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Old 06-01-2017, 08:41 PM   #1
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Default Helpful Hints (from a former NPS instructor) on Preparing for and Completing Nuke School

I served as an instructor at Nuclear Power School From June 2011 until I retired in November 2014. Here are a few key takeaways from my tour as far as preparing for and making through Nuke School.

◾On preparing for the Pipeline, taking advanced math/chemistry/physics classes beyond what you would normally take is great, however, the curriculum is taught assuming the student is starting from square one. All you really need is a good baseline. In my experience the more education a student had, the more they struggled because of the way the courses are taught. Not only do we assume the students are starting with no knowledge of a subject, the courses are taught from a different perspective. Those students are being trained to be operators and the curriculum is approached from that perspective. Especially with chemistry. I always told my students to take everything they learned about chemistry in high school/college and completely disregard it. Approach the courses as if you are learning the material for the first time, even if you have a PhD in chemistry. Again, all of the courses, especially the second half courses in Power School, are approached from an operational perspective instead of a theoretical one. We teach just enough theory to make you dangerous. The instructors will strive (at least I did) to apply every lesson to an operational situation that they will likely encounter.

◾A lot of people struggle with math problems in the Radiological Fundamentals course. The math itself is actually simple. Some of the most complex math problems in the Radiological Fundamentals course really boil down to just simple unit conversions. Where students run into trouble is basic problem solving. Just being able to analyze the data that they are given and figure out how to get from point A to point B. The key here is that the student has to understand the concepts that are being taught to be able to do the math. The math will come naturally if the concepts are understood.

◾An underlying objective of the entire training pipeline is to teach the students the importance of procedural compliance. The classes are going to be taught a certain way and the students will be expected to solve problems in certain ways (even though there may be more than one "correct" way) and/or answer questions in a specific format. This is intentional and often a source of frustration among students. The Naval Nuclear Power Program is a very procedure driven organization. Procedural compliance is a way of life in this program. If the student goes into the training with this in mind, this should help to ease the frustration.

◾Another source of frustration from students that follows along my previous point is the perception that exam answers must match the exam key verbatim to get credit for the answer. I will call bull$@#% on that right now. All exam questions are, in fact, graded for the students understanding of the concepts. The instructors do look for certain key words/phrases within the answer as they are key to the concept being tested, but the questions are not graded on that alone. However, the only thing that the instructors have to go on to assess the student's knowledge of the concepts being tested are the words written on the page. I used to tell my students "Words mean things." Thanks to our amazing English language, one word can change the entire meaning of a sentence. I had many a time during exam reviews where students would hear the answer to a question that they did not receive full credit for and say "That's what I meant." After looking at their exam paper, 9 times out of 10 my response to them was "That may be true, but that's not what you WROTE!" Words mean things. There is generally plenty of time to go back after you have answered all of the exam questions and review your answers. Make sure your answers make sense. Also make sure they are legible. If your handwriting looks like you tried to write with your toes, work on improving it before you go to Nuke School. With 350-400 exams to grade and a finite amount of time to grade them, if the instructors can't read your answer, you will get no credit and they will move on to the next exam. They don't have time to sit and try and decipher your hieroglyphics.

◾This is probably THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING you can do to be successful at Nuke School, and throughout the entire pipeline for that matter. USE THE INSTRUCTORS!!!! The typical daily class schedule at Power School has 6 hours of instruction (2 hours per subject) and 2 hours of study time. During these "study halls" students are encouraged (some are required) to visit the instructor offices to ask questions or get "run time." Run time is basically quiz session with the instructor where he/she will quiz the student on the various concepts that are being taught and fill in any gaps in knowledge/understanding that are uncovered. They will also assist you in formulating your answers to questions so that you can accurately convey your understanding in a written format. I can not stress this enough. I saw too many students fall into the trap of just sitting at their desk staring at their notes essentially trying to memorize the material. This is an almost sure track to failure. There is just too much material in too short of a time to be able to memorize it all. It's like drinking from a fire hose. An hour spent with an instructor going over material will yield far better results than an entire night of staring at your notes. There are also instructors from each subject assigned to be available every night before an academic day from 6 to 9 PM (1800-2100 for you military types). IT IS THE INSTRUCTORS' JOB to help the students succeed. That doesn't mean they will hold their hand and feed them answers, but if a student seeks help, every instructor I taught with would bend over backwards to help a student succeed and I'm certain that is still the case. Make them earn their pay. If, for some reason, you don't like your assigned instructor for the course, talk to a different one. All of the instructors in the office are there to help you succeed. Also, some instructors are better at teaching certain concepts than others. Most will freely admit that and send students to an instructor that can best help them with their particular question/problem.

◾For some of the courses, the students will be required to learn and reproduce definitions of certain terms encountered in the curriculum. This may seem trivial, but I put it to my students like this. Particularly for the Radiological Fundamentals course, they are going to be exposed to a ton of terms that they have never seen before. We are essentially teaching them a new language. What is one of the first things you do when you learn a new language? Learn the vocabulary. It's no different here. Learning and understanding these key terms will pay huge dividends in learning the overlaying concepts.

◾This is another very important point. Every course in Nuke School is cumulative. The concept you learn tomorrow will be built on the one you learn today. Review is key. REVIEW EVERY DAY. You don't have to review the entire course to date, but pick at least one topic from a previous lesson to review each day. Pay particular attention to concepts that you struggled with. Most courses are divided into several grading periods with an exam at the end of each one. The exams, just like the material, are cumulative. Any material that was covered during a previous grading period can be tested on the current GP exam. Again, review is key to keeping concepts from previous GPs fresh. You can't just take an exam and then brain dump the material to get ready for the next exam.

◾Another thing on exams, don't blow off your other courses because you have an exam in one. Study every course every day. Concentrate on the one with the exam coming up, but don't ignore the other subjects. DON'T CRAM FOR EXAMS!!

◾I could go on and on, but I will leave with one final thought unless specific questions come up in replies. Just like anything else in life, you will get out of this what you put in. If you're making an honest effort, your instructors will notice. On the flip side of that, if you're just going through the motions they will notice that too. It's pretty easy for an experienced instructor to pick out who is making a genuine effort and who is not. Attitude plays a big role in success at Nuke School. Some of my most memorable students were the ones who were constantly one exam failure away from being academically dropped from the program, but they never gave up and they did what they had to do to get through.

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Old 06-13-2017, 12:48 AM   #2
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I was in a discussion on another forum about attrition rates at Nuke School and a thought came to me that falls under the "making it through the pipeline" banner. While there is a fairly high attrition rate compared to other programs in the Navy (except maybe BUD/S), the vast majority of the attrition in the Nuke Pipeline is not academic. Sure, there are people who just can't hack it academically but, for the most part, the instructors are able to help most everyone enough to get a passing grade. The major source of attrition at NNPTC comes in the form of underage drinking. Trust me folks, if you are headed to Nuke School and you are not 21, steer clear of alcohol. If you are of age, don't provide it to those that aren't. Both will get you in deep, deep doo-doo! And Heaven help you if you get busted for DUI. You're pretty much going to get crucified at that point. Oh yeah, it doesn't just suck for the people that get busted either. It sucks for everyone else because now you have to sit through hours of lectures about stuff that should be common sense like drinking and driving is bad. So, if you want to make it through Nuke School, keep your head in the books and stay off the sauce and you'll do fine.
Be fluid. Flexible is entirely too rigid.

"If you can't write it down, you don't understand it."
-ADM H.G. Rickover

Last edited by scott.henry; 06-13-2017 at 11:11 PM.
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Old 06-21-2017, 09:56 AM   #3
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Excellent post! All fantastic and 100% true. One of the most frequent questions I get from Future Sailors about to start their journey into the Navy Nuclear Field is what they can do to prepare for school. It is important to remember that being accepted into the Nuclear Field means that the navy is confident you are academically ready and able to complete the training, but because you are a Nuke, I understand that you want to be more than prepared, and that you want to know as much as you can going in. Below are a few very useful links that can be utilized while in DEP awaiting to ship off to Recruit Training Command.

This is the site for the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command(NNPTC). This contains useful information about the school, as well as textbooks and study problems to help students prepare for the school.

Militarynewcomers is a website that gives details about the surrounding area and base information for Nuclear Power School. It lists everything from base information and history, to housing and school resource information for dependents. It is somewhat confusing, but Nuclear Power School is affiliated with Joint Base Charleston and the Naval Weapons Station located there. While NNPTC is its own facility complete with dining facilities, recreation, and bachelor housing, it is situated across from the naval weapons station.

nuclearpowertraining has useful technical publications pertaining to nuclear power. If you really want to get into the weeds of nuclear power, it is an excellent resource.

The website contains everything you want to know about radiation protection. While all of that will be covered in school, it is useful if you want to get up to speed on the science before going in.

So there it is. If you have dependent family members that will be locating to Charleston, I highly recommend going to the militarynewcomers website and getting yourself and your family members acquainted with the area.

I hope everyone finds this useful. My only addition as far as advice goes for the training is to be positive. It's hard work but remember you wouldn't be there if the navy didn't think you could do it!
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