Systems
  • Element Five: Performance Evaluation
  • Element Six: Additional Management and Assessment Tools

Let's get started!

Element Four: Environmental Management Systems

What was so fascinating about Element Four was the exposition surrounding Environmental Management Systems. Before this course, I had little understanding of what an Environmental Management System (EMS) actually was. From the very beginning of Element Four, the course does an excellent job expressing what an EMS is, offering examples and the benefits of an EMS. I later found this becomes extremely valuable during the multiple-choice exam. Element Four also isolates the 'Three C's', which outline the requirements of an EMS to make it work. Then came the most text-heavy section of Element Four: the structure of an EMS. Presented in a very well-constructed table, the entire structure of an EMS will be complex for anyone to thoroughly memorise. At this point, I copied the table down into my notebook and repeated it about eight or nine times. However excessive this seems, this was the most effective way for me to retain more intricate and extended forms of information. Try to identify which method will work for you before approaching this sequence. 

Then comes the next section, Implementing an EMS. Split into five clear and concise stages, I found this part of the course rewarding because it neatly tied up Element Four with a comprehensive step-by-step guide on implementing an EMS. Furthermore, Element Four proved to be one of the shorter elements on the course and my motivation to push through meant I found myself highly engaged with EMSs and how to implement them. The five stages of implementation did involve a wide berth of text. However, I found myself being able to copy down snippets of longer-form sentences (the more crucial parts) to avoid memorising vast chunks of text. Ultimately, I ended up with five concise bullet points for the entire section but make no mistake, the additional resources and the broader context offered by the course were highly invaluable in cementing my understanding, most crucially, the examples. 

The last section of Element Four covered ISO 14001. I began this section with trepidation as I had no prior knowledge or understanding of ISO 14001. Thankfully the section starts with an informative video that covered everything I did not know. It answered quick-fire questions such as 'What is ISO 14001?' - 'How can it be used?' - 'Why is it important?' - All questions that were on the top of my mind. Along with the video were concise sections of the structure of ISO 14001, which really helped solidify my understanding of how such a system works. 

The rest of the section covering ISO 14001 can prove overwhelming if not approached with a strategy. It may seem like Element Four has saved its most extensive and dense section until last - but you do not need to memorise all the information. At this point in the course, having gone through Elements 1-3, I was confident in not trying to remember everything. It would be a much more stressful experience if you tried that. But by this point in the course, you should know what snippets of information are worth memorising. You can never predict what will come up in the eventual exam, but, for instance, you do not need to remember the intricate technical jargon that describes something if you can remember an example. As long as I understood why and how an example is an example, I could reverse the exam question on the topic. I will follow up on this in my next instalment, covering the strategy I took in the exam. 

 To conclude Element Four, more text is involved as the element progresses. My tip is incorporating more imaginative thinking about what information is essential to recite later in your exam. Yes, you cannot predict the questions that will come up, but only twenty questions cover seven elements. So you can assume there will not be any more than three questions, at the most, that will cover Element Four. Prioritise the information, and don't overwhelm your notebook. 

Element Five: Performance Evaluation

The first section of Element Five covered data management. And without trying to upset any mathematic geniuses out there, maths has never been my strong suit, so I welcomed the idea of enhancing my knowledge surrounding numbers and, more precisely, data. 

This section covered the different types of data, how to analyse and interpret it and how to present it. Admittedly, I found this whole sequence fascinating and supremely helpful. It took me through how different methods of data presentation were more pertinent to varying types of data - something I had no idea about! Then came how to report on the data, which is incredibly important. Because this entire section was not overly text heavy, I pushed through the earlier areas of Element Five. 

Next up was monitoring performance. This section relied more on text as it took me through the context and structure of an organisation and how it can be observed. I could summarise the benefits of monitoring performance in some short-handed bullet points, which proved handy in the exam. I was surprised to learn about the different types of monitoring, those being;

  • Active Monitoring
  • Reactive Monitoring

And I was quite impressed with the different methodologies and strategies that the course offers to help improve performance. Some practical examples could be brought up in the exam; even if they don't, they are helpful to remember for context. 

The following section was on environmental inspections and audits. This begins with concise definitions and examples of reviews and audits (which proved helpful as I truly needed them!). It then takes the learner through these inspections and audits, laying out their purpose, aims, and requirements. At this point, the section goes into quite forensic detail on the structure of audits, covering what happens before the audit takes place, the audit itself and what happens after one occurs. Like in other sections, I relied on my experience going through Elements 1-3 to understand what information was worth trying to retain. This section does involve quite a vast amount of theory; like at the end of Element Four, I stress the need to be smart about what you are trying to memorise, especially concerning the inspections and audits - use bullet points and try to strip down the word count, so it is easier to retain. 

Element Six: Additional Management and Assessment Tools 

This element starts by, in detail, profiling risk assessments, and identifying their purpose, aims, benefits and challenges. All of this is fascinating context for what is an invaluable tool in the workplace. Then Element Six goes through the structure of a risk assessment covering the following areas;

  • Formulating the risk/problem - the first stage
  • Assessing the risk
  • Appraising the option (beginning to understand how to counter the risk)
  • Addressing the risk - Implementing the chosen risk management strategy. 

Each section is laid out without a mountain of text. However, I cannot overstate the importance of the examples offered in each section; they helped me visualise exactly what each stage meant to the risk assessment process. For each section, I could narrow down the principal and essential points to several bullet points, helping to minimise the amount of information I needed to retain. 

Element Six was surprisingly the shortest section amongst the three elements covered in this instalment. It was able to cover the entire risk assessment process in a clever and concise way, which was a welcome relief. Being able to recite the whole risk assessment process in about twenty bullet points minimised information overload and helped my ability to memorise each stage. 


So, that brings to an end my second instalment of my IEMA Foundation Certificate in Environmental Management Learner Diary #2. In my final instalment, I will cover the last element in the course and identify my exam day strategy that had an immeasurable influence on my eventual success. If you want more detailed information on the course itself, click the button below to access the course page to learn more. If you would like more information about the exams please visit our Exam Hub.


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