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8 Nursing School Tips for Success

Jul 9, 2021

There’s no denying that nursing school is intense. There are exams to study for, grades to maintain, medical terms to memorize, and your future career as a nurse to think about. While the stress might be unavoidable, it’s possible to learn how to manage it. Whether you're starting your BSN or MSN, if you’re preparing for your first year of nursing school, here are some tips to not only survive your program, but also thrive in it.

1. Create Academic Goals

By setting academic goals at the beginning of each semester, you’ll have a game plan for how to approach your studies. These should be S.M.A.R.T. goals, meaning they’re specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. As you’re brainstorming your goals, think about things such as: 

  • Am I aiming to be at the top of my class?
  • Are there nursing organizations I want to join?
  • Do I want to achieve a certain test score?

Laying out specific milestones, and how you plan on achieving them, can serve as motivation and encourage you to keep persevering throughout your nursing program.

2. Understand Your Learning Style

Ever wonder why it’s easier for you to understand some things better than others? It all has to do with your learning style. Knowing how your brain learns and processes information is crucial to your success as a nursing student. If you’re in an online nursing program, it’s even more important to identify how you learn best since your coursework, studying, and exams will be done independently.

Experts have identified three main types of learning styles: audio, visual, and tactile learning. Figuring out your style could be one of the most effective study tips you ever get.

Audio learners process information out loud. They like to ask questions and discuss information and prefer to walk through information with friends or family to better understand and comprehend. Audio learners also use verbal analogies to tell stories or make their point.

Visual learners take what they read or hear and convert it into pictures and drawings. Instead of study groups or classroom settings, they usually learn best in quiet environments away from distractions. Videos are also a great learning tool for a visual learner.

Tactile learners act things out, use gestures, or move around while studying—all of which help them engage in the material. They like to use charts, diagrams, or models to show relationships and learn the concept. 

If you’re not sure which one(s) you might fall under, it’s worth figuring it out so you can incorporate better strategies to maximize your study time and more easily retain information.

If you need help discovering your learning style, ask yourself a few questions:

  • How have I studied in the past?
  • How am I currently studying?
  • What kinds of tests have I performed the best on, and how did I study for them?
  • Do I take a lot of notes in class?
  • Do I quiz myself to remember information, draw pictures, or something else?

For a little extra guidance, take the Learning Style Quiz to narrow down your learning style and the strategies you can implement to be successful as a nursing student.

3. Create a Study Group

The saying “two heads are better than one” rings especially true when you’re making your way through nursing school. In fact, research shows students who study in groups can retain more information as opposed to what they hear in class or read on their own. 

Study groups can also:

  • Keep you accountable to a group.
  • Help you stay motivated and on track with your studies.
  • Provide you with a support system of people who understand what you’re going through.
  • Create designated times for hitting the books.
  • Open up opportunities for networking.
  • Give you other people to learn from, compare notes with, and bounce ideas off of.

Now that you know the benefits of group study, here are a few pointers before you start or join one: 

  • Make sure your study group is small. Studies show three to four people is best.
  • If you decide to join a study group, commit to keeping up and staying involved in the group throughout the entire semester.
  • Wait a few weeks before joining a study group so you can get to know your classmates and scope out whom you’ll work best with.
  • Don’t compare yourself to your classmates. Some students may have more or different experience in their time as an RN than you do. So while you should learn from other students, try not to feel like you’re behind.

4. Be Sure to Take Breaks

Nursing school can easily feel like a full-time job, especially if you’re attending school online and already have a full-time job. Between all the coursework, exam prep, and tests, it might seem like the only way to stay ahead is to study 24/7. However, too much studying can lead to stress, exhaustion, and burnout. It’s important to remember to take some time for yourself to avoid this. In fact, research shows taking breaks—like going for a walk, calling a friend, or watching your favorite show—can actually refresh your mind and replenish your mental resources. 

5. Avoid Cramming Work

Nursing school is challenging enough, but cramming for exams and doing coursework at the last minute can make it even more difficult. With so many tasks competing for your attention, it’s crucial to be able to identify which ones are most important and address them accordingly.

There’s no getting around it; you’ll have a lot on your plate at times, but good time management will help you manage the work and feel less overwhelmed.

6. Create a Schedule

One way you can manage your nursing school workload is by creating a daily schedule. If you’re not sure how to begin, start with a blank weekly calendar or use the one in your phone. Create a breakdown of your day, hour-by-hour, and don’t forget to include things such as:

  • Days and times you have class
  • Studying or study groups
  • Social commitments 
  • Family time
  • Appointments
  • Breaks

Having a schedule to refer to each day can help you better allocate your time, prioritize your tasks, and identify when you can (and should) take breaks throughout the day.


7. Get to Know Your Professors

Your professors are more than your teachers or lecturers; they can actually be your biggest partners in nursing school. By getting to know your professors and forming relationships with them, they’ll be more likely to:

  • Give advice for taking the NCLEX
  • Share their experiences as a nurse, a nursing educator, or even as a nursing student
  • Suggest clubs or professional organizations to consider joining
  • Serve as your mentor or help you pinpoint someone who could be
  • Be a source for future internships or practicums
  • Write letters of recommendations for future jobs

Remember; your professors want you to succeed, but they can only be an asset if you take the first step. Don’t be intimidated to ask questions or reach out if you need advice.  

8. Practice Self Care

When you’re in the throes of nursing school, taking care of yourself can often fall to the bottom of the to-do list. Eating balanced meals, drinking plenty of water, and getting enough sleep might seem like a no-brainer. But when you don’t get enough of these things, it can affect your health and put more unnecessary stress on your body. All this can contribute to burnout. To combat this, consider these tips:

Don’t skip meals. It can be tempting to skip a meal or head to the nearest fast-food spot when you’re busy. The truth is, not eating enough—or eating poorly—can contribute to low energy levels. Make sure you’re getting regular, nutritious meals to stay sharp during your studies.

Limit your caffeine. Drinking multiple cups of coffee might seem like it’s getting you through the day, but too much can contribute to poor sleep. Instead, try sipping on decaffeinated tea, water, or fruit juice, or taking a quick walk outside to get you through an energy slump.

Be active. It can be as simple as walking the dog or taking the stairs vs. the elevator. However, getting in some activity throughout the day will help you stay fit and give your body an extra dose of endorphins.  

Get more sleep. Even if that means going to bed 10 minutes earlier than usual, those extra minutes can make a big difference in how rested you feel the next day. You can help your brain wind down at night by limiting screen time before bed and doing something soothing, like reading or meditating.  

As you can see, the secret to succeeding at nursing school isn’t non-stop studying or perfect grades. It’s about balance. If you can devote the necessary time to your career pursuits while also taking care of yourself and doing the things that are important to you, you’ve already succeeded in nursing school.

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