How to stay ahead in nursing school
I’m a planner… an organizer… a person who sets her clothes out and packs lunch the night before a shift. I have my favorite lunch box, lunch containers and reusable ziplock bags.
Yea guys, I’m that person.
But, there is no shame to my organization and preparedness game. This results in less stress and therefore more time to enjoy life and relax.
If you’re anything like me, whenever something unknown is on the horizon, you do all that you can to get a head and be prepared from the moment it begins. Nursing school is one of those big unknown scary things. I’m going to go over a few things that will help you stay ahead in nursing school despite how overwhelming and demanding it is day to day.
Start preparing for the NCLEX on day 1
Don’t wait until senior year to start thinking about the NCLEX. The way this exam is structured and the format of questions is very different from other exams. It’s what’s called a computer adaptive exam, which means it’s different for every single person. It is not like nursing school exams.
Learn more about how the NCLEX is structured in my other post, Preparing for the NCLEX – 4 Tips from a Nurse
Because it’s so different, I highly recommend picking your NCLEX review plan early (I go over options in that in the Preparing for the NCLEX post), start getting into a routine of taking NCLEX prep questions immediately (just a few a day) even if you don’t know the content behind them yet, and getting your test taking skills down early for both general nursing school exams and the NCLEX
The sooner you start to build that NCLEX foundation, the better.
Merely skim chapters beforehand
Don’t get all in-depth and try to fully comprehend a chapter or concept before lecture. Merely expose yourself to the content. Get a general idea of what you’ll be going over. Understand some basic definitions. Don’t make the mistake of trying to read the entire chapter, word for word, highlight 75% of it, then get frustrated when you answer sample questions wrong.
Conversely, don’t make the mistake of not reading anything beforehand either. Going in cold to a lecture will leave you behind, as you’re trying to look up the basic definitions to terms that professors just whiz by.
Get an idea of what’s ahead so lecture isn’t the first time you’re hearing the term percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy, which the professor keeps referring to as a PEG tube and you just spent the last 10 minutes silently figuring that out while he’s now describing an EGD.
Get practical experience however you can
In between my junior and senior year, I completed a 10-week nurse residency program. I basically shadowed another nurse. It was incredibly helpful. I was able to physically see the things we were talking about in theory that I didn’t have a chance to see in nursing school clinicals simply because there wasn’t a patient there with that particular issue, procedure, or medication. I remember specifically wanting to see a ventilator because I knew my critical care course was in the fall. I learned about so much respiratory equipment over those 10 weeks, which seriously enhanced my understanding. If you don’t have the opportunity to complete an internship – volunteer.
Most facilities use volunteers, and while you won’t be physically doing procedures, you’ll at least be able to observe. I volunteered in an emergency department in college and learned so much by simply being there. I saw how they dealt with a combative patient who overdosed… I saw how they ran codes… I saw how they dealt with death… I saw how the team functioned.
Don’t look at your reading assignments as just a to-do list
When you’re trying to get ahead, it’s easy for it to turn into something to just check off as done on your to-do list. But in this situation, you really need to try to learn and understand things deeply, not merely get things done to be successful in nursing school. Switch the mentality from getting it done to truly understanding it. Look for “ah-ha” moments in the text. Understand the concepts, don’t just memorize the text. If you don’t finish every word of a reading assignment, but now you really understand the pathophysiology behind atrial fibrillation, count that as a win – not an incomplete.
When I was in school, I didn’t look for the “ah-ha” moments in the text – I just tried to get it done. I personally got pretty bogged down by all the fluff in the textbooks because I didn’t know where to focus. It can get pretty tough to identify the information that will lead to your “Oh, now I get it” moments. When you find them, make sure you take note and focus there.
It’s not about checking off a to-do list, it’s not about getting a certain grade. It’s about understanding the information so that when you are taking care of patients, you’re making the safest decisions at every turn.
How to connect the dots
Finding those aspects of the content that really turn it from something textbook to something that really makes sense is challenging, especially when you’re responsible for reading so much information for each exam.
So, what do you do?
Here’s a nurse pro-tip: look for the linchpin.
What’s a linchpin? It’s an “ah-ha” moments… the most important concept of a complex concept or situation. It’s what connects the dots.
So how do you find these within a 400+ page reading assignment… every single week?
Another nurse pro-tip: don’t.
Someone else has already done that for you.
A former nursing student realize this and got together with some other nurses to create a hub of resources that consistently only of these linchpin moments. Concise courses of content review along with practical study tools.
10 different courses that are only the linchpins – presented in a concise format. And this includes a Test Taking course.
If there is one thing I recommend completing BEFORE the first day of nursing school, it’s taking the Test Taking Course. You’ll begin nursing school with test taking skills I didn’t figure out until junior year.
I went to nursing school from 2006-2010. I am a terrible test taker. I wish I had this course in 2006 to get a foundational test taking knowledge before beginning nursing school. It would have made a WORLD of difference, and I wouldn’t have wasted so much time doing things incredibly inefficiently.
You can try the NRSNG Academy, access to all 10 courses, the a bank of 3,500+ NCLEX practice questions, the simulation NCLEX (SIMCLEX), Flashcard App, image and audio database, and cheat sheets in every course – for only $1.
My advice – try for $1, but go straight to the testing taking course and complete that course within your 7-day trial. That course is just the tip of the iceberg within the academy, and sets you up for success in nursing school with exams, studying, note-taking and the NCLEX.
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