*Original post released on 1/10/2023
There are so many things you can do to be more successful in nursing school, whether you’re just about to start your program or you’re entering your final semester. In this article, I want to take the time to discuss my top 5 recommendations to help you be more successful this upcoming semester. If you’re interested in more advice like you’ll find here in this article, I encourage you to check out my newly published Nursing School Survival Guide. Let’s get started by counting down the 5 tips for success!
#5: Arrive to your classes, labs, and clinicals prepared with the right books, tools, and resources you’ll need to be successful.
What does this mean? For lecture sessions, you’ll want to be prepared with the appropriate text books, notes, and assignments. Depending on how you take notes in class, this may mean bringing a computer with you or a notebook and pens/pencils/highlighters/etc. Why should you bring ALL of this with you to lecture? If you find yourself with valuable free time while at school, you’ll have these materials with you to help you study or prep for the next class. Use that time at school for school-related tasks; doing this allows you to enjoy off campus time more fully. For labs and clinicals, you’ll want the basic nursing gear such as your scrubs, stethoscope, pen light, clipboard, ID badge, pens/highlighters, any clinical-related notes and paperwork. It can help to invest in a rolling backpack to make carrying supplies and textbooks easier on your body. I did this during my program and it was life-changing to say the least! I was able to have anything I needed available whenever I had time to utilize.
#4: Utilize your teacher’s assistant (TA) and professor’s office hours to your advantage.
Most of the time, office hours are underutilized. There are quite a few benefits to you when you take them up on this free office time. For instance, if you have a question about a topic discussed in lecture, lab, or clinical, you’ll be able to have their undivided attention and the time to experience their explanation. Moreover, this discussion you’re having is tailored to exactly what your needs are. Another benefit of using their office hours is that your presence is noticed. The more you’re in front of them, making an impression (hopefully a good one!), trying to actively grasp the materials, this helps them see the effort you’re putting into class. This can go a LONG way in potentially establishing a reference that you’ll be able to use during your program and for *hopefully* many years to come.
#3: Make your own study guides for exams, especially if they aren’t provided by your instructor.
You may be thinking, “How on earth am I going to make an exam study guide for an exam and course I’ve never taken before?” I’m here to tell you that it IS possible to do and do successfully. How? First, look at your syllabus to see exactly which sections and content are covered on that exam. Then, in your syllabus, see if there are specific objectives listed for that exam which you’re expected to grasp. If there are objectives there or concepts listed, create a word document, list them, and then use your lecture notes, handouts, and text materials to jot down information in regards to those concepts.
Next, take a look at your powerpoints and class handouts, looking for those same listed objectives and concepts. Add any objectives you find in these materials to that word document and expand upon them. Lastly, take your list of assigned text readings and add the objectives listed at the beginnings of the assigned chapters and/or sections. Pretty soon, you’ve got a thorough exam study guide.
Now… you may also have another thought on your mind similar to, “I don’t have time to write down information on all these concepts to study for the exam.” Of course, devoting some study time to exam review is inevitable. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t work smarter. The best way I found to not be overwhelmed by the amount of content in that self-created exam study guide is to find a small group of friends (who you trust) to share the workload. One of the easiest ways to divvy up the load is to use GoogleDocs when you create the document, share it with those selected classmates, assign sections to each person and a deadline, and leave yourselves with enough time to study that material…at least three days if you can make it possible. We’ll discuss more on study groups at a later time in another article!
#2: Learn how to take effective notes.
I’ve written an article in the past about note-taking, which you can check out here. The first question you have to answer in regards to note-taking in nursing school is whether you’re going to write your notes by hand or type them via computer. This one answer will determine the advice I have to offer about the best approach for taking notes.
Let’s say you’re going to write your notes by hand… well, I sincerely hope your professor offers power point presentations or an outline in advance. This is your best shot at keeping up during the lecture and not missing key information spoken to the group. If a power point is offered in advance, make sure to print it out. My two suggestions for printing are either two slides per page (writing in the margins any additional notes you take) or printing three slides per page with the notes section. If you have an outline provided to you instead, consider copying the text and pasting it into a new word document and “entering” down to give additional space for note taking in between major points, then print that and bring it with you to lecture.
If you’re taking notes via computer, it may involve a little more legwork in advance depending on what materials are provided to you in advance. If a power point is provided, I suggest creating a document and outlining the content (you can copy and paste the photos into your notes afterwards…and BONUS, doing that will help you review the material another time). If you need help with generating an outline from a power point, check out this article here. You can follow the same guidelines if the prof offers their own outline for you to have prior to class.
A HUGE payoff for setting up your notes like this ahead of time, regardless of the method for note taking, is that you get exposed to the material in advance…whether or not you’ve done the assigned readings. If you have, that’ll be at least the second time you’ve been exposed to the materials. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shown up for class only to find a pop quiz with my name on it and multiple questions I would have missed if I hadn’t reviewed those concepts even for the brief moments that I did. My classmates were struggling with their pop quiz grades while I was maintaining A/B averages.
#1: Prepare for class in advance.
This may go as something blatantly obvious, but in order to be successful in nursing school, you have to do the legwork to prepare for each lecture, lab, clinical, exam, etc. Sure, all of us have heard stories of students making it without opening their textbooks or going to open lab to practice, but is that REALLY making you a good student and future nurse? The best student and future nurse that you can be? Increasing your chances for success and retention of the knowledge you’re paying so much to be taught?
For lecture, do the assigned readings as thoroughly as possible. Yes, there were times when I had to skim, review the objectives and questions at the end of the section, etc. It will happen, but make your best effort to devote time to reading. If they provide you with handouts, make sure to review them. It’s being given to you for a purpose, and that purpose usually includes and NCLEX-style exam question in your near future. For lab, read up on the skills you’ll be practicing, go to open lab if your program offers it, and practice on friends and family (at least the skills you can practice).
For clinicals, preparation looks a little bit different. Usually, at least for the first day, it involves going to your assigned facility and unit in advance, having a patient assigned to you, and gathering pertinent information about their health (presentation of illness, medical history, labs, meds, studies, orders, etc.). You’ll want to make sure you know that information inside and out; it could be the difference between making a mistake or delivering safe nursing care. In school, you’re typically only expected to do this for one patient…as a nurse, you’ll be expected to do this for two to eight patients depending on your specialty. It seems like a lot now, but you will be a better nurse because of the thorough preparation you make.
Again, there are many different tips and pearls of advice I can give you to help make you more successful in nursing school…which is why I wrote and published the Nursing School Survival Guide to give all the advice to students I wish I had but was never given during my time in nursing school. I truly hope you take these 5 tips to heart and use them to help you get ahead and stay on top of things this semester. Until next time, happy studying!