How to Study in Nursing School: Students Share 9 Great Nursing Study Tips
Nursing school is notorious for tough coursework and challenging exams. New material to learn, critical information to memorize and clinical skills to practice are all important components for the average nursing student. It can be tricky to try and balance all the studying and coursework from your nursing program—especially alongside your obligations outside of school.
How can you succeed in nursing school? It does take some strategy and planning. We asked students and faculty from the Rasmussen University School of Nursing to provide their study tips. Read on to learn how you can tackle school with an optimistic attitude and a realistic plan.
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How to study for Nursing School
Whether you’re preparing for the TEAS exam, thinking ahead for the NCLEX or just somewhere in between take a little advice from those who’ve been in your shoes.
1. Prioritize quality study time
The most important part of studying is simply taking the time to do it! Nursing school takes quite a bit of studying outside of the classroom, so scheduling your study time and prioritizing it on a daily basis is crucial. Samantha Schulenburg, a student in the demanding accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program, estimates that she spends about 6-7 hours per day on school-related tasks.
You may find yourself setting aside entire days as dedicated study times, depending on your class schedule and outside commitments, as Megan Labudde does, another accelerated BSN student. Though she considers her relatively light Wednesdays as her primary study day, Labudde says she’s always looking for ways to keep study time at the forefront.
“I’m always prioritizing my study time,” she says.
If you’re prioritizing your study time, you’ll find all sorts of ways to sneak small bits of productivity into your daily habits. “The key is to really take advantage of every moment,” says Natalia Dann, BSN student and tutor. Since she works outside of school, she makes her studying a daily habit by listening to her textbooks in the car or while doing chores in addition to her dedicated study time.
Don’t feel like you need to sit and study for hours and hours at a time in a marathon-style study session. In fact, that’s probably one of the least effective ways to study, says Kristie Keuntjes, learning services coordinator for Rasmussen University’s School of Nursing. “When you’re sitting there for hours, you’re not really retaining information and engaging it in a meaningful way. It can really burn you out as a student.”
Keuntjes recommends study cycle guidelines for Rasmussen University Nursing Students that include a timeline for effective studying that includes a break.* By breaking your studying into manageable pieces, you’ll have stronger engagement and information retention.
Focus is crucial for retention and your success in nursing school. Make goals and get rid of distractions, whether that means placing your phone in another room or turning off browser notifications on your laptop or tablet, as Labudde does. It’s important to know your own weakness and be able to confront them head on.
2. Utilize your nursing school’s study tools
Many nursing schools offer amazing resources and study tools through their library services staff. These professionals know where to find the information you need and can be an immense help. For Rasmussen University nursing students, the School of Nursing Library and Learning Services guide is their secret weapon. Created by librarians with the input of faculty, the school of nursing guide includes helpful sections for:
- New students
- Writing resources
- ATI testing resources
- How to access tutors
- Course pages
- Study strategies
- Testing strategies
- NCLEX prep resources
Though having all this information in one place may seem overwhelming at first, this guide is a recommended part of any Rasmussen University nursing student’s study routine. Will Hummel, tutor and BSN student, uses the School of Nursing guide as his go-to for everything from nursing research and APA guides to numerous course-specific resources.
3. Consider studying with a tutor
Whether you’re looking to learn effective study strategies, get help with a specific course or receive advice from someone who’s succeeded in the same classes. Tutors can help students with time management, reading strategies and class content, among other things.
Keuntjes hires tutors for the Rasmussen University nursing program and is a strong advocate for the value of tutoring. “There’s a stigma around [seeking] tutoring and there really shouldn’t be.” Keuntjes says she’s seen firsthand that students who engage with tutors are often much more successful than those who do not.
Not only does tutoring provide educational support, but the time spent talking to another person about your work can even be a lift emotionally—sometimes it just feels good to know you’re not alone in struggling with a concept. Working as a student tutor also comes with benefits. Dann, who works as a tutor, says she loves how teaching the material gives her the opportunity to review, keeping vital nursing information at the front of her mind.
4. Follow the rubric
When you’ve got a lot of work to do, you’ll want to be smart about your approach. One of the best ways to do that is to follow your instructor’s rubric carefully. When an instructor creates a rubric, they’re not posting it just for their reference—it’s for your benefit. Following the rubric is the key to getting the grades you want and avoiding easy mistakes, says Dann. Rubrics can also help you organize an assignment more effectively, she says.
Not only will following a rubric help you while completing the assignment, checking off those boxes will also give you an opportunity to defend your work if you disagree with an instructor’s assessment, says Leslie Harhay, Professional Nursing student at Rasmussen University.
“I check every assignment against the rubric. Period,” says Hummel. Don’t let this small, yet crucial, step slip by.
5. Seek out additional study tools
Don’t limit yourself to the same study tools you’ve used since middle school. Talk to your classmate and try something new! Many nursing school cohorts have Facebook groups or smaller group messages to share study materials and tools. You never know the difference a new tool might make in your studying.
For synthesizing and reviewing information, try YouTube. Labuddle and Schulenburg say they like to turn to YouTube when they get stuck on complex concepts and Dann says she uses it almost every day as a supplement. You can even make playlists of helpful related videos, like Dann does, to help you review for a test or clinical experience.
If you prefer a more interactive studying experience, there are many options for you. Dann says she and her classmates collaborate on Quizlet review before tests. Harhay says she loves using the quizzes and interactive case studies provided by Evolve as a supplement to her textbooks. Harhay also uses the RN Mentor app in addition to Rasmussen University’s ATI testing resources, to prepare for the NCLEX exam.
No matter how you learn, it doesn’t hurt to try a new-to-you study tool.
6. Embrace online learning
You’ve probably noticed that a lot of the resources we’ve gone over in this article have been online. Though this might provide an initial challenge for those unfamiliar with online learning and electronic tools, you’ll need these skills for your career. Keuntjes says it’s important to remember that future nurses are training for the workplace, where they’ll be using electronic charts and patient-monitoring technology daily.
For those who get nervous around new tech, don’t worry. You can still perform a lot of the functions you’re used to doing. For example, eBooks allow you to highlight passages, while a search bar makes finding keywords or terms simpler than turning to the index. You can even have the eBook read out loud to you—always handy if you’re trying to squeeze in some simple multitasking.
For those new to online learning or just unfamiliar with Rasmussen University’s online learning platforms, there are several introductory videos available on the new student tab of the School of Nursing guide that can help put you at ease. Plus, you can always reach out to staff if you need additional help navigating online learning technology.
“The best thing you can do is to fully embrace the online modality,” Keuntjes says.
7. Don’t burn yourself out
You’re focused on becoming a nurse and that’s great. But keep in mind: Nursing students are human, too. Sometimes you just need a break.
“Brain breaks are necessary,” says Hummel. If you’re in the middle of a long study session, it can help to step away from what you’re doing for a brief regroup. For example, Dann likes to grab a snack or watch a quick show. Hummel, a musician, likes to pick up an instrument and play music for a few minutes. These small “off” periods can give you a second wind and ready you to keep chipping away at the materials you need to cover.
You’ll need longer breaks sometimes, too. “You can’t study every waking minute of the day,” says Harhay, who prioritizes spending time with her family during breaks. Labudde says she loves taking time to cook a full and healthy meal and Schulenburg says she finds mental peace while running. Schulenburg says she also tries to take a full day off from all things nursing once every week. Even if that goal doesn’t always happen, she says the habit helps her stay balanced.
Do whatever works for you, but most of all, make sure you enjoy your breaks.
8. Use your strengths to your advantage
Nurses come from a variety of different backgrounds with a wide range of amazing personalities. Rasmussen University nursing students know how to use these traits to their advantage.
Schulenburg considers herself a tactile learner. She likes to move and stay active while she studies. Sometimes she uses sticky-notes to create a matching game—pairing definitions and terms. Or, to understand how a drug works in the body, she’ll draw a stick person and point out the body systems the drug affects.
Labudde, on the other hand, knows she doesn’t necessarily benefit from using visuals when studying, preferring to handwrite her notes to memorize information. Hummel also uses words to solidify concepts—before he moves on to a new topic, he makes sure that he understands the material so well that he could teach it to someone else in his own words, which comes in handy when tutoring.
Harhay uses every study method she can to get the information to stick—reading, writing, listening, practicing and quizzing. Sometimes, she’ll talk out loud to herself as she takes notes or blast music to drown out any distractions.
Your own unique character traits can also help you study in nursing school. Schulenburg loves to stay active and believes firmly that “an object in motion, stays in motion.” She uses her “achiever” personality to stay moving and motivated. Dann stays positive by viewing new material as a challenge. “It’s important to stay positive about your ability to learn, and remember that your effort will make you a better nurse in the future.”
Take the time to figure out what’s motivating you and use it to your advantage—having a “why” can take you far.
9. Don’t hesitate to ask for help
Nursing school can be overwhelming, but remember you’re not doing it alone. So who can you ask for help in nursing school? You have a lot of options—faculty, staff and fellow students are all in your corner when it comes to academic help. Keuntjes says she knows it can be intimidating to ask for help, but encourages students to set aside any concerns they have about asking. Reaching out for help means you’re taking control of your learning and putting yourself in the driver’s seat.
“We’re all here to help because we want you to succeed,” Keuntjes says.
You can also reach out to your peers. Try making connections and finding a group designated for quizzing one another and talking through tough concepts. You can even study virtually with group chats or other social media-powered tools.
Are you ready for nursing school success?
There’s no doubt about it: Nursing school is tough. But with these study tips and support of faculty, fellow students and your own community, you have a great shot at succeeding in nursing school.
To thrive in nursing school, you’ll want tips and strategies to combat the stress that often accompanies it. Get some firsthand advice in our article, 7 Expert Tips to Survive Stress and Get Through Nursing School.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2016. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2019.
*Study cycle guidelines adapted with permission from Louisiana State University Center for Academic Success.