I just graduated in May from an ADRN program. I was an older student (44 when I went back to school). Nursing school is not easy, that is true - but if you want it bad enough, you can do it. Here are the things that helped me get through school, I hope that they help you and others! I am going to put them in order of importance:
#1 - If you don't know Jesus Christ as you personal savior, I pray that you will. I couldn't have made it without Him. Pray daily for his help and guidance and He will be with you every step of the way. I can think of many times when the only explanation for a good grade that I got on a test or the fact that I made it through a clinical day when I had been up until 2 AM working on paper work and I had to be at my clinical site at 6 am - was because God was with me.
#2 - The difference between students who retain the information during the semester and don't freak out when finals come is to READ, READ and READ what they tell you to READ. I don't know how many of the people that I went to school with did not open a book and were proud to announce the fact that they never opened their books. These same people were the ones that struggled big time when finals came. I don't know about your program, but for mine, it didn't matter if you had a 100% going into the final or not, if you didn't get above a 75% on the final, you flunked the course. I am not saying that you can't get a passing grade on the tests by studying your notes, power points, etc., but actually reading the material really builds your knowledge base, which is SO important. Even now, in my job as a nurse, I feel that all the reading that I did is really helping me because the information is in my long term memory because of reading it over and over throughout school. There is too much information by the end of the semester, to try and re-cram everything back into your brain. Besides, all of those books cost alot of money, so use them!
#3 - Here is my suggestion for test Days. I don't know if you have test anxiety or not, but if you do, this is especially important. If you don't have an iPod, I highly suggest that you get one. Put music on it that is relaxing to you. Put your iPod in your ears before you get out of your car. Get to class at least 30 minutes before class starts. (I lived in a major metropolitan city and had to drive into the heart of the city. On regular days I would leave my house an hour before class and on test days I would leave an hour and a half before class. I don't know how many times that this saved my butt because of traffic. If you are late, that will just add to your stress, so take that out of the equation.) Get out your pencil, glasses, gum or whatever else you are going to need during the test and set them on the desk. Leave the room and find a quiet place to just sit and listen to music. Do not try and cram at this time. If you don't know it by then, you don't know it. Cramming at this point is just going to fry your brain and you will forget the stuff that you did know. If you allow your mind to relax and you think positive thoughts, pray, etc. - this will do more for you than all of the cramming in the world. Oh yeah, and the iPod serves another reason -you can't hear everyone else freaking out about how much they don't know and about how hard the test is going to be. This negative talk will start making you doubt what you know. If you are one that really likes to visit before class and has alot of friends, this will be hard for you. But if you start this right up front and just tell everyone that this is what you have to do to relax on test days, then your friends will understand!
#4 - For me, wasting hours upon hours making flash cards did not work for me. I know alot of people who used them, but I did not. I started out using them and quickly tired of all of the time that it took. Instead, this is what I did. I took my laptop to class and took notes on everything that the teacher said that was not on the powerpoints. I printed the powerpoints out before class (I hope your school does this, some don't) and I only typed the stuff that was not on them. When I got home after class, I would go through and fix all of the typos and make it look better, then I would print these off and put them with the corresponding powerpoints in my notebook. When it came time to study for the test, they were all in order. Also, (and now you are going to think I am really OCD, and you would be right!) - I typed up important stuff from the readings that were not in the notes or the powerpoints and also studied them. If you don't have time for this, just make sure that at the very least you READ the material, just in case your teachers decide to put a few questions that are only from the readings on the test (our teachers did that all the time!).
#5 - Make a schedule for studying, but be flexible - life happens. Put everything in a Day Planner (Clinicals, Labs, Tests, Project Due dates, study group times, etc..). I always had a priority list for the week and I would start at the top and work down. I also tried to work on short term and long term stuff as I went along. There is so much that at times, it will be very overwhelming, but if you sit down and break it down by weeks, it will go alot better for you. Like I said, do remember the long term stuff (projects, papers, etc..) and don't wait until the last minute to do them. We had alot of group presentations that we always had to be working on and it went alot better when our group started working on them early and did a little each week.
#6 - Realize right up front, that your life is about to change. Talk to your family and friends and tell them how important this is to you and that for the next couple of years things are going to be different. There will be weeks when you have more time than other weeks, so be sure and get away from studying and spend time alone, with friends or family - not thinking about school or nursing stuff, but just accept the fact and have the mind set that you will have to make this sacrifice to get what you want. I remember during orientation, one of our teachers talked to us about this very thing and I remember thinking - yeah, yeah, they are just trying to scare us. Well, looking back now, no - they were not trying to scare us, they were just trying to prepare us for what was to come. Listen to them and take their advice.
I'm sure I could think of lots of other things, but then this would be a book and it almost is now. Feel free to ask me any questions that you want to, I would be glad to help. I wouldn't trade my experiences the last couple of years for anything. The stress, sleepless nights, hours of studying - all of it was so worth it. If being a nurse is your calling, like it has always been mine - then you'll do fine. I am proud to say that I am and RN and I know that you will too someday. Hang in there and remember to READ!