My Guide To Making The Grade And Maintaining Your Sanity

Hello everyone. I want to share with current or future nursing students my "guide " to surviving nursing school exams and coursework. Students Student Assist Article


My Guide To Making The Grade And Maintaining Your Sanity

Studying And Managing Coursework

It's your first day of class. Your excited, scared, and eager. All the hard work in your pre-requisites has finally paid off, and you are officially a nursing student. Your professor walks in, greets the classroom, and dives right into the syllabus. One look at the syllabus and the anxiety starts to kick in. It is several pages long. "Geez, this might be the biggest syllabus I've ever had!" You turn the page and there is the reading list--- you think to yourself, "you have got to be kidding me...there is just no way one person can study this much material!"

Get used to this feeling. Not only will it start in your very first nursing fundamentals course, but it will continue all the way up until graduation. Nursing school is no joke -- it is very overwhelming. It may seem impossible, but with the right study habits and time management skills, you can and will succeed.

The following are the most valuable pearls of wisdom I can give you in terms of studying and achieving good grades in your courses.

What to Study

Only study what is covered in class--this will cut down your workload significantly and make your time spent studying that much more meaningful.

You must be thinking to yourself "you mean I don't have to read all 1 million chapters assigned by the professor for week 1?!" THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT I'M SAYING!

Although you "should" read everything, it's just not feasible. There are not enough hours in the week to do all that reading and simultaneously prep for clinical, eat, sleep, and maintain your health and sanity. Take it from me. During my first fundamentals course, I read and studied every single page, box, etc assigned in the syllabus. I was too scared to skip anything. I was so anxious that I even started studying 3 weeks before the class actually started, which accumulated into over 5 weeks of studying by the time the first exam was even given.

It took a serious toll on my health, yet I continued to read and study every page, box etc for the remainder of the course. By the time the first semester ended, I was mentally and physically exhausted and I told myself I didn't want to do this anymore. I vented to a friend of mine who was a senior nursing student getting ready to graduate, and she told me to only study what was covered in class. I thought to myself, " there's no way," but I had to try something or else I was going to end up withdrawing myself from the nursing program. So I took her advice with me into my next course. The assigned readings/ chapters list was comparable, if not larger, than the list for my fundamentals course. Even though deep down I wanted to read all of it to be on the safe side, I only read what was covered in class. I got a 96 on the first exam.

For example, let's say on the syllabus your teacher assigned chapter 21, " postpartum assessment and complications " to be read and studied. However, during class, he or she only teaches certain sections of chapter 21. ONLY STUDY THOSE SECTIONS! There is a reason for this-- the professor is covering what he or she deems the most important information, which translates into the information that will be covered on the test. I used this technique all the way until my very last exam in nursing school, and not only did it prove to be correct each time, but it was probably what saved me from burning out and subsequently withdrawing from school.

How to Study

Study what you need to know as a nurse.

What I mean is this: your professor won't care that you can describe why the pain felt during a heart attack is due to the buildup of lactic acid as a result of oxygen deprivation and every biological step involved in anaerobic metabolism ( and these processes are covered quite extensively in nursing textbooks). Sure, it's nice to know, but your not getting a degree in chemistry. Instead, they want to know what YOU would do if a patient presented to the ER with chest pain, important nursing actions to take during this situation, and why you take those actions. Study what you need to know as a nurse.

In addition, applying what you study is most important and this is where the bulk of where your testing will come from. From day one your teachers will speak of critical thinking and the nursing process, and your licensing exam will focus heavily on these concepts. These principles are exactly what makes nursing so difficult and also why so many people will not make it through nursing school. At this point, you're probably asking yourself, " Well how do I know if I can critically think and apply what I have learned? " Practice applying what you know with NCLEX style questions. One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to purchase an NCLEX practice question book early on in your academic career. Purchase a book that divides the questions up into sections, ie cardiac, oncology, etc. so that you can use them to study when you are covering different topics in school.

Time management is also essential to success in nursing school yet very difficult to get a grasp of early on. To effectively manage your time, there are several steps to take. First off, get a calendar. On the very first day of class, mark each and every quiz and exam on the calendar. Next, and probably most important, study every day. By no means do I mean 4-5 hours a day. Not only is that foolish but you will burn out fast. Study 2 hours a day, and as far in advance as you can. Not only will you be adequately prepared, but the information will stay in your long-term memory-- there's no such thing as cramming in nursing school the night before, you've gotta know this stuff forever. For example, let's say your test is in two weeks. Start studying the very first day the teacher presents the information.

Take notes in class, and clarify any missing portions with your textbook. Learn this information, then start practicing the information with corresponding NCLEX questions. At first, you will probably get a decent amount of the questions wrong. BUT THAT'S OK! This is how you learn, and when you go back to do more questions you will start to notice that there is only so many ways they can ask you about a given topic or scenario. Also, do every question you can get your hands on. I used to go to Barnes and noble, pay for a coffee, and take all of the NCLEX books out of their nursing section and do them until I got sick of them. If you practice questions and study your notes like I said for 2 hours a day up until the exam, you will be an expert by the time you have to test and I guarantee you will pass, probably with flying colors.

"What do I do when I'm crunched for time and can't take notes from my textbook?"

Purchase Med/surg nursing reviews and rationales by Mary Ann Hogan. Essentially this book is a cliff notes version of your bulky med/surg textbook. It has notes on the most important diseases, procedures, surgeries etc divided by body system and is worth its weight in gold. There were several times where I replaced my med/surg text with this book and used it along with NCLEX questions for practice to learn the info.

For example, let's say you are covering cardiac tamponade in class, but don't have time to take notes on it from your med/surg text. Open up reviews and rationales by Mary Ann Hogan, turn to the cardiac section, and you will find an excellent breakdown of the disease in bullet-point format which includes a definition, signs and symptoms, and associated nursing interventions. Study this breakdown, and then practice NCLEX questions on it. Repeat this process over and over for all disorders/diseases/procedures you are learning about it and you will shine when it comes to testing time.

Well, that about covers it. I really hope this will help nursing students to excel in the classroom and do well on exams. If you're wondering how I did, I graduated with a 3.9 cumulative GPA and passed the NCLEX in 75 questions. Best of luck everyone.

Test Taking Strategies for Nursing Students (added by staff to further help our readers)



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28 Posts

Thank you so very much!! Great words of wisdom.

Wonderful post. I wish I would have known some of this while I was in school. I'm sure this will benift many though. Very nice!


67 Posts

this is wonderful & will be very helpful since i am about to start my nursing journey :up:


366 Posts

Specializes in None.

Thanks for the post!! Amazing information, I'm sure it will come in handy when I start! :)


1 Article; 69 Posts

You're welcome everyone. I hope you all excell in your studies. I'm thinking about possibly typing a guide for surviving clinicals as well. Thoughts?


26 Posts

I can't say thank you enough for your post. I have the exact same feelings and your post puts it all into perspective and relieves some of my anxiety. Congrats on passing the NCLEX in 75 questions.


115 Posts

Thank you so much for taking the time to write this all out!

I'm printing this out to keep in my study area for when I'm feeling frustrated! :)


141 Posts

This is a great post! I'm really going to keep this in mind when I start on August 22nd. Thanks


1 Post

Currently 1/2 way through my program and this was excellent advice!!! Thank You


366 Posts

Specializes in None.

Typing out a surviving clinicals wouldn't be a bad could only help! I agree with the above poster i'm going to print this thread out, and yes congrats to passing the exam and having an amazing GPA. :)


31 Posts

Thank you so much!! This is soooo helpful!!! Can you recommend an NCLEX book that covers by subject? There are so many I wouldn't know were to start :/

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