There’s no question that nursing school is challenging. And when you are trying to manage home and work responsibilities on top of your nursing studies, the amount of studying you need to do could seem insurmountable. How on Earth are you supposed to get all of these chapters read, never mind review notes, prepare for the nursing exam and retain all of the vital information that you absolutely must know for a successful career in nursing?
The first step is to take a deep breath. You can do this. Nursing school just takes a little bit of planning, some time management and a few study tips and strategies to help separate the “need to know” from the “nice to know” and improve your information retention.
1. Follow the nursing exam study guide
One of the best ways to focus your nursing studies is to base your learning around the NCLEX test. Reviewing a study guide not only reveals which subject areas the nursing exam focuses on, but also how the test presents questions. Clearly, not everything you need to know as a nurse is contained in the licensing exam, but if you study towards the nursing exam all along, you’ll feel more confident on testing day.
2. Study a little every day
You cannot cram a week’s worth of study into a few hours on the weekend. Commit to spending a little time on your nursing studies every day, even if you have to break it into several smaller increments in order to get it in. You’ll feel less overwhelmed and retain more information.
3. Focus on the material covered in class
Your instructors are going to assign many chapters to read each week, plus outside resources to review. Instead of carefully reading and outlining every single word, take a cue from your class time. What topics does the instructor spend time reviewing? What are the key points covered in class? Focus your attention on these areas.
4. Think in terms of action, not facts
It’s important for nurses to understand why certain conditions occur and what is happening physiologically in a patient. However, the patient is not interested in hearing those facts – he or she just wants to feel better. When you are studying for the nursing exam, ask yourself, “How will I help my patients with this information?” You’ll be a better nurse as well as a better student.
5. Form a study group
Research shows that students who study with peers retain approximately 90% of what they learn, as opposed to just 60% of what they hear in class alone and just 10% of what they read. Not to mention, studying with others helps provide encouragement and moral support. Get together with a few of your fellow nursing students (research shows that groups of three are the most effective) and put your heads together to share study tips and improve your performance.
6. Skim-read first
Nursing school requires a lot of reading, but if you try to retain everything on your first pass, you are just going to be frustrated. Before you read a chapter, skim the material first. Look at headings, subheadings and highlighted terms and review the summaries and questions at the end of the chapter, to determine which information is most important.
7. Use outside sources
There’s nothing that says you can only learn from your text or instructor. Augment your class resources with others; for example, if you are learning about diabetes, review the Mayo Clinic, WebMD and American Diabetes Association websites to learn more. Do this before you read a chapter, as a type of “preview” to your reading. Remember, though, that your textbook and instructor are to be considered the final, correct authority.
8. Know your learning style
Everyone learns differently: some need to see information, some need to hear it, while others learn kinetically. So in effect, everyone needs to discover which study tips work best for them. Know your own style and use it to your advantage. For example, kinetic learners often do best when they write out their notes, as the motion of writing helps them remember.
9. Use downtime as study time
Nursing studies require a certain level of memorization. Create flashcards or notes that will help you review those facts when you are doing other things. For example, tape cards listing vital sign ranges to your bathroom mirror, so you’ll see them when you’re brushing your teeth. Eventually, without even really trying, those numbers will be second nature.
10. Take breaks
If you spend all of your time studying, you are just going to get overwhelmed and probably not retain as much information as you would hope. Be sure to take regular breaks so you do not lose interest or enthusiasm. Sometimes, just a short change of scenery can help recharge your batteries and improve retention.
Successfully completing nursing school is a major commitment, but one that you can easily handle with a plan, some good study tips and the right approach to studying.
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