How To Study In Nursing School For Success

What are effective study strategies that can help you succeed in nursing school?

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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 note taking method that is best for you. But first, you need a commitment to explore and put different strategies to test.