Nursing programs are notorious for their heavy study loads. New material to learn, critical information to memorize and clinical skills to practice are the norm for the average nursing student. It can be worrisome to try and balance all of the studying and coursework from your nursing program – especially with your other obligations outside of school.
If you’ve made it this far, you already know that a little determination and preparation can make your life as a nursing student a lot easier. Handling the workload in nursing school is just a matter of looking ahead and making a plan of attack.
We asked nursing graduates and experts for their top nursing study tips. Read on to learn how you can tackle school with an optimistic attitude and a realistic plan.
8 Study tips for nursing students
Whether you’re thinking ahead for the NCLEX or you’re just trying to prepare for your next exam, take a little advice from those who’ve been in your shoes.
1. Reach out to other students
“Find a study group,” urges Mary Leyendecker, a Family Nurse Practitioner student. Nursing school means learning and memorizing heaps of new information. The accountability of studying with other students is a good way to make sure you are absorbing your studies at a consistent rate. Working with others makes studying more fun, too!
Having a social support system in place allows you to concentrate on acquiring the knowledge and skill set you need, says Nick Angelis, CRNA, MSN and author of How to Succeed in Anesthesia School (And RN, PA, or Med School). Finding a study group can be the key to staying on top of your schoolwork and connecting with other students who understand exactly what you’re going through.
2. Utilize school resources
Your school wants you to succeed. Most programs provide a variety of resources to help nursing students achieve academic success. One of these resources you should take advantage of is free tutoring centers, where you can get extra help on assignments and learn new study techniques. You should also locate your school’s library and familiarize yourself with tutoring options early in your career as a nursing student. Even if you decide not to use these resources right away, knowing where they are and how they work means you’ll be prepared when you need something.
You should also utilize your professors’ office hours to gain extra clarity and guidance when needed, recommends Kelsey Weir, BSN. Most professors are eager to help students who have questions or need advice.
“But not all professors communicate the same,” Weir adds. “Figure out which ones respond to emails and which ones prefer meeting in person.”
3. Schedule your study time
If you set aside a specific time to study, you’re more likely to follow through than if you tell yourself you’ll do it “soon” or “later.” This includes scheduling time to prepare far in advance for big exams like the NCLEX. These tests require you to know more than what you can cram in the week before the test. If you have trouble planning ahead, program a recurring weekly study session into your phone or email calendar and turn on the reminder notification.
Weir recommends allotting more time for your most challenging courses. It can be tempting to spend more time on the classes you enjoy, but forcing yourself through material you find difficult will pay off in the long run. Difficult subject matter takes longer to learn, so allowing yourself plenty of time to absorb the information will help make sure you’re truly prepared.
4. Understand how to apply what you learn
“Use every opportunity to connect the lesson to clinical and real-life patient experience,” Leyendecker says. “That is what helps you truly understand the material.” To ensure you understand things, she also suggests rereading the material before class and making note of anything that doesn’t make sense. This gives you the chance to ask your questions during class while the material is under discussion.
“Most tests will test your critical thinking and application of knowledge, not just the facts,” Weir says. This means memorization will only get you so far. It’s crucial you to truly understand the material and how it applies to real-life scenarios.
5. Follow the rubric
Professors use rubrics as a grading standard. It would be crazy not to take advantage of a rubric if it’s offered to you! Leyendecker recommends treating rubrics as step-by-step guides to help you work through an assignment. Following the rubric ensures you won’t forget an important parameter of the assignment, and you will know exactly what the professor’s expectations are.
“If you complete each item on the rubric, it is hard to get a bad grade,” says Leyendecker. Professors hand out rubrics as an additional study aid for their students. Be sure to read it thoroughly before starting work on an assignment, and don’t be shy about approaching your professor with any questions.
6. Stock up on study tools
These days, there are plenty of digital study tools students can utilize. Apps like Quizlet help you make flashcards, practice tests and study guides. The Evernote app makes taking and sharing notes a type-A organizer’s heaven.
Think about how an app or study tool could improve your learning experience. Do you struggle to remember new medical vocabulary? Do you get stuck when it’s time to apply your knowledge to real-world situations? If you’re struggling with a certain aspect of the studying process, odds are there’s a study tool out there that can help!
7. Take initiative
“Be engaged at your clinical experiences,” Weir says. “Not only will your nurses appreciate it, but you will learn so much more if you jump at opportunities to do things!” Volunteering for any task, even the undesirable or less critical ones, will provide you with practical experience that is more valuable than any lesson a book can teach.
It’s only natural to be nervous when learning a new and important skill, but Leyendecker believes that stepping forward while instructors are around for backup is the best way to gain confidence in a job you will eventually be doing on your own. She adds that mistakes are part of the learning process and nothing to be ashamed of.
8. Read test questions carefully
Exams tend to put anyone on edge. But careful test taking is a surer road to good grades than rushing through a test as fast as possible. Take time to thoroughly read each question and review your answers before you finish.
“Understanding multiple choice questions is an important facet to doing well in nursing school,” Angelis says. He points out that the questions often have many answers that seem to make sense but aren’t the best answer.
“Most broad statements aren’t correct,” Angelis advises. Yet a multiple choice answer like “Diabetics should never eat carbohydrates” might seem solid at first glance. Angelis advises reading each question carefully and start by eliminating the wrong answers.
If your first worry about nursing school is the study load, the second is probably stress. As you prepare to put these nursing study tips into action, check out our other article: 7 expert tips to help you beat stress in nursing school.