Navy Dads

Helpful Hints on Preparation for Nuke School and Making it Through to Graduation

I originally posted this in an older thread related to preparation for NPS. I have done some minor editing and added a couple additional observations.

  • On preparation for Nuke School, taking advanced math/chemistry/physics classes 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 them 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 students tended to struggle with the math problems in the course that I taught. The math is actually the easy part of the whole problem. Some of the more 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.
  • 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. 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 when they could be interacting one on one or in small groups with an instructor and actually gaining conceptual understanding of the material. Their exam scores reflected it. There is a ton of information presented in NPS is a relatively short amount of time. It's kind of like drinking from a fire hose. If you are trying to get by just memorizing the material, you will, more than likely, not be successful. There is also an instructor (or two) 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 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 and will go out of their way to help you. On the flip side of that, if you are just going through the motions they will notice that too. 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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Replies to This Discussion

Something else along the lines of sources of student frustration that came up in another discussion recently was the impression that student exam answers must match the key verbatim to receive credit. I will call bull$#%@ on that. Exam answers are graded for student understanding of the material. The problem lies in the way that the student conveys that understanding. While it is true that instructors look for certain key words/phrases when grading exam questions as they are integral to the concept(s) being tested, they do not dismiss answers for not having them. Credit will be given for correct information, even without the key words/phrases. However, the only thing the instructors have to assess the students understanding of the material are those words written on the exam paper. 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 conducted many exam reviews where students would hear the correct answer to a question and raise their hand and say "That's what I meant." After looking at their papers, my response would almost always be "That may be true, but that's not what you WROTE." Words mean things. There is usually more than ample time to go back and review your exam after you have answered all of the questions. Make sure your answers make sense. Also, make sure they are legible!!! That was my biggest frustration as an instructor trying to grade exams. If your handwriting looks like you tried to write with your feet, try to improve it before you get to Nuke School. With 350-400 exams to grade and a finite amount of time to do it in, if the instructors can not read your answer, they will not give you any points for the question and move on to the next exam in their pile. Trust me, decent handwriting is in your best interest.

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