Nursing schools are notoriously tough. It is constant new material, most of which are critical information building off each other, and often need to be memorized for quick recall on the field. Finding balance among all the studying while still being a regular student with outside obligations is definitely difficult.
What is the best way to succeed in nursing school? Set reasonable expectations, and take some time to develop a strategy and plan of action. These tips are meant to be applicable to any kind of learning style. It does not matter if you are a highlighter junkie or minimalist, because all you really need are these two main ideas in mind as you navigate your semesters at nursing school. Here are some of our study tips for studying in nursing school.
Tips for Studying in Nursing School
1. Coasting By Won’t Help You
Nursing students generally already have a proactive attitude. Definitely use the class as a guide, but do not pour over every single line in your notes. Ask yourself as you are looking them over, what topics does the instructor spend time reviewing? What are the key points covered in a class?
Focus your attention on these areas, because they are more than likely to be on an exam. As a reminder, going to classes during the week and re-inforcing material at home is really the baseline of your medical education. At home, you have to explore the topics that were opened up in class to make sure you understand them in their entirety.
And definitely, definitely. Do not try to cram everything in one night. We cannot stress this enough. You cannot cram a week’s worth of study into a few hours on the weekend. Long term, it is ineffective. Commit to spending a little time studying every day, broken up into small increments. Students can use all sorts of methods. Pomodoro is a popular method, where you break time up into 30-minute increments with 5-minute breaks. Or, study for an hour at a time, and take a 20-minute break between. Find what works for you, and find a way to take regular breaks when studying.
2. Prioritize Your Time Accordingly
If you were not already framing your time spent studying as strategy-based, now is the time. Do not waste time going over things you already understand! Rather, focus your energy on the things that you skimmed over and did not recall efficiently as you are studying.
Did you understand what your professor was saying? No? That is a clue to how you should be focusing your time. Do those first, and that is when you should be using any sort of resource that helps you retain the information to help.
If there is a particularly difficult section or terms you didn’t understand, augment your class resources with others. The Internet is amazing that way. YouTube, WebMD, or MayoClinic can help to supplement your understanding. I like to do this before reading a chapter. Remember, though, that your textbook and instructor are going to be the correct, final authority.
You also are not limited to studying by yourself (that can also add to your stress)! Tutors are helpful for a host of other skills like time management, reading strategies, and simply being there to vocalize the information rather than being on paper. Some people benefit from being a teacher themselves, and that can be where a study group of nursing students can be most helpful. Studies show that students studying with peers retain around 90% of what they learn, versus just 10% of what they read. If you know that you are a vocal learner, this may be something for you to try. So ask your fellow nursing students if they need help too and help each other learn. Success in nursing in the professional world hinges on you being a team player as well.
Supplementary resources help fill in the gaps in the chapters or sections you are focusing on. Still go over the other material you learned, but you should not be spending as much time on those (even though it feels better studying things you feel confident in, you are just regurgitating learned info).
3. Comprehension Over Completion
This is particularly related to reading assignments. It’s important for nurses to understand why certain conditions occur and what is happening in a patient. It is better to understand the why of a concept over rote memorization of the steps to get there. There will definitely be times when you will just need to bust out flashcards and memorize, (pharmacology being one of them). Being a nurse requires you to have the ability to do both efficiently. But when reading something, critically ask yourself: How will I help my patients with this information? What types of questions and problems might come up on the exam?
Some other tips to help with reading assignments is to skim read by looking at headers, subheaders, keywords, and pictures and charts. Then go in a second time after class to help reinforce ideas, make connections, and retain.
Before you start trying to memorize a ton of material, ask yourself, should you be memorizing or comprehending? This goes back to the second point, that you have to really be aware of your time and prioritize what you are able to learn before pulling an all-nighter on memorizing a whole book.
4. Comprehensive Study Tools
Wrapping your brain around your classes hinges on understanding key concepts and ideas of the area you are studying. Luckily, there are a plethora of tools and resources available. Nursing.com is a great resource that acts as a study guide that lays everything out for you. Another way to study is to base your main topics of learning around nurse licensing exams. From a practical standpoint, this helps build up your confidence and helps you study for something you eventually have to do anyway.
Your school or university’s library services are a prime place to start for guides and study materials if you are unsure. Do not hesitate to ask for the help you need.
Overall, all these tips are meant to help you develop good study habits that will set up you for success throughout your nursing education. Whatever it is that helps you through, whether it is study sessions with friends, or devoted alone time, find what works for you.
What matters is not how many hours of studying you did, but how you retain and use that retained knowledge to answer your test questions correctly. At the end of the day, you are developing not only the critical thinking and recall skills necessary for a career in nursing but making quick, correct judgment calls that can one day save someone’s life. When you think of the magnitude of it, tests really are just kind of a walk in the park.