How TBS Differs From OCS

Fact: OCS Is Different from TBS

  • PT is less running, more packing
  • Order writing matters
  • Flexibility in the field, “Be Prepared To Change”
  • Academics are memorization, broad and different on each exam
  • Be efficient with your time; get uniforms before you need them, study, prep gear, etc.

So you’re heading to The Basic School.

Congratulations, TBS is the next big step in your career as a Marine officer. Importantly, TBS bears no resemblance to OCS so your hard-won candidate knowledge goes out the door as soon as you check in. Here are some pointers on key differences between TBS and OCS, what to expect, and how to succeed.

Physical Training: OCS vs TBS

The PT at OCS is very run-intensive. My platoon commander referred to OCS as a “run academy” and I am pretty certain I could have run a marathon the day I graduated. TBS is drastically different. You will be carrying a fighting load, a full pack, or both on almost every movement you make. The humps marked on your syllabus barely scratch the list of movements students complete while bearing a load, so your prep should adjust accordingly. Put weight on your back, and wear boots. Developing hard feet will save you pain and suffering at TBS; blisters on day one of a 5-day FEX make for a rough week. For future female students, this is often the most challenging portion of TBS, and one of the highest causes of female drops. Put in the training before you arrive in order to ensure you succeed while at TBS as a student.

Academics at TBS

Lieutenants at TBS are academically tested every 2-3 weeks with multiple choice exams. These exams differ from OCS academics in the depth of material covered and testable, and the cumulative questions. Each exam contains specific classes and your company will provide an academic handout specifying which classes will be tested on which exam. The student handouts accompanying these classes are the testable material. Handouts can be over 60 pages, meaning a single exam can encompass several hundred pages of material. The good news is there are typically plenty of pictures. Each exam also adds a variable amount of questions from previous material, questions which may or may not have appeared on previous exams. This makes studying a time-consuming endeavor.

Time Management and “Free Time” at TBS

Time is precious at TBS. Time management is a critical skill at OCS, but the environment is much more controlled and predictable at OCS than it is for students at TBS. After the work day ends, students are secured to go about their business: leave base, go out in town, visit D.C., or whatever else falls within their daily travel limit. In addition, the billets at TBS can be extremely demanding, eating up most of your “free time”.

Billets at TBS can be extremely demanding, eating up most of your “free time”

Prepare, prepare, prepare. Assume that while you are a student you will have basically no time to handle personal business. Insure your finances are in order, you have all the uniforms and clothes you need, your vehicle is dependable, and your family know how to get in touch in case of emergency. Prepare your gear ahead of events, keep your laundry up to date, and have a backup! Conduct your business in such a way that you minimize the time required to conduct it. You will have access to the internet in the barracks so use this to your advantage. Know that conditions at TBS are always fluid, stay flexible!

USMC parachute
This is not a FEX

Field Exercises: FEX’s

Flexibility will make your preparation that much more useful. Writing orders at TBS will become a fixture for student’s weekly routine. As a student, expect to produce orders weekly, if not more often. During FEX’s and STEX’s your orders will be critically analyzed by instructors and your peers, and during FEX’s your orders will be carried out by your peers. Expect the plan to change completely from the time you receive your order from higher, and when you brief it. Part of the fun and the frustration at TBS is that all your preparation is thrown out the window, intentionally. Being flexible will help you deal with the stress of all your hard work now being useless to you. Preparation means doing the hard work and writing a good op order, but knowing that every situation is fluid and you need to be prepared to change. You’ll hear “don’t fall in love with your plan” many times, and it is good advice.


Overall, TBS is a grueling six months. A lot of your experiences will depend on your staff, so not everything your friends tell you will apply to your training. The broad strokes, however, will always apply.  Manage your time well, be prepared to be flexible, prepare physically and understand your limitations, and have a mindset that sets you up to succeed. Your experience at TBS will be underscored by the friendships and professional relationships you develop. The Lieutenants you share your time become friends for life, and necessary professional connections during your time in the Marine Corps.

Enjoy the good times, forget the bad times, and be prepared. Good luck!

One thought on “How TBS Differs From OCS

  1. TBS was a test of how well you put up with tedious bullshit. That’s it. Academics were pretty easy, you can get by not studying at all. Physically, it wasn’t very difficult. Long days of following your student platoon commander’s direction. That can be a joke. “Really? You want us to stand in the quad until the entire company gets done with land nav?… What sense does that make?” – oh. Got it. You’re scared to make a decision on your own so you will have us all stand there. Good work dip shit.

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