Every year, the National Student Nurses Day is meant to honor the incredible dedication of nursing students hoping to make a mark in the industry. But any day is a great time to put the spotlight on their efforts, and so here we are featuring the best study hacks for nursing students!
While nursing students may live social lives, theirs is a pressure cooker environment. We believe these study hacks will go a long way toward making better use of their time.
But first, a little trivia: Did you know that nursing students comprise more than half of all students pursuing healthcare-related degrees? This isn’t surprising, considering that nurses are the largest cohort in hospitals! Their work scope encompasses vital tasks from the cradle to the grave, and their work isn’t just a job, but a profession. There’s also the fact that nurses outnumber physicians four to one, and you get the sense that nurses are indispensable!
Nurses are almost the most trusted professionals, and we’re not just talking in the healthcare industry. They have dominated the annual honesty/ethics poll conducted by Gallup since 2001!
The nursing profession is also among the consistently top-ranked occupations because of the fantastic compensation, career advancement, and work-life balance. Many nursing positions, such as a registered nurse, nurse practitioner, and nurse anesthetist, attract the brightest for these reasons.
Nursing also has an exceptional job growth rate. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics supposes that the growth rate for registered nurses is 7% from 2019 to 2029 – a faster than average rate. Indeed, student nurses today have excellent opportunities to find a well-paying job as soon as they earn their licenses or certifications!
But the road toward becoming a nurse is a tough one. Your days will be filled with hours of classroom lectures, clinical rotations, and study time. You must burn the midnight oil or face the consequences, including failing grades.
Fortunately, it isn’t all doom and gloom! You can use these study hacks to make your life as a nursing student easier and, thus, to learn more and get better grades.
#1 Know your learning style.
Everyone learns in a different manner. Some learn by seeing information (visual learners); some by hearing it (auditory learners); some by using their body and hands (kinesthetic learner); some through words (verbal learner). Your first task is to determine the style of learning you’re most comfortable with and then use its recommended methods.
If you’re a visual learner, look into these study hacks:
- Draw pictures and symbols
- Use white space on your study materials so that you don’t feel overwhelmed by too much information
- Create charts and graphs
- Make outlines of topics
- Use flashcards
Being a kinesthetic learner requires other techniques. You can take notes, chew gum and listen to music.
#2 Set SMART goals and reward yourself.
You can set study goals for the day, for an entire week or month, and an upcoming exam. But be sure to set SMART goals, meaning these should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.
For example, your goal before a major exam can be stated as: “I’m going to study one chapter every day until I have completed all three chapters a day before the exam. I’m setting aside two hours every day, one hour during lunch and one hour during dinner, for it.”
You’re breaking up the formidable task into manageable chunks. You’re then giving yourself better chances at achieving your goals.
You should reward yourself when you achieve your goals, too! This may mean a 30-minute nap, surfing the web, or socializing with your roommates. Do what will make you happy and relaxed, so you’re recharged for another battle with the books.
#3 Set a specific place for studying.
You can set specific areas of your bedroom, classroom, and library as your study area. The fewer distractions, the better for your study time. Your brain will pick up the cues that once you’re in a specific study area, you’re going to study.
Think of it as mental conditioning, where you will train your mind to be on study mode when you sit down in your designated study area. You have to associate positive thoughts of learning more about nursing with the said area, not associate it with pressure-filled time.
#4 Focus on the hard topics first.
When you’re making your “to-study” list, you must prioritize the hard topics or the subjects where you’re struggling the most first. Otherwise, you’re likely to procrastinate and, in the end, either go on a cramming mode or leave them altogether. You’ll end up the loser either way.
Besides, you will enjoy achieving the hard things, and you’ll have more motivation to deal with the easy subjects.
You may also categorize the topics into:
- Urgent but not important
- Not urgent and important
You can then focus more on the urgent topics that need your attention now and set the others for future dates. Of course, you must change the topics under each category – pharmacology, for example, maybe urgent but not important tonight, but urgent tomorrow.
#5 Take notes.
When you’re in class, you’re well-advised to take thorough notes, if possible. You may find it challenging, nonetheless, to take down notes and listen well to your professor, but there’s a way around it. You can make a recording of the lectures if your professor allows it.
You will then be able to listen to the lecture afterwards, take note of the vital points, and study them immediately. Be mindful of the topics chosen by your professor for the class session – these topics were selected for a reason! You may encounter them during pop quizzes and clinical rotations.
#6 Use variable speeds when listening to audio.
Speed up or slow down recordings of lectures according to your specific needs. Speeding up the audio/video allows for better and faster reinforcement of material you already know. Slowing down audio/video means getting a better understanding of concepts you’re struggling with.
Listen to recorded audio-video material at double their normal speed! You’re not just consuming content in a faster manner, but you’re also learning more. Your brain wants to catch up with the faster speed of speech it’s getting from the material and, in the process, developing its active listening ability.
Of course, it will take time and practice to learn faster and better using this technique. You may want to increase the speed until you hit the Goldilocks spot gradually.
#7 Join a study group.
Studies reveal the numerous benefits of a study group, including getting support, learning new concepts and habits, and enjoying social interaction. But it’s also important to choose the right study group that will meet your study goals, learning style, and personality. You may want to consider classmates who are willing to accommodate your habits, and you’re willing to accommodate theirs, too.
Furthermore, a study group is effective when it contributes to your academic advancement and personal development. You must also return the favor for your study group mates, an unspoken agreement.
#8 Keep the nursing exam study guide in mind.
Your nursing studies lead to a single exam – the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), the national nursing licensure exam. You may want to check out the NCLEX study guide when you’re in doubt about prioritizing your study list. You will find it useful since it reveals the subject areas of focus and how questions are presented.
Just keep in mind that this tip isn’t applicable at all times, particularly when you’re in your first years in nursing school. You’re more likely to pass your exams and recitations when you follow the course guides.
#9 Enough with the multitasking already.
Multitasking has its uses but not when you’re studying for a nursing exam! In a Stanford University study, researchers concluded that multitaskers had reduced memory capacity. Multitaskers perform worse when it comes to organizing, storing, and retrieving information. They also have a higher risk of developing an addiction to distraction.
You must then stop believing that multitasking, such as reading a book while listening to a podcast, will mean more efficient use of your time. You should consider single-tasking, which means focusing on a single task and getting the most from it. You will find that single-tasking makes for higher productivity and less stress from taking on too much information.
#10 Cut out distractions.
This is part of single-tasking in that cutting out distraction means that your brain can focus on a single activity and absorb more information from it. Your brain’s ability to retain and retrieve information will be better because there’s no other thing to interfere with its process. This is a reason why you can memorize better at 3 a.m. in a silent environment than at 3 p.m. in a crowded café.
Discipline is the key to cutting out distractions. Laser-like concentration can be achieved by turning off the television even when your favorite sitcom is on, setting your phone to silent or vibrate, and turning away from your bed.
Set aside a specific study time and stick to it. If necessary, tell your roommates or family members not to disturb you unless the house is on fire. You will need their cooperation as non-distractions, too.
But it isn’t always possible to cut out the physical distractions, particularly for busy nursing students with limited study periods. This is where noise-canceling headphones become essential.
#11 Use noise-canceling headphones.
You can study virtually anytime and anywhere, in a café or the classroom while waiting for your instructor, with minimal distractions. Whether it’s the whirring of machines or the chatter of people, the background noise will be significantly decreased, if not eliminated. You can concentrate more on your study material and ace your exam.
#12 Incorporate physical activity.
We typically think of studying as a sedentary activity where you’re either sitting or lying down. But this isn’t always the case, and it isn’t always the best one! You will find that getting your recommended physical activity while giving your brain a workout can be done simultaneously.
When you’re engaged in physical activity, you can ward off your drowsiness, prevent boredom and keep your blood flowing. Your concentration levels pick up, and your brain retains more information. You will find, too, that the physical and mental stimulation will keep your energy levels up in time for your exam.
A few tips for on-the-move studying:
- Walk around your study area, public park, or campus while studying your flashcards and other study materials.
- Use the treadmill or stationary bike while studying instead of watching the overhead television or the external scenery. Just set it to a comfortable pace, so you don’t run out of breath. (Look to Elle in the Legally Blonde for inspiration!).
- Alternate between sitting down and standing up. This way, you’re giving your body breaks from being in the same position for hours on end.
#13 Focus on the highlighted topics.
Your professors will assign several chapters in your textbooks and add external resources for review. You won’t have the time to memorize everything, so you must identify the most important topics.
Ask yourself, “What topics are being repeated or reviewed at least twice by your instructors? What are their key points? What subjects seem to be given more importance over others?” Once you have identified these topics, you can focus more attention on them. You can incorporate the #4 tip in this one.
#14 Think about the actions required.
Nursing isn’t just about memorizing medical terms and the like. It’s also about the appropriate decisions and actions for the best interest of the patients. When viewed in this manner, you won’t be bogged down in concepts that may not even appear in quizzes, exams, and recitations.
The bottom line: Think about the actions that will be required in certain situations, as if you’re already a registered nurse. Think about the ways that patients can be helped with the information. Your performance as a nursing student will be better for it.
#15 Skim the material first.
Nursing school is among the most challenging programs because of the stacks of books and other materials that must be read and understood. There’s no sense in reading everything in an in-depth manner during the first time you’re introduced to the material. You will become frustrated if you want to read and retain everything on the first try.
We suggest skimming the materials first, a technique that will result in picking up their main ideas and deciding which parts require a more thorough reading. But skimming in itself is a skill since it requires reading as many as 1,000 words per minute. You must also possess exceptional abilities in word recognition, recognizing keywords, and picking up pertinent information.
#16 Use external sources.
The best nursing instructors acknowledge that textbooks aren’t the only sources of information and, thus, encourage external sources. Well, you better heed their advice!
You can use authoritative resources that explain nursing principles and practices, illnesses and injuries, and other medical concepts in friendlier terms. You may want to read these layman-friendly sources to preview the more complex discussions in the textbooks. You will then be more aware and less daunted by the in-depth medical explanations.
Examples of external sources include WebMD, Mayo Clinic, and the official websites of professional organizations like the American Diabetes Association. But remember that the textbooks and your professors have the final say.
#17 Use downtime whenever possible.
The level of memorization required among nursing students is daunting, but it’s manageable! While you have designated study times, you should also use downtime to sneak in a chapter in your textbook. You can even use your ablutions time to study!
For example, tape cards with formulas, vital sign ranges, and other concepts can be taped over the kitchen sink, bathroom mirror, and laundry counter. You can then look at them when you’re doing other things. Without spending more energy, you’re eventually learning them by heart!
Plus, you must study a little daily. You should ideally review the classroom lectures within 24 hours after hearing them so you can retain them well. You can’t possibly cram a week’s worth of lectures, too, in a couple of hours during the weekend as well.
#18 Take restful breaks.
Your body and brain aren’t made of artificial components, unlike machines and robots. You must then take regular breaks during your study periods to let them relax and recharge.
Plus, studying for long stretches will overwhelm your senses and result in lesser retention of information. You must take breaks so you can boost your enthusiasm and interest. Your breaks don’t have to be grand; even a 15-minute power nap or a brisk walk around the park will do.
#19 Master the drugs and diseases game.
Clinicals are arguably the most dreaded part of a nursing student’s life. But it can be easier when you can master the important drugs and diseases as early as possible.
You will find plenty of techniques and resources for this aspect, including:
- Getting Mosby’s Pharmacology or Pathophysiology Memory NoteCards
- Spending 5-10 minutes every day on learning by heart the essential drugs and diseases
#20 Use mnemonics.
The best technique for memorizing complicated concepts with specific orders is mnemonics. These are tools that help your brain remember large amounts of information using catchy rhymes, images, and acronyms.
The nursing profession has its own unique set of mnemonics for a wide range of subjects. These include anatomy and physiology, medical-surgical nursing, maternal and pediatric nursing, and pharmacology.
The beauty of mnemonics lies in their simplicity. Even the most complex concepts can be simplified into a short acronym, a catchy rhyme, or even a memorable image.
#21 Use flashcards.
Many learners, particularly visual, audio, and kinesthetic learners, benefit from flashcards as study tools. Flashcards are great tools because you can learn and relearn concepts at the flick of a card.
Plus, you can learn concepts multiple times, from the time you’re creating the flashcards to the times you’re reading them while on the move. You can get them out during your downtime, read them aloud when you’re on the treadmill, and look at them when you’re brushing your teeth.
You can create your flashcards according to your learning style, or you can purchase ready-made flashcards. Either way, you must use them well.
#22 Listen to nursing podcasts.
If reading your study materials like textbooks, notes and flashcards become just a tad too much. You can switch to listening to nursing podcasts. You can also do it when commuting, exercising, and walking, so you get more information without trying too hard.
Nursing podcasts also come in a wide range of topics and persuasion so that you won’t be bored. You can tune in to podcasts with hardcore medical information and those with a lighter side. The latter can include popular health topics, nursing news, and even funny anecdotes about nursing life.
If you want, you can also make your own podcasts. You can record yourself while reading from your notes and then listen to the recording in your downtime.
#23 Take advantage of nursing study apps.
We live in a world where there’s an app for nearly everything, and it’s to our advantage to use them well. Several nursing study apps will make your life easier by providing cheat sheets, mnemonic devices, and practice test questions.
We recommend NRSNG Scrubcheats, NCLEX RN Mastery, Picmonic, UWorld, and Epocrates. Many of these apps are free, but you should also consider the for-a-fee apps since these have their merits. Think of these apps as an investment in your future.
#24 Get the Sanford Guide.
Don’t forget the Sanford Guide! This is a must-have guide for nursing students and nurses because of its comprehensive coverage of the appropriate drugs for infectious diseases and other illnesses. This isn’t just a run-of-the-mill guide either, as it’s compiled and edited by distinguished infectious diseases experts.
You can either download it as a mobile app or get it in printed form. You want both since you may be unable to use your smartphone during your shift; the printed version easily fits into your bag.
#25 Chew gum, preferably a weird flavor.
Studies have shown that chewing gum can boost mental concentration, particularly for tasks requiring longer periods of monitoring and visual memory tasks! The act of chewing gum aids in increasing oxygen flow to the brain and allows better retention of information.
What’s more, your brain remembers the taste of the gum you’ve been chewing! Your brain will then associate the smell and taste of the gum with whatever information you’ve learned while chewing it.
Tip: Choose a weird flavor, so it stands out in your mind. You may also choose the same flavor for consistency if weird gum flavors aren’t your thing.
These study hacks won’t work for everybody, but we assure you that many of them will work for you! The trick is in applying each one and then seeing which one clicks.