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How to Succeed in Nursing School

Nurses are charged with many responsibilities, requiring them to effectively multitasking and pay close attentive to details, so it is no wonder that nursing programs are difficult. Nursing education programs are designed to teach all nurses need to know in order to begin a career, though they are likely to never stop learning. There are many resources available to help nursing students through the education process. Students are encouraged to take advantage of as many of these resources as possible, but what works for some does not necessarily work for everyone.

Organizational Tools

Staying organized can help students to balance the demands of nursing school. One way in which students can do this is to make a plan or calendar of deadlines and exams. Most instructors provide a syllabus at the beginning of class with a course calendar. This can be done on a calendar, planner, smart phone app, or computer. Even listing these important dates on a piece of paper can help with remembering. Students can even plan out study sessions in order to ensure that they make time. Developing good time management skills can help nursing students to be more prepared and to avoid procrastination. Waiting till the last minute leaves little time to fix errors or dedicate extra time to studying topics not fully understood.

Attending Class Regularly

As with most educational programs, regularly attending class in nursing school is vital for success. Nursing is a highly skill-based occupation, making attention to detail important to learning how to perform necessary tasks. Also, there is a large amount of information crammed into each class, so a lot can be missed even by skipping one lecture. The classroom is also a great resource for getting questions answered and finding out what information is likely to be tested.

Many nursing programs, especially those with smaller class sizes, have strict attendance policies. In classes that do not monitor attendance or penalize for absences, students may feel as though they can get away with skipping class. It is important for students to remember that they are paying for each class, and that failure to attend is essentially throwing money away. While students may not be penalized directly for not showing up to class, it is likely to result in poor test scores and final grades.

Asking Questions

Students should not be afraid to ask questions, especially when having difficulty understanding a topic. If instructors do not welcome questions during lecture or the student is uncomfortable interrupting, he or she can write down the question and ask after class. Professors are one of the best resources available to students, and in many cases they appreciate when students care enough to make sure they understand. If asking questions in the classroom is not an option or questions arise after lecture has ended, scheduling a meeting with the instructor or visiting him or her during office hours is also an option.

Taking Notes

Note-taking is one of the most important ways to ensure nursing school success. Students should take quality notes that they will understand later, emphasizing any information that is likely to be tested. Reading the notes after class, while the information is still fresh, is good practice for committing material to memory. For those who learn by listening and find it difficult to take notes and follow along, a tape recorder can be used in lecture and used as a substitute for notes. While studying, it may be helpful to turn notes into flashcards in order to test knowledge.

Instructors often give clues about what is likely to be featured on exams. This does not mean that other class material less important, but that which is stressed in lecture is often tested and likely to be critical to one's nursing success. It may help to make a note of any material a professor emphasizes or states will be stressed on the exam. Placing a star beside these notes or highlighting them is another good way to make them stand out.

Completing Assigned Reading

Following the instructor's syllabus outlining the assigned and suggested reading material is a great way to supplement class attendance. Oftentimes, not all information that is tested will be mentioned in lecture, and instructors tend to lecture under the assumption that students have done their reading and have a basic understanding of the topics discussed in class. Students should engage in active reading strategies to aid learning. This includes writing down questions about the assigned reading to ask the instructor in class or after lecture.

Exam Preparation

There are many different resources one can use to prepare for exams, one of the best being notes taken in class. The textbook is also a helpful resource, as mentioned above. Corresponding chapters can be read before lecture as preparation, or after as review. Comparing the text to the lecture material is a good way to encourage critical thinking and to develop a deeper understanding of the material. For those who learn well this way, outlining the chapter is a great way to develop a structured knowledge of how the information is related.

Other exam preparation resources include study questions listed in the textbook or provided by the instructor. Students may also find it useful to talk to peers who have already taken the course about how to study effectively and what material best prepared them for the exams. For some material, mnemonic devices can be used to help students remember. This is especially useful for remembering lists of material or the order of steps in a task.

Studying Alone or in Groups

Depending on one's personal preference, he or she can either study alone or in a group. If a student prefers to study alone, he or she should go somewhere quiet and free from distractions in order to increase productivity. If a student lives in a dorm or shares an apartment, distractions such as television, music, or talking may impede studying. For optimal concentration, smart phones should be left behind or kept in a purse or bag. It helps to find a place where one feels comfortable and is able to concentrate and to go to this place routinely to study. Making a study schedule that includes time for relaxation and socializing works well for some, as it provides additional structure.

Study groups can be both helpful and harmful. Students should study in groups only if they find this method to be effective. Groups can be helpful, as students can compare notes and share ideas on the subject. Often, one will write down something valuable that others missed. Some students may have a better understanding of certain topics than others, allowing them to teach others. In addition, group study sessions are great for testing each other on the material. Study groups can be inefficient and ineffective when students spend more time socializing than studying and have trouble staying on topic. For this reason, it can be helpful to study with acquaintances, rather than close friends. These groups are sometimes organized by the instructor, but students can also set them up using flyers, word of mouth, or social media.


Much of nursing school involves learning experience that occurs in clinicals. Clinicals give nursing students an opportunity to visit a clinical setting and apply skills taught in class, as well as learn new skills. Students interact with and care for real patients in a supervised environment. The clinical portion of nursing school can last for weeks and take nursing students from hospitals to clinics and nursing care facilities. Having a good relationship with one's nurse supervisors is vital, as they will be the ones helping students during clinicals. Taking a leading role during clinicals if the instructor asks for a charge nurse is a great way to learn and develop valuable leadership skills.

Books, News, and Scholarly Journals

Learning does not have to take place only in the classroom. Nursing students might also want to read books and scholarly journals related to nursing in order to increase the depth of their nursing knowledge. These resources can be found in libraries, bookstores, and through subscription. Staying current on health news is also a great habit for nursing students, as changes in healthcare and medicine are likely to play a large role in their future. This additional learning is a great way to supplement classroom and clinical learning.

Experience Outside the Classroom

Experience gained through volunteering and working in a clinical setting are valuable to one's nursing education. Nursing students can volunteer at hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities in order to gain additional hands-on experience while improving the lives of others. Working in healthcare full or part-time in a role such as CNA or sitter is also a great way to learn outside of the classroom. These extracurricular experiences look great on a resume and allow nurses to network and make connections for future employment.