I have a test next week and I have zero desire to crack open my notes and focus. So I thought I’d finally get around to writing a post about how I study in nursing school, especially since I will be graduating this year. I specify “nursing school” because how I study in nursing school is a complete 180 from the way I studied in college. In college, I walked away with 2 Bachelor’s degree, a really good GPA, and memories that will last a life time. I NEVER STUDIED. I went to class 80% of the time, cranked out a billion papers while watching Lost, and actually had time to like, go out to dinner with friends. Culture shock when I started nursing school (read about why I went back to school here). I attended all the lectures, studied my butt off, ignored my friends for an entire year, and still managed to have really sucky grades. How? Why? What happened to my brain? Everyone was like “I studied 15 hours on Saturday! What about you?” Was I not studying enough? It wasn’t until one of my clinical instructors told me “Whitney, don’t go down the rabbit hole.” when things started to click and I realized that I needed to study smarter, not study more.
If you ask anyone in nursing school, they will tell you how difficult and how terrible the exams are…. I can tell you first hand that the exams are a death sentence. Select all that apply? HA! Let me just skip those since I’m 100% sure I will get it wrong anyway. (Don’t do this. A huge chunk of the NCLEX is apparently select all that apply). The most important thing I learned half way through nursing school is SAVE YOUR BRAIN SPACE. What do I mean by that? Nursing is a very complex profession. Sure it’s not medical school but we are required to basically know a little bit about everything and know what is abnormal/normal/weird/strange/good/bad so we can tell the doctors who will then tell us what to do even though we already know what they’re going to say… but whatever. I’m only in school for 2 years, not 8. No complaints. However, much like we cluster care with NICU babies, I find that clustering information and saving my brain space has drastically improved my studying and my grades.
Here are some little tips to help you survive nursing exams if you hate studying like me:
- Go to every lecture. I found that instructors are not out to fail you. In fact, you will learn that the information they will most likely test on will be something they emphasize A LOT. If you hate reading 100 pages, go to the lecture and figure out the highlights your instructors deem important and test worthy.
- Review your notes right after the lecture. This takes like 20 minutes max and it exposes your mind to the information again, further implanting it into your memory (hopefully). If you have any questions (sometimes instructors teach faster than I can write), go to your textbook and fill in the missing pieces.
- Review every day. This is similar to the tip above. The more exposure you have to the material, the more you will understand it. Review your notes every day while you’re eating breakfast, walking your dog, in between red lights (just kidding. DO NOT DO THAT.), going to the bathroom (hey, if you’re reading this you realize that nurses/nursing students can’t be grossed out by anything), etc.
- Record the lectures. Confused about something you scribbled down? Listen to the lecture again to clarify. This is the easiest, most time saving thing I wish I knew to do when I first started nursing school. Rather than trying to find out the information or trying to get a hold of the instructor, I can fast forward through my recording and bam! It’s there.
- Rewrite the information. Don’t rewrite your notes word for word. Summarize them, organize them, make them yours. My notes from lectures are a mess. I have writing every where. When I finally sit down to study I either use note cards or a fresh notebook to rewrite all my notes. I organize the information, summarize points, create acronyms, etc. Writing out notes word for word is really wasting your time. Forcing yourself to write them with your own words/format/whatever will force you to think about what it is you are writing out.
- Stop studying. Whenever I find my mind wandering in the middle of a study session, I stop. Before I used to power through and tell myself “Let me just finish this neuro section and then I will take a break.” However, more times than naught, I could never remember what I studied. Rather than waste my time and giving myself a false sense of accomplishment, I simply finish up whatever sentence I’m writing, close my book, and remove myself from my study spot. Sometimes I will grab something to eat, bake some cookies, watch an episode of whatever show I’m into, walk to get some coffee, literally anything to reset my brain. Once I am refueled, I return to my study spot and continue on. It is important not to get too distracted and waste the rest of your day (I am guilty of this), so this is where I would set a goal. Once the cookies are done baking, go back to studying. Once I finish this episode and go pee, go back to studying. Etc.
- Use your resources. My go-to resource for nursing school is the Saunders NCLEX-RN review book. This book brilliantly breaks down the key points and organizes all that information thrown at me. I highly recommend this book for anyone in nursing school.
- Don’t go down the rabbit hole. We are studying to become nurses, not doctors, not physical therapists, not respiratory therapists. Nurses. As nurses, we have a role of constantly assessing, educating patients and family, and communicating with other members of the team. I used to waste my time studying every part of a disease, but I had to remind myself, as a nurse my role is to know what is abnormal, what is improving, and the interventions to go along with that. We are required to know pathophysiology, but not to the extent I found myself studying. Forcing myself to focus on the role of the nurse and not go down that rabbit hole (i.e./ the cardiac system is endless and fascinating, but not for testing purposes) has saved my brain space and helped me with exams. If I want to know the detailed pathophysiology of Kawasaki disease, I definitely look it up… after my exam!
- HAVE A LITTLE BIT OF A LIFE. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Go to yoga. Go to a movie. Go on a dinner date with your significant other you haven’t seen in like a month. Trust me when I say that extra hour of studying will not help. Enjoying an hour lunch with a friend will keep you sane and decrease your anxiety.
TLDR: Don’t go overboard with the studying .No one cares if you studied 15 hours on Saturday… in fact that’s kind of dumb. Listen to your brain. If you’re tired of studying, get up and grab a cookie.Study smart. Go to lectures. Nursing exams really suck but just remember they’re a tiny part of something huge and amazing. Remember your end goal of becoming a nurse and dominate those exams!