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First semester- feels like drowning

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I'm in my first semester of nursing school, and had my first Funds exam last night. Leading up to the exam, I did practice questions, I reviewed the Power Points and reviewed my own notes....and I still feel like I absolutely failed. I know I just started this journey and NCLEX-style questions take some getting used to, but I can't help but feel like I'm failing and letting myself down.

Until this point, I've been a solid A student and I'm having a great deal of difficulty accepting the fact that this isn't clicking for me. I actually enjoy lectures and have enjoyed my time in lab, I'm just feeling like I chose the wrong path. I have wanted to be a nurse for quite some time and I genuinely think I could be great at it- but I'm wondering if I'm just not cut out for nursing school.

I've tried to vent to my family about it, but I know no one truly grasps the craziness that is nursing school exams like fellow nursing students and nurses. For those of you in your second semester and beyond- did you have your moments of "this isn't for me"?

I'm pretty sure my friends and I were asking ourselves "why did we think this was a good idea?" before every test even though we were doing well! So yes, it's normal. I find that doing practice questions helps. There are a lot of resources out there about how to answer NCLEX style questions and provide practice questions for whatever your test is on. It's definitely not always easy, but it will be worth it in the end. Good luck!

FutureNurseInfo

Has 1 years experience.

I feel your pain. I am actually only in week 2 of the first semester of the accelerated BSN program. Thus far I feel like there is nothing to worry about, especially with all these holidays in September. Since I am taking 4 courses this fall, I will have a lot of exams happening right at the same time, and my fist wave of such exams is happening at the end of September. As it is my first time taking such exams, I have no idea what to expect. Like you, I have been practicing questions and all, but I still feel like I am not doing enough. I also have doubts about choosing the right path, but I always keep telling myself, no matter what, you gotta do it and finish it - there is no way back. So, I guess pick yourself up, shake off those doubts and have faith in your abilities.

verene, MSN

Specializes in mental health / psychiatic nursing.

Nursing school can be extremely rough for those who have been "straight A" students for most of their academic career because it is hard to maintain getting A's in nursing school. So breathe, and forgive yourself if you don't get an A on every exam, or even in every class. You won't know everything perfectly and yet you will still live and you will still, in all likelihood, be able to go on a be a good nurse at the end.

I think most students feel overwhelmed in nursing school because it is a different kind of learning than many have been exposed to before. Nursing school isn't just about memorization or understanding the theory it is about application. Can you reason from what you know to find the answer for what you don't know? Can you work the same string of information forwards, backwards, and sideways. Find or create links between pieces of information - for instance if taking patho and pharm at the same time bundle your studying to a system rather than by class. Start from the normal - what is normal cardiac anatomy and physiology? What are common pathophysiologies? How do cardiac medications work to restore the abnormal to the normal? etc. Now go to a different point in the chain of information and work through it - if a particular cardiac drug is given what do you expect was previously going wrong? etc.

Working with friends in a study group can be useful for this kind of learning - as one of my instructors said it isn't enough to know the material - you need to be able to explain it to some one else. So explain it to a friend, explain it to your family, explain it to your pet or potted plant! Draw pictures, make up songs, create silly mnemonics whatever it takes to get the information in your head and feeling comfortable.

Edited by verene

I am so relieved to know I'm not alone! I've never been very good at "forgiving" myself for doing less than perfectly- so this whole journey will absolutely be difficult for me to adjust to. I thank you all for your kind words and advice!

MiladyMalarkey, ASN, BSN

Specializes in Neuro. Has 2 years experience.

This is your first nursing school exam, likely the first time you've ever had "NCLEX style" questions. Give yourself a break.

I've learned that usually the first exam of the semester usually is the lowest because all instructors test slightly different with their questions too. Once I took the first exam of the semester, it better prepared me for how to study. I make very good grades in nursing school, but I also understand if I pass with a B or even C, that is adequate because nursing school is not like pre-reqs. Pre-req exams had one right answer whereas nursing school exams, all the answers could technically be right, but which is most right and relevant to the situation. Example, you have to assess all these things on patient, but which is your first priority? The other answers aren't always or necessarily wrong because technically you need to assess all of them, but there is a best answer, in what other courses have you ever taken exams like that? Likely none.

Take a deep breath and know this is NS growing pains, you will adjust, you will adapt and will begin to critically think your way around these tricky questions. Also, from experience, the first half of the first semester is a bear anyway, for many reasons, it won't necessarily get easier, but you'll adapt to it and feel better as time progresses. Take heart and good luck.

Edited by MiladyMalarkey

Prof just posted our grades and I did pass with an 84! I'm more than relieved. Thanks again, guys!

verene, MSN

Specializes in mental health / psychiatic nursing.

BagelBomber said:
I am so relieved to know I'm not alone! I've never been very good at "forgiving" myself for doing less than perfectly- so this whole journey will absolutely be difficult for me to adjust to. I thank you all for your kind words and advice!

You are definitely not alone! A lot of us in my program had a rude awakening on our first exam but everyone in the cohort made it to graduation. I thought I was doing fine in nursing school until I got a 76% on my first patho exam - I panicked and ran to my professor. She told me that a 76% meant I *did* know the material well and had clearly been studying - I just didn't know how to to think for NCLEX style questions, and didn't know how to reason through the material to apply it yet! She's the one who gave me good advice on how to study to application rather than memorization, and to think through the material as if you were going to teach some one else - she espoused "teach your pets, teach your potted plants" comments often.

Her other wisdom: remember to care for one's self through the school process - forgive yourself when a day doesn't go well or you don't do as good on exam as you hoped, remember to take breaks while studying. Sleep adequately, exercise regularly, stay hydrated, eat nutritious foods, and spend some time now and then doing things that are nourishing to your spirit - whatever those hobbies or activities are for you. It's helps your brain and body feel better and you'll actually do better in school.

While I'm not sure nursing school will ever feel "easy" for you, you will adapt and you will get through it, and in even a year from now you'll look back and marvel at just how much you've learned (and forgotten) in that time.

verene said:
Her other wisdom: remember to care for one's self through the school process - forgive yourself when a day doesn't go well or you don't do as good on exam as you hoped, remember to take breaks while studying. Sleep adequately, exercise regularly, stay hydrated, eat nutritious foods, and spend some time now and then doing things that are nourishing to your spirit - whatever those hobbies or activities are for you. It's helps your brain and body feel better and you'll actually do better in school.

THIS! I have a nasty habit of forgetting to do this just in my day to day (I'm the single mom of ten year old boy, so I often forget that I need to eat/sleep/do something for myself). I actually have "video games" and "reading" and "gym time" blocked out in my planner. It isn't much, maybe an hour of exercise and a half hour of the other two each week, but it has helped to just take a little while to breathe.

tnbutterfly - Mary, BSN, RN

Specializes in Peds, Med-Surg, Disaster Nsg, Parish Nsg.

I'm glad you did better on the exam than you thought. Tests do cause anxiety, more for some than others. But NCLEX style questions take some getting used to. You have to know how to read the question.

Here is a great article one of our writers shared a few weeks ago which gives great insight into NCLEX style questions.

Focus on Students: Anatomy of NCLEX Questions

There is so much info to recall so it isn't uncommon to feel that you have not done well on the exams. Don't stress yourself out. Just wait to see the grade.

Lipoma, BSN, RN

Specializes in CEN | ER | Urgent Care. Has 3 years experience.

I just graduated from an ABSN program 2 weeks ago. One thing I learned is to be content of no longer being an all A student. Out of my cohort of 42, 41 graduated which means there's a high possibility you will survive.

The first semester is always the hardest because you do not know what to expect for the exams. But the more you take, the easier it is to answer NCLEX style questions (but dam those SATAs). Keep it up! All you need to do is pass each exam and move on to the next. Don't dwell.

nursinglove30

Has 1 years experience.

Nursing school is a combination of street and book smart....meaning situation smart. Exams are designed to make a student competent in those two. In order to master this, read your textbook ONLY, and do lots of practice questions on the topic being covered. On exams, make sure to read and understand the questions well before answering it. In your personal life, get lots of rest. Good luck don't give up.

FeliciaRNCPN

Has 5 years experience.

BagelBomber said:
I'm in my first semester of nursing school, and had my first Funds exam last night. Leading up to the exam, I did practice questions, I reviewed the Power Points and reviewed my own notes....and I still feel like I absolutely failed. I know I just started this journey and NCLEX-style questions take some getting used to, but I can't help but feel like I'm failing and letting myself down.

Until this point, I've been a solid A student and I'm having a great deal of difficulty accepting the fact that this isn't clicking for me. I actually enjoy lectures and have enjoyed my time in lab, I'm just feeling like I chose the wrong path. I have wanted to be a nurse for quite some time and I genuinely think I could be great at it- but I'm wondering if I'm just not cut out for nursing school.

I've tried to vent to my family about it, but I know no one truly grasps the craziness that is nursing school exams like fellow nursing students and nurses. For those of you in your second semester and beyond- did you have your moments of "this isn't for me"?

I have to saw that Fundamentals was my absolute worse class. Before I chose nursing I was a biology major and was at the top of my class. The first semester of nursing school was a shock to me. I ended up having to change my whole way or studying and test taking. It was the only was to get through Fundamentals and also get through the rest of nursing school I did end up top in my class again it just took work.

Don't give it! It'll get better you just have to adjust your way of thinking and studying. It takes time but is totally doable.

FeliciaRNCPN

Has 5 years experience.

Oh and one last thing, no know except nurses/nursing students can understand how crazy nursing school is. Maybe get to know your classmates a little, you are all in the same boat.

Relax. Sorry to say and this may not make sense but it gets harder and easier at the same time. The material gets harder, but as you gain experience in critical thinking your exams will go much smoother. My school provided a very detailed study guide at the start of each semester and once I followed it, things went easier for me. I also got an NCLEX book and used it for chapter outlines and help in answering questions with rationales.

Before you know it, this entire experience will be behind you. It doesn't seem that way now, but time flies. Two years ago I was in your shoes thinking the amount of time I spent studying was not reflected in my grade. I had a 4.0 GPA before nursing courses. I still graduated on the Dean's List, but wasn't perfect. In the end, this is just preparing you for the next step. I'm now in my first nursing job and school seems like a distant memory and I only graduated three and a half months ago. Don't sweat not getting straight A`s. Nursing school isn't designed for easy A`s. Relax. Breathe and nurse on.

Best of luck to you.

I was pretty discouraged after my first fundamentals exam got me the worst mark of my life, when I studied hard and was used to being a 4.0 student. And then the second one too... I went to my teachers embarrassed and they were thrilled with how I was doing! Said B was probably my new reality with nursing school! I wasn't excited about that, but tried to talk myself into accepting that.

And then they "gave back" points for a couple exams and had us do class presentations, and next thing I had an A in the class even though I wasn't getting A's in the exams.

By the end of the semester I realized you just have to get good at guessing. There are practice question apps that were helpful, and there are ways to sort out which are priority. With practice, you get the hang of it.

Don't quit, keep going! Me and my fears were my own worst enemy. I ended up telling myself over and over to just do the minimum. This sounds terrible, but I would paralyze myself. If I agreed to just do the minimum in reading/homework/practice it was actually enough. Maybe that wouldn't work for everyone, but it was a life saver for me!