How To Study for Nursing School Success

Are you starting or new to nursing school? How you studied and prepared for exams in the past may not be robust enough for the academic challenges of nursing school. This article will provide you with tips to help you improve and shed light on new approaches for success. Students General Students HowTo


How To Study for Nursing School Success

It’s the time of year when eager students are venturing into their first semester of nursing school. Most likely, they have been bombarded with advice from other seasoned students. However, starting nursing school is like jumping into frigid water. You know I is going to be a shock to your system and yet, you can’t comprehend just how much of a shock until you jump in. Fortunately, there are effective study strategies that can help students to make a smooth transition.

Effective Study Strategies

STEP 1 You Must Study ... STUDY!

Unless you have a photographic memory or some other learning super power, you will have to study. I was one of the many nursing students who cruised through prerequisite classes and rarely broke a sweat. I realized early in my first semester that what had worked for me in previous courses, was not going to be enough. Most students have to “step up” their study skills in nursing school to be successful.

STEP 2 Lay a strong foundation

There is a way you can spend less time studying and still be successful. The secret? Put a consistent effort into all of your coursework. For example:

STEP 3 Attend class

I often hear students say, “I don’t go to class because they just read off powerpoints”. Even if this is the case, instructors place emphasis on important and “need to know” information. Attending class gives students an opportunity to hear the information and ask questions.

STEP 4 Listen in class

Pay attention, take notes and review your notes for a few minutes after class. It also helps to compare your notes with another student’s and see what they thought was important.

STEP 5 Rethink assignments

Students often lament course assignments as “busy work” that distracts from study time. It helps to reimagine coursework as additional exposure to information and an opportunity to test knowledge.

Schedule Yourself for Study

Time management in nursing school is crucial to your success. Studying will compete with personal, academic and social responsibilities for a valuable chunk of your time. Therefore, go ahead and schedule your study time. Here are a few tips:

STEP 1 Master the calendar

Just thinking about your nursing program, personal and work schedule can quickly lead to feelings of chaos. It is important to see the “big picture” of your schedule instead of trying to keep up with all the separate moving parts. Develop a master calendar plotting out all your scheduled activities (class, work, clinicals, appointments, family responsibilities) and then schedule your study time. Be sure to include due dates for exams, assignments and other important deadlines.

STEP 2 Be realistic

Scheduling yourself only a few 20 minute study sessions a week will most likely result in very intense cramming sessions. Schedule adequate blocks of study time, but be sure to work in breaks. Studying without breaks leads to fatigue and poor retention of information.

Take Good Notes

After scoring low on exams, students would often show me pages and pages of detailed notes and ask with obvious frustration, “What am I doing wrong?”. When it comes to note taking, quantity is not always equal quality. Here are a few tips:

STEP 1 Read before the lecture

Having a general awareness of the material before you attend the lecture will put you a step ahead. This doesn’t mean reading in detail all 200+ pages to be covered, but it does help to have an idea of the topics that will be presented.

STEP 2 Get organized

There are many different note taking strategies and it is important to find the method that works for you. Remember, you may need to change what you have done in the past. A few methods for you to explore include:

  • Outline Method
  • Boxing Method
  • Cornell Method
  • Mapping Method
  • Charting Method

You can read descriptions, pros and cons of each method here.

STEP 3 Handwritten vs electronic notes

Research has shown handwritten notes have an edge over electronic notes when it comes to retaining information. However, there are pros and cons to both depending on student preferences and learning style. Here are just a few:

Laptop Notes


  • If you are a good typist, laptop notes are quicker and may allow you to take more detailed notes.
  • You can easily search for additional information, examples and access helpful resources.


  • Typing could translate to “mindless” note taking and not really thinking about what is being said by the lecturer.
  • Easily distracted internet sites or social media.

Handwritten Notes:


  • Better engagement with the lecturer and presented material
  • Research has found increased retention when compared to electronic note taking


  • It is easier to miss or leave out important information
  • Requires excellent organization skills for effective handwritten notes

The bottom line- finding the notetaking method that is best for you. But first, you need a commitment to explore and put different strategies to test.

Stay tuned for Part II for more studying tips to help you be successful.

Do you have any tips or hacks you would like to share?




Nurse with over 20 years experience in a variety of settings and nursing roles. Enjoys writing about what is encountered in her own nursing practice.

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All great advice!! 
In my first half of nursing school I found that taking notes from the PowerPoint (and textbook) before class and then filling them out further during lecture worked very well. This strategy wasn't quite cutting it in the second half though. I found what worked best was to keep doing what I was already doing, but also boil the unit objectives down to index cards: one card per objective, and really focus on that information (plus anything else the teacher seemed to really emphasize during class).
This slight shift in focus helped a lot and helped me use my study time more efficiently.

Wlaurie, RN

170 Posts

Good advice. I recorded classes and listened over again. Formed a study group. I had a study buddy to help study for the NCLEX. I also when to school and studied. That's about it. Missed a lot of events for awhile but it demands a big commitment. 

Specializes in Surgical.

1) Pay attention to the objectives and make sure you can answer them. 
2) Get the NCLEX prep book. Read the summarized content for review and answer the questions. Then read every single rationale whether you got the answer right or wrong, you always learn something.

3) Practice drug calculations over and over and over. It could save you in many ways

4) Remember, SAFETY FIRST! 

Ace Savanahh

59 Posts

If you have good teachers, nursing school is easy.  Go GameStop 


709 Posts

Ignore instructors.

Read the book. Take notes. Live and die by the book, syllabus, and skills checkoff sheets.

Make flashcards using the Anki app. Do HUNDREDS of practice questions for every test.

Graduate with a 4.0

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