YOUR Comprehensive Guide to Studying in Nursing School!

Going from a pre-nursing student to a nursing student is a big change. Your study habits that worked well to get you into nursing school may not work when you're in nursing school. So what can you do to ensure you learn the material, do well on exams, graduate, and become a nurse? Read on to find out!


  • Specializes in Neurosurgery, Neurology.

Congratulations! You did it! You have now been accepted to nursing school, and you're ready to begin the journey to becoming a licensed health care professional. You've heard the stories about how much studying there is to do in nursing school. You know you want to do well, so what can you do to maximize your success potential? This guide is based on my experience in a traditional (2.5 year) BSN program, which I graduated from with a 3.8 GPA. I hope that these tips can also help you be successful in your program.

Tip #1: Research Your Courses Before You Even Begin

This tips works whether you're about to start nursing school or you're in nursing school and about to start a new semester. The best thing you can do is to find out what exactly you'll be studying in your next semester. Before I started a semester, I would look at the course descriptions for each course I was taking. I would also try and find the syllabus for the previous semester, especially if the same professor was teaching the course. You can also talk to people that already took the course and ask if they would share the syllabus with you. If you have the syllabus, you can have an idea of what you're in for, look into the textbook(s) you'll need, see what assignments you may have to complete, how many exams there will be, etc. When you research your courses before you even begin, you already have a leg up, and will have a basis to know what to expect when you walk in on the first day.

Tip #2: Talk to People That Took the Course Already

Somewhat related to tip #1, if you know people that took the course you're about to take, talk to them! You can find out how difficult exams are, what material was emphasized (i.e. textbook vs. lectures), tips on completing projects and assignments, etc.

Tip #3: Maintain a Positive Attitude From the Beginning

All too often, I heard about how difficult a course was, how no one gets As in a course, and how stressful a course was. This "poisoning the well" does nothing except set you up for failure before you even sit in the classroom. The best thing you can do is to stay positive, and tell yourself that you WILL be successful, and you WILL achieve your goal of graduating from nursing school. I would repeat this mantra before each test, and periodically, and helped me to maintain the positive attitude I needed to be successful, no matter what some may say.

Tip #4: To Group or Not to Group

Ah, group studying...some people love it, some people can't do it. Admittedly, I am not a major fan of group study sessions...unless I have already done studying on my own. Quite often, study groups can spend more time on topics not related to the actual purpose of the group. So, you have to be careful with study groups, as you don't want to waste your time, or be confused by conflicting information.

For me, studying on my own was best. I never hesitated to help others study, nor did I hesitate to receive help either. For others, study groups helped them get through nursing school. The best thing you can do is try out a study group, and see if it works for you. Optimize your time by first going over the material on your own, then meeting in a group to go over topics you didn't understand.

As a nurse, you must know how to work with others, as a team. You will participate in a number of group projects throughout school. When it comes to studying though, find out what works best for you. It doesn't have to be as part of a group.

Tip #5: Use Review Resources

There are MANY review books out there aimed at boiling down the large amount of information you are taught in lecture and in your textbooks. I used the "Reviews and Rationales" series of review books throughout school from the first semester to my last. Others also used the "Saunders Comprehensive Review" book. These books can be borrowed from the library, rented on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or bought used. I read through the relevant chapter(s) after I studied my lecture notes/PowerPoints/textbook, and this helped me make sense of that large amount of information.

Tip #6: Questions, Questions, and More Questions

So here's really where straight A students falter when they enter nursing school: the questions are different! As you may have heard, answer choices to a question may all be correct actions, but you have to choose the one that is MOST correct. Ugh. I know it took me awhile to get used to answering NCLEX-style questions. So what can you do? Answer as many questions as you can! Before a test, I would answer all of the questions at the end of the chapters we were going to be tested on. Nursing textbooks also have companion websites with more questions (note: if you buy your book used you may have to purchase access separately), and I would answer those as well. I would also use the "Success" series of books that have NCLEX-style questions for all nursing courses.

And remember the key to answering questions: read the rationales! The best resources provide rationales for the correct answer(s) AND the incorrect ones.

Tip #7: Read the Summary at the End of the Chapter

If there's anything you read in the textbook, it should be the end-of-chapter summary. This summary provides the key points of information that you must know. You may get bogged down by the details within the chapter, but the summary is the need-to-know information that may very well be on your exams in some form.

Tip #8: Read the Textbook?!?

But do you really need to read the textbook? The answer is: it depends. This really goes back to Tip #2. If you talked to people that already took the course, you should have an idea of whether the textbook is actually needed to do well on exams. Some professors may provide all the information you will be tested on in their lectures/PowerPoints. Others may ask you to read the textbook and provide the basic information in lecture. At my school, the textbook was absolutely needed for most nursing courses. Also, the text can provide more details that may help "make sense" of what you learned in lecture.

So, if anything, try to at least skim the sections of the chapter that relate to what was covered in lecture. And remember, read the end of chapter summary!

Tip #9: Organization is Key

In nursing school, there's a lot going on! You have to go to lecture, clinical, skills checks, lab, maybe a review class or study group, etc. You'll have assignments for lecture and clinical, in addition to your exams. How can you keep track of all of this?! You have to be organized, there's no other option.

A planner can be very helpful. Once I had all of my syllabi, I would put in all of the dates for every exam and assignment. I would also put in the times for classes, clinical, and work. That way, at the start of each week, I knew what I was in for, and could plan.

When an exam was approaching, I would write down:

  • the chapters covered in the exam
  • the chapters in my review books that related that I would go over
  • any other resources I would use to study (i.e. online questions, PowerPoints)

Once I completed something, I would cross it off and move on to the next bullet point on my Exam To-Do List. I would also write in my planner what specifically I would study each day. Stay organized, and you know where you are in your studying.

Tip #10: Go to Class!

This might seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes we need a reminder, including myself. GO TO CLASS! In class, you will hear exactly what your professor wants you to hear. You'll hear the information you need to know to do well on your exams. Sometimes, you'll even receive hints about what will be on exams. Some of my professors would explicitly state, "this will be on the exam", or strongly hint, "you should really know this...". Either way, you are at a distinct advantage over those that don't go to class when you're in the chair, right in front of the professor.

Tip #11: No Cramming Allowed

Cramming may have worked in your pre-nursing courses. It simply won't work now. There is a large amount of information you must master, in a limited amount of time, to not only do well on your exams, but learn how to care for the lives of your patients. Studying for an exam the day or two before may have worked in the past, but it will be disastrous now. Plan to study for your exam at least a week before. That way, you have enough time to space out your study time, especially when you may have more than one exam in the same week.

Tip #12: Flashcards

Opinions vary on flashcards. Writing information down again can help reinforce it. For me, the only course that I used flashcards for was pharmacology. I strongly recommend using flashcards for pharmacology. Yes, you can purchase these, but writing them out is 10x better. My pharm professor was very specific on the information he wanted us to know, and what we would be tested on. Therefore, I made my flashcards based on that information. Then, I walked around with them everywhere I went. Repetition is key with pharmacology, so the more you look at your flashcards, you'll slowly realize, "wait, I'm actually remembering this now...". I honestly thought there was no way I could memorize everything I needed to know, but after a week+ going over my cards (remember, no cramming!), by the time the exam rolled around the corner, I knew what I needed to know, and did well.

Tip #13: Your Professors Are NOT the Enemy

If you're having difficulty with a course, the first person you should go to is your professor. You may feel ashamed, you may feel like you're a failure, but your professor wants you to succeed. Your professor can give you tips on how to study and learn the information they want you to learn, and may even give you an extra assignment to help reinforce material or even make up points (don't count on that though). At my school, professors would also go over exams at specific times, and sometimes would help explain why certain choices were wrong, which helped me see where my thought process went wrong. So, if you're having difficulty, see your professor during office hours! There is no harm, and who knows, maybe you'll get to know each other so well you'll ask that professor for a job reference ;)

Tip #14: Clinical Correlations Help

Sometimes, the material we learn in nursing school can seem esoteric. That is, until you're in clinical, you see something, and think, "wait! I learned that in lecture last week!". Your clinical rotations are where all the information you learn in lecture comes together, where you see it in real life, and use that knowledge to care for your patients. For me, seeing that information in clinical helped, as I realized that the knowledge wasn't just in the textbook, but right before my eyes. When you're in clinical, see if your assigned patients present with the diseases/disorders you're learning about. Look at their history and physical, lab values, nursing notes, and your own nursing assessment, and make that connection from the classroom to the clinical setting.


Doing well in nursing school is possible, as long as you put in the work. There is a lot of information to learn, but you can do it. Remember why you decided to go into nursing, and let that reason guide you in all that you do in school. Remember, you're not just studying for an exam. You're studying to learn how to competently and compassionately take care of the patients whose lives have been entrusted to you.


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216 Posts

You are spot on about everything especially clinical correlations. The material we learn in lecture seem confusing at first however; when in clinicals everything is pieced together slowly and makes more sense as time goes on.

Specializes in Maternity & newborn.

thank you :)


9 Posts

thanks it is an amazing tips, I'm a first year student and everything is difficult and new. its frustrated sometimes.


I will be starting my nursing courses this coming August and reading this article helped me get an insight on how to prepare.


3 Articles; 466 Posts

Specializes in Neurosurgery, Neurology.
thanks it is an amazing tips, I'm a first year student and everything is difficult and new. its frustrated sometimes.


Once you get used to the style of questions asked on nursing exams, as well as maintain a consistent study schedule, things should become a little easier.

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I so needed this! Starting nursing this fall and the happiness I felt when I found out my acceptance, flew right out the door the next day. I guess from hearing the horror stories, I started to feel overwhelmed. I'm picking myself back up and jumping on this ride. Thank you for posting!


2 Posts

Thank you.

These tips are very useful I'll have to keep every tip in mind.


15 Posts

Very helpful. Thanks a lot!