Generic Fundamentals Examinations for Reactor Operators

  1. NRC is proceeding forward with a plan that would integrate generic fundamentals testing into the initial site specific written exam (and eliminate the GFE) as part of the NEXT NUREG-1021 revision (Rev 12), which has NOT yet been reviewed or approved by NRC management and therefore is subject to change;
  2. NRC will continue to implement the requirements of NUREG-1021 Rev. 11 until Rev. 12 is effective. NUREG-1021, Rev 12, will not be issued until Fall 2021 at the earliest. Per Rev. 11, we will continue to offer 2 GFE per year (in March and September). Therefore, the NRC is planning to administer GFEs in March and September of 2021.

Examination Standard (ES) section ES-205 of NUREG-1021 details the procedures and policies pertaining to administration of the generic fundamentals examination (GFE). 

The GFE is the first in a series of examinations administered by the NRC to reactor operator (RO) and senior reactor operator (SRO) license applicants at U.S. nuclear power plants under the regulatory authority of the NRC. The examination is a 50-question, multiple-choice written exam covering three (3) broad categories of nuclear power plant fundamentals: Components (22), Reactor Theory (14), and Thermodynamics (14).   The examination is composed of 40 questions taken directly from the NRC's GFE question bank for the applicable vendor type, 5 questions that are derived from existing bank questions by making one or more significant modifications, and 5 questions that are newly developed. Each new applicant (except those applying for a Limited-SRO license or an SRO-upgrade license at the same facility) must pass the GFE with a score of 80% or better for the applicable reactor type (boiling- or pressurized-water reactor) within 24 months before the date of application (NRC Form 398) or attempt to seek a waiver if one of the criteria in Section D.1.k of ES-204 of NUREG-1021 is met.

The GFEs for BWRs and PWRs are developed by the NRC's GFE contractor and typically administered by the NRC two times per year on the Wednesday following the first Sunday in March and September. The NRC may administer one or two additional GFEs per year, on the Wednesday following the first Sunday in either June or December, if designated industry-based exam authors (other GFE authors) develop and submit the additional GFEs to the NRC for review and approval.

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Past Generic Fundamentals Examinations

Questions used on past GFEs have been compiled into question banks for each reactor type. The NRC delays the posting of GFEs from the two (2) most recent exam dates.

Question Banks:

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Generic Fundamentals Examination Performance

The performance of the RO and SRO license applicants (examinees) on the GFE has been relatively consistent since the inception of the GFE program in 1989.  Since that time, there have been a total of approximately 13,000 GFE examinees.  The mean (average) score on both the BWR and PWR examinations has been approximately 91%, with the performance on the PWR GFE being slightly greater.  The pass rate on both the BWR and PWR examinations has been approximately 96%, with the pass rate on the PWR GFE being slightly greater.

The performance on a particular GFE question item has shown to be dependent on the origin of the question.  Specifically, performance on newly developed questions, significantly modified questions, and questions taken directly from the NRC's GFE question bank has been significantly different.  Performance on questions taken directly from the NRC's GFE question bank has been approximately 94-95%; performance on significantly modified questions has been in the mid-to-high 80s; and performance on newly developed questions has been in the low-to-mid 70s.  This characteristic has been consistent since the data started being recorded in 2001.

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More Information

For more information about the Generic Fundamentals Examination see General Information.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Friday, September 18, 2020