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Nursing school is hard. The time and energy it takes to get through can certainly be overwhelming. You’re tired and exhausted all. the. time. Between clinical rotations, class time, studying, and trying to have a life it’s hard to imagine how anything ever gets done.
But, it can be done (because, hello! I’m right here. I made it out alive and with a pretty sweet GPA to show for it)!
Hands down though, the most stressful part for me (and the majority of like every other nursing student) was learning how to study. This is why I nailed the “how to study in nursing school” part down real quick.
I was not playing any games! In fact, I nailed it down so well that I would end up teaching some of my classmates the material to help them learn and retain the information more effectively.
Now, I’m here to share my not-so-secret secret to studying in nursing school with every single one of you.
1. Time Management
STOP what you are doing right now and pay attention! If you do not figure out how to manage your time first, you are already failing. You will not succeed with studying in nursing school if your time management is piss poor. Just keeping it real. Don’t shoot the messenger!
Buy a planner. I love the ones with the monthly calendar where you can jot down quick notes/assignments and then the daily calendar with nice big boxes where you can elaborate on those quick notes and assignments. I really love this turquoise and gold dots hardcover planner and this planner by Busy Bee, but seriously, get a planner that works for you.
Start by opening up that fresh new planner and let’s break that baby in!
Using your syllabus or class schedule, write down all assignment due dates, exam dates and clinical dates for the entire semester. If you skip this step, you’ll pay for it later. Been there, done that.
Next, fill in any planned vacations, doctor’s appointments, and regular life things that you know are happening or need to be scheduled.
Finally, fill in when you plan to work on notes/study/do care plans, etc. For me, I planned my study time for both before and after class. If you need a visual, you can check out my nursing school planner for ideas.
Lastly, don’t forget about your free-time. Pencil that in too! You won’t regret it.
2. Study Smarter, Not Harder
“How on Earth am I going to get through these 455 slides of information and retain every word by my exam tomorrow?” I’m being dramatic (or am I)? No, but seriously, don’t freak out! I have a plan, trust me.
Most problems in regards to studying in nursing school lie in the way students study as opposed to how often and for how long. Here’s the method I used that literally carried me through nursing school (without making less than a B on any exam).
Print out the Powerpoint and briefly skim them before class. Make notes of potential questions you may have. This does a couple of things
Exposes you to the content before it is taught so you’ve already seen it at least once. This is super helpful when it comes to retaining information.
Allows you to formulate potential questions to ask during lecture.
Allows you to relate the content to things previously learned. The body is a wonderful system that is designed to work together in perfect harmony. Making connections with things you’ve learned before is more likely to place that content into your long-term memory.
Make sure to put a little star by the content your instructor focuses on the most because this is what you will be tested on! Yes, that means if your professor skips 365 slides, then don’t pay much attention to those slides. If they didn’t care to go over it in class, they most likely won’t put that content on the exam.
Read over in your textbook what your professor DID go over. Learn it, and learn it well. You will be tested on this. I promise!
Not only does this method reduce the bulk of the information you are required to know, but you also get to keep your sanity. I say that’s a win-win!
3. Study in Timed Intervals
I swear by the timed/interval study method. This method is known as the Pomodoro Technique and utilizes a timer while studying or completing tasks to enhance concentration and retention of information. This worked like a gem for me and was the way I studied throughout my entire program.
Seriously, trying to study for one, two, three hours at a time and all at once is wildly ineffective and greatly reduces the amount of information you retain. Don’t do it… (I warned you…)
Here’s how the Pomodoro Technique works:
Set a timer for 30 minutes. I used my iPhone.
Study for the entire 30 minutes. Do not get up, look at your phone, or do anything for that 30 minutes except study.
Once the timer goes off, take a 5 minute break. This is when you can do what you want (i.e., look at your phone, text, use the restroom, etc.)
Once the 5 minutes are up, set your timer for another 30 minutes.
Repeat until you’ve completed 4 rounds of 30 minute intervals.
At the end of the 4 rounds, take a 15-30 minute break then start from the top!
You can learn more about the Pomodoro Technique here.
I was able to keep my studying time to 4 hours per day because I was so laser focused that I didn’t have to study for 8 hours or cram for an exam. I was able to get things done because I was using my time effectively and efficiently.
4. Create Your Own Notes for Studying in Nursing School
I never studied from my Powerpoints. Never. For me, they were used more like a guide on what to put in the notes I would eventually create for myself as opposed to studying directly from them.
(FYI: The students who studied directly from the Powerpoints didn’t do so well in my nursing program. In fact, many of them (about half) didn’t make it past the first semester.)
Let’s face it. The professors only have so much time to create lecture material so they are likely going to only include the bare minimum and leave it up to you to refer to the text for the bulk of the information. Obviously they want you to work for that degree, and they aren’t going to baby you through nursing school. Crack open that book because that information needs to be in the notes you create for yourself.
Creating my own notes did a few things:
Creating your own notes allows you to add in those juicy textbook bits of information that they expect you to know, but don’t include in the lecture material.
I was able to put the notes into my own words and format them in a way that made sense in my head. Doing something in a way that makes sense to you is important when trying to learn bulks of new information.
I had enough space to write down helpful hints/tips to aid in the retaining of information (i.e., lab values and what they meant, special procedures for certain diagnoses, etc.)
I had something solid to refer back to if I ever wanted clarification on material or if a test question didn’t make sense to me.
5. Ask for Help Early and Ask Questions Often
I cannot stress this enough. If you do not understand something, ask for help immediately and ask questions during lecture.
I was never afraid to ask questions because 9 times out of 10, somebody was just as clueless as I was. They also probably had a similar question but was too afraid to ask. If you’re really just too shy to ask questions during lecture, schedule a time to meet with your professor after class. If they see you’re trying, they are definitely more willing to go the extra mile for you!
6. Take Care of Yourself
Don’t forget about YOU! Take a break. Spend time with friends. Go out for drinks. Make time to still do what you love to do.
Nursing school is hard, not impossible. But it will also break you down if you don’t focus on your own physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Find things that make you happy and are productive ways to relieve stress.
And that’s all folks! I love to hear from you guys so shoot me an email or leave a comment below and let me know how these tips work for you! Happy studying!